Under Witch Moon (Moon Shadow Series), page 3
I was in no mood to deal with a recalcitrant employee, especially a smirking one, but I had already told Lynx we would talk about his new client in the morning. I collared him by the back of his neck the minute he showed up at nine o'clock. Before I got distracted with his business, I asked him about mine. "What do you know about bodies being found that might be related to a werewolf?"
Lynx didn't struggle; he just gave me his cat smile, the one with no teeth. "What bodies?"
"What good does it do me to pay you for rumors in the night if you don't report rumors?"
He shrugged skinny shoulders. "Those aren't rumors. Those were on the news."
I really had to start getting my information from places other than the underground. Apparently death by a werewolf wasn't newsworthy enough for anyone in my circle to talk about.
"Tell me the story. What is it with women being killed by a werewolf?"
"Besides the one you know about?"
I growled. "Talk."
"You want details on all three of them?" he asked. "You got anything to eat?"
I let go of him so that he could sit down. "You can skip Dolores Garcia. I know about her."
"That's what I meant," he said, catching the bag of baby carrots I tossed him. "The other three."
Luckily I had turned back to the cupboard so he couldn't see the expression on my face. White Feather had said three total. Lynx implied there was a fourth body. "Go on," I encouraged him as I opened a can of bean and bacon soup.
"They didn't find the one body yet. It was the first one, and it's out in the mountains. The second one was left ripped up right in town. You can read about it in the papers."
"You know where this first body is at?"
He nodded. "Yeah. You can smell it."
Sure, if you roamed around the mountains like a wild cat, but most people had jobs to go to. "Tell me how to find it," I said with a sigh. After starting the soup heating, I put bread in the toaster.
When I turned back to Lynx, he was staring at his carrot in disgust. "How come you eat stuff like carrots for breakfast? How come you never have potato chips like my other clients? These don't taste nothing like chips."
"You were going to tell me how to find the body, and then you were going to tell me who is doing this."
He shrugged. "I can tell you about the body. I don't know who done it. I don't know if it was the ladies--you know, getting jealous of each other or if it was the werewolf. See," he held up his carrot to keep me from butting in, "there's this group. They are fine ladies lookin' for a little extra excitement. They pay Arturo--and it's okay if you know that name because he wants everyone to know to come to him. Arturo, he makes sure the ladies get the time of their life by providing special dates for them."
Knowing Dolores and her idea of excitement meant that I didn't have to have the kid spell it out for me, but I wanted to be very, very sure of what was going on. "These ladies are looking to sleep with a werewolf?"
He smirked. "Escort. They want a big, bad escort, you know, so they can show off. Arturo, he gets them the escort they want for a fee."
"Escort." I didn't know if he was that innocent…I narrowed my eyes. He might be thirteen, but he was street thirteen. "And after this escorting, do they pay extra for other activities--such as the ones that get them killed?"
"Nah, it's one price. What happens on the date, that's up to the lady."
"Except a few of them have been killed, Lynx. You can't tell me that was up to them!"
The soup was about to boil over. I ignored it, but Lynx must have been hungry because he jumped out of the kitchen chair and hurried over to take it off the stove. He knew where the bowls were.
"The killing I don't know about. Something went wrong. Maybe they were all like your client, trying to buy protection and messed it up."
"That wasn't what happened! If she had stuck to buying protection it would have been fine. Instead, she had some stupid idea she could have more fun if she used the protection against the werewolf."
"You know for a fact that the werewolf who got Dolores is one of Arturo's escorts?"
He nodded. "Sure. How else them rich ladies gonna get hooked up with a werewolf? No werewolf is gonna go around advertising. But they know these ladies want to know them, and Arturo helps set it all up." He blew on his soup placidly.
"Arturo is a pimp? Doesn't that bother you?"
Lynx didn't answer so I tried another question. "Did Dolores know about the other two bodies?"
"If she reads the papers. I tol' you a lot of people know about the last ones, which were really the second and third."
So Dolores had decided to go ahead with the escort, but buy a protection spell. And I had blissfully kept an unsuspecting eye on her, but ignored the rest of the world.
"The guy who got Dolores--he isn't Arturo, right?"
Lynx talked through a mouthful of bread. "I love this bacon stuff. Nah, Arturo, he ain't even a shifter, I don't think. He just sets up the dates." He looked up at me over the matting of hair that was trying hard to fall into his soup. "These ladies want escorts and they pay well. I bet I could escort them, but I ain't going to give no cut to Arturo."
I grabbed his ear and missed. "Don't go there, Lynx. This isn't a game. You start leaving dead--"
"I don't have to kill them," he yelped, dodging my hand. "You think I'm too young to appreciate a nice woman?"
I blinked. Sometimes I forgot that it had been three years since I stumbled across Lynx, half starved, badly bruised, and rummaging through a trashcan for food. Sympathy would have gotten me killed. Instead, I had swallowed my heartbeat, looked over my shoulder and whispered, "You the guy willing to do the job?"
