Under Witch Moon (Moon Shadow Series), page 7
"She's supposed to be gone by now. She only does one hour every weekday morning."
He tilted his head and grunted. "I knew that, but I figured you didn't even know about the maid."
I rolled my eyes and followed him inside the kitchen. "Of course she has a maid." I pointed to the spotless granite countertops. "I assumed that from where she lived. Then it was only a matter of checking the service she hired."
"What if she used someone personal?"
"She didn't, okay?" We were both still whispering. "Now help me look for the papers I told you about."
He shrugged. "This floor plan has a safe, you know."
I peered at him suspiciously. "How do you know that?"
"I tol' you. I looked up the lay of the land when you asked for my help."
"This place was custom built!"
"Don't mean the plans ain't filed by that builder sometime, somewhere. Once you been in a house by one of them, you pretty much know the rest."
I wasn't sure that built-in safes had to be recorded by the architect, but Lynx was the professional thief. I didn't care how he found out. "Fine. Let's check there first."
The kitchen opened into a living room that appeared to had been furnished by an interior decorator with a taste for deep maroon. Wooden mini-blinds were closed to outside light, and a special blind fit the half circle over the front entryway. The hardwood floor gleamed, threatening to show even a slightly wet or dirty footprint.
Lynx led the way soundlessly past a beautifully detailed antique buffet. I started to follow, and then gave the buffet a wide berth. Old things kept things, especially when made of ancient hardwoods. I had seen a china cabinet once that flickered oddly in the dark as though the blood of a murdered man ran down the side. This thing felt like that, dark and moody, waiting for more death.
I slid behind Lynx through the living area and up the stairs. He drifted soundlessly across thick beige carpet to the end of the hallway. At the door to the master bedroom, he surveyed the room silently for a minute. His ears twitched underneath his hair, I just knew it.
The canopy bed was made of wrought-iron. The rest of the furniture was an expensive black panel wood that reflected our movements. As we crossed the room, it was like walking in front of a black mirror.
I shivered. The silver at my wrists tingled a warning. I wanted to be on fresh mother earth worse than the silver.
While Lynx walked into the closet, I waited in the doorway and studied the decorative tapestry that formed a loose canopy over the antique iron bed frame. I couldn't decipher the woven design on the curtain, but recognized enough characters to be certain that a protective spell had been added. "Must have trouble sleeping at night." When I looked at the design out of the corner of one eye, two snakes appeared to be moving up and down the fabric.
I hurried to join Lynx in the master bedroom closet.
A neat row of shirts, organized by color and fabric, lined most of one wall. At the back, there were pants and along the other side, dresses. The dresses appeared to be organized by designer labels, from Klein to Ralph Lauren. The rest of the clothes must have been more expensive because they were hidden behind cloth cover bags.
Lynx had pushed aside some of the shirts and was tinkering with the breaker box. "What looks like breakers act as an alarm if anyone flips them wrong. Don't worry, I know what to touch." He swung the box back on hinges and turned the dial. Impatiently he swatted his hair back from his ear.
Not more than a minute, and he had it opened.
I crept closer and peered inside. The first thing I saw was an open-faced jewelry box. Thick black velvet embraced a long row of amulets. It took my breath away and not because the pendants were of gem value.
This lady wasn't new to the coercion game. Worse, she kept the trophies. Assuming any of these people were still alive, the mere existence of the amulets was probably hurting them. No doubt she had used the things to get what she wanted and then kept them in case she wanted more.
Lynx cursed succinctly, "Witches."
While I should have been insulted, I knew what he meant. There were witches and then there were witches.
Several folders rested in the safe, tucked to the side of the jewelry. What I first took to be ancient Kachina dolls stuffed in the back of the safe were clearly not. "Voodoo," I gulped.
This was not a place to tarry. I set my backpack down, got the replacement papers out and pulled on silk gloves. The silk would protect me from magic to some extent. "Don't touch anything," I warned Lynx in case he thought he could help.
"I ain't no dummy."
The first folder contained mostly pictures. "Blackmail too?" I shook my head and moved on.