Lynx had jumped on the chance to earn money and never looked back. He hadn't changed much over the last three years, although I suppose he was an inch or four taller. I still had the occasional, ridiculous urge to make things better for him, but I knew what I was up against. There was no handing him a childhood. It had been too late long before I met him. I tried to blink away the old image, but he hadn't changed that much. He still looked half-starved. "Yes, Lynx, I happen to think you are too young, but that isn't what I'm talking about. I'm talking about women who are dying. Sooner or later the werewolf or his cohorts are going to die because of those deaths. The normals will put a stop to it."
When he didn't respond, I added, "Now isn't the best time to experiment even if the catch seems easy, kid." I didn't emphasize the "kid," nor did I leave it off.
He was too busy dreaming of riches to notice; his eyes positively gleamed with enthusiasm. "I thought the normals were all afraid of us. It's nice to know that some of them appreciate our…talents." He licked his lips happily.
"They are afraid," I corrected softly. "That's what makes it fun for them. Don't think it means they are ready to take you in and provide a happy home."
His face froze. I'd pushed too far. Before he bolted, I demanded, "The body. You were going to tell me how to find it."
He did. In a lot more detail than I cared to know.
Lynx left me with a headache, the name and info on the new client and directions to a dead woman. It was more work than I could handle. Since I couldn't meet with White Feather on such short notice, the dead woman would have to wait.
There was no putting off the client though because I had already stalled for a day. If she got too anxious, Lynx would pass the info on to another witch. There were enough bad vibes in the air without two witches working on eliminating the same rogue love potion. While most witches were secretive, there were a small number who demanded bragging rights for problems solved, and I didn't need a territorial problem.
It wasn't worth the effort to dress in anything particularly witchy so I went in a clean t-shirt and blue jeans, my true and favorite uniform. Since Viona Johnson lived in one of the upscale neighborhoods in Santa Fe, I left off my hiking boots in favor of sneakers.
To get to north Santa Fe, I had to pass the plaza. On impulse I took a detour to the little side alley where my best friend Matilda had a shop. The storefront reflected her main clientele, which, sadly, was groupies. Her image involved a lot of flowing robes, glitter, funny headpieces and strange lights. Matilda excelled at witchery long before I did, at least on the surface, because she was more of a show woman.
I touched the door lightly, knowing it would open soundlessly to what appeared to be an unattended shop. Matilda made more money than I did even though I charged considerably more per spell. She never lacked for clients though, while I had slow spots.
"Hey Mat," I called softly in the direction of the beaded door that led to the back.
Matilda was rarely in the front of the shop. She was an entrance kind of gal.
For me, there was no dramatic pause in the doorway. Instead she squealed, "Adriel!" and dragged her headdress off as she came from the back. "Where have you been?" Bottle-enhanced auburn hair leapt free, highlighting her ever-so-white skin. She had been born and raised here, but she wasn't Hispanic. She was whiter than most beach sand.
I braced myself for her hug, patting her back awkwardly because my arm tangled itself in her flowing blue silk sleeve. Matilda's magic was different than mine, which was precisely why I was here. Unlike my earth magic, hers was lighter, mistier--of water rather than earth, of vapors rather than metals. Did we cross over? Definitely, but we each knew our strengths, and Matilda was all about potions and emotions. She could mix pinches of steam and water into concoctions of smoke that softened anger or caused love to bloom. If the ingredients were just right, watery shadows would show her the future. What she couldn't brew, she bought from other witches and sold, an unusual liaison in our competitive and secretive world.
"How's business?" I asked.
She stepped back and wiped her forehead in mock distress. "Busy, incredibly busy. Tourist season goes longer each year. Used to be mostly spring and summer, but now Santa Fe attracts skiers too!"
I laughed. "And you love it and have a potion for all of them."
"Speaking of potions, are you selling a lot of love mixes lately?"
She rolled blue eyes. "Are you kidding? No matter what season, it's the best seller, right alongside the revenge potions. The love potions get a little higher sales around New Year's and Valentine's day." She shrugged. "The revenge ones don't see much variation; they are high sellers all year."
"What about matched set love potions?"
Her eyebrows rose and wiggled. "I don't sell that. Too dangerous." She pointed to a row of colorful bottles on a shelf along one side of the shop. "There are varying degrees of like me or love me or respect me. Anything from "give me a new first impression" to "give me a raise." Plenty of "love me for the night," too but I stay away from anything coercive."
"I know. But have you had any requests lately? Or any to break such a spell?"
"Lately?" She thought about it, tapping her long red nails against the counter. "I actually keep track of those requests because when I get one, I'm likely to get a revenge request from the same person a week or two later. I don't do the seriously dangerous revenge potions either, but I keep track of those requests in case someone ends up in an alley." She made a slicing motion across her neck. "Sometimes the police come a'callin."
She turned towards the back of the shop. "Come on back, and I'll check, but it's been a while."
I followed her flouncing form through the beads. Since it was just me, she saved the colored misting that usually went with her entrances and exits.
The back of the shop was nothing more than an ordinary, comfortable living room with a tweed couch, a sleeping cat and a desk with her computer. Her copper teapot sat next to an Asian teacup. "Tea?" she offered.
"No, I need to get to a client, but I wanted to check with you first on this."
She sat at the desk and started typing. "I don't remember anything recent, and I almost never get real names, but let me run through the dates where I noted anything."
Humming lightly under her breath, she found the file she wanted, opened it and scanned through it. "It's been a few weeks since I've been asked outright for anything stronger than I sell on the shelves…" she trailed her finger down the screen. "No requests for a matched set in the last year--is that far enough back?"
"I think so, but I'm not sure." Since I hadn't talked to the client yet, I didn't have a lot of detail. "I don't imagine most people who come in here know to ask for something like that."
She agreed. "It would take research to know enough to ask about a matched set. Maybe twice since I've opened, I've had another witch come in and request it. The witches in question couldn't do the spell, but wanted to sell it. I offered to have someone get in touch with them, but both times, the ladies refused."
I wasn't surprised. Witches would deal with Matilda because she offered secrecy and a way to sell potions to the public without having to give up normal status. That didn't mean a witch would deal with just any other witch. We guarded our abilities--and our lack of abilities--pretty carefully. "And no one asking about undoing such a spell lately?"
"Nope. I'd have remembered that."
"Okay. Call me if someone comes in looking, will you?"
She nodded. "I can tell you if someone comes in. I may not be able to tell you who it is."
"Of course." Matilda protected her clients, as we all did. She followed me back to the front of the shop. "I owe you lunch."
She laughed. "Dinner now. You already owe me lunch!"
"I'll have you over to Mom's. That counts for both, right?"
I blew her a kiss and hurried back outside, not wanting to be any later than I already was.
Thankfully, rush hour was long-since over and traffic was light heading north of town. It took me less than fifteen minutes to follow the directions Lynx had provided. The adobe home was off Camino La Tierra, and the place was as beautiful as I expected.
Viona, on the other hand, was nothing like I imagined. Knowing she had been a scientist at Los Alamos, I figured she was old and befuddled, having turned to a witch in sheer desperation when science and logic as she understood it, failed her.
I was wrong. Viona was in her late-thirties. Her brown hair was streaked with worn highlights and pulled into a clip. Large brown eyes were not in the least befuddled, but they were quite angry. "I don't suppose this was of national importance to you," she snapped out after I introduced myself.
"I wasn't trying to be cruel by making you wait. I had other clients I couldn't leave hanging. Now that I'm here, tell me about this love affair, and we'll see what can be done."
"Not a love affair!" She opened the heavy wooden door wider, and allowed me to follow her into the tiled entryway. "A love affair I could solve without your help."
Like a lot of the newer homes in the area, the sprawling house was southwestern in design, but her interior decorating didn't shout it. Instead of houseplants along the entryway ledges, she had herbs. A skylight and two long windows by the door bathed the entry with light. Rugs led into the natural stone floored living area. Rather than the typical paintings depicting squaws and horses, she had striking black and white photos of old buildings next to full-color shots of skyscrapers.
"Since we'll be doing business, drop the Missus. I go by Vi," she informed me as she led the way to a leather couch. "We have two children. I do plan on telling them what is happening if word gets out, but for now they are at camp. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Sheila made sure the kids got wind of this mess to cause even more problems."
"What could Sheila--do you know her last name?"
"McFay. She lives in White Rock, near the lab."
"Okay, what would she gain from your children knowing that your husband has been having," I changed my words when she glared at me, "is the victim of a spell?"
"As far as Sheila is concerned, the more trouble the better. She
"She's in love with your husband?" I ventured cautiously.
Vi gave a very unladylike snort. "Sheila needs his cooperation to gain permission for projects at the lab. Without his signature, she doesn't get funding for her pet projects. I worked there. I understand the politics far too well to believe she only wants my husband to warm her bed."
"I see." To give myself time to think, I sat down.
"My husband does not like Sheila, nor does he believe in her research," Vi continued. "That is how I knew she used some," she waved a hand that was noticeably touting a wedding band, "paranormal means to get him to agree to sign off on one of her projects."
"How long has it been since you worked there?"
She put her hands on her hips and glared at me. "I can see you are going to take some convincing."
"Well, I could probably figure out whether he was bespelled or not without the questions, if I had to."
"Then why not do that?"
"Because information never hurts. You seem to have figured out why she wanted your husband bespelled, but if you don't work there anymore, how can you be so certain it is a spell?"
She started to speak, but then whirled toward the window that framed the Jemez mountains. It took her several deep breaths before she said, "He brought the papers home, the ones for her projects. They required his signature for funding. He was sweating profusely, his hands were shaking, and he threw up three times. I thought he had the flu, but he handed me the papers." She closed her eyes. "He couldn't say a word to me."
"He had signed them."
"No. Well, one of them." Her fingers bit into her arms. "I ripped them to shreds in front of his eyes."
I thought about that. "And after that he stopped throwing up?"
She nodded and looked back over at me. After a moment she said, "Maybe you do know something about these things?"
"What did he say after you ripped up the papers?"
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