The papers I needed were in the third folder. I read the headers on the other documents; they were all lab related, but nothing had Harold's signature except the ones I already knew about. There were no signs she had marked them or bespelled them, but I was very careful. They went into a special lined box before going back inside my backpack.
"Okay, that's it." I slammed the safe shut and turned to find Lynx sneering.
"You going to leave that stuff there?" he asked in disbelief.
I crossed myself. "I don't know what those spells are for--who they are tied to, which are active or what would happen if I destroyed them. It could kill someone."
His flat expression told me what he thought of being alive while someone held him in the palm of their intent.
"I need one more thing." I headed for the master bathroom, but it didn't take me long to figure out that Little Miss Sheila was a clean freak. There wasn't a hair in the place. Inside the top drawer, I found a hairbrush. Lynx watched over my shoulder. I handed him the brush. "Any chance you can tell if the hair on this is hers?"
He sniffed it. "Human," he declared and handed it back. He went into the bedroom and sniffed the pillow. "These were washed today."
"I'd bet they are washed every day." I eyed the hairbrush. She was a witch of the worst sort. What were the chances she would leave this lying around when the rest of the place was so clean?
I opened three other drawers. There was a stack of brand new toothbrushes in one and another hairbrush. The real brush was probably in her purse. "She can't use a new toothbrush every day!"
"She can't take every bit of herself away," Lynx agreed. He was on the floor now, inspecting the clean tiles.
"No, she can't, but a hair on the floor could belong to her or the maid or you." I tapped my foot impatiently. There was nothing for it. "Open the safe again. Damn."
He had it opened in a heartbeat.
I stared back inside with distaste. Sheila had handled each of these items. I couldn't chance taking one, but I bet she had fondled the things. "Check the bathroom. I need a pair of tweezers, some sort of soft brush--" I pointed to the dressing table. "I think there was makeup over there. See if you can find a makeup brush. I don't care if it is hers or not."
He disappeared and returned shortly with the tweezers. I selected a smooth dark pendent, wishing my silk gloves were heavier--or lined completely with silver. My bracelets let loose warning currents when I snagged the pendant. Whatever was nestled inside moved. My skin tried to crawl off my arm.
Several deep breaths calmed the nausea, but it didn't erase the fear or disgust. I managed to squeak out, "I need you to find packing tape, the clear kind."
"What's a lady like her gonna have packing tape for? I bet someone does all her packages for her."
"Check the study, will you? Maybe the kitchen. Everyone has a junk drawer somewhere."
I left the safe open and took my prize to the bathroom. I found a tin of perfumed powder in the bottom cabinet.
Lynx came back. "Found it." He handed it to me and watched me balance the amulet while trying to tear off a piece of tape.
He put his hand out. "Gimme."
"Fold a piece over for handling it. Don't get your own prints on it either."
He eyed me with disgust, muttered, "witches," and t
When he handed me the piece of tape it was sliced neatly.
I looked down at his hands, but they looked perfectly normal, stubby and smeared with dirt. "Thanks." I took the tape, patted the amulet with the powered perfume, sneezed into my elbow and voila! A partial print on the side and a smear on the front showed up. I lifted them both onto the tape. "Another piece please?"
He didn't bother to turn around, but I respectfully kept my eyes on my work. As soon as I had both of the prints, I handed the tape back to him. "Put this back. Leave no signs, okay?"
I had her fingerprints--or rather the oil from her hands. It was weak, but it would likely be enough. I cleaned up the mess very carefully, put the amulet back and shut the safe. I hurried back downstairs and found Lynx in the kitchen near the back door. "Ready?" I asked.
Instead of opening the door and slipping out, he said quietly, "I found something."
My feet froze. "What?"
"I'll show you. When I was looking for the tape."
He walked past the sink and pointed to the cherry wood cabinet underneath the countertop. "You told me to check the kitchen, so I was opening all the drawers and cupboards."
He pulled open the cabinet door. There was a locked door behind it, solid steel. It looked like the door to a miniature bank vault, complete with combination lock and handle.
"Nah. Most people have a glass door on wine so they can show off. And this is taller than the standard."
"Maybe she has some really valuable stuff."
"Want me to open it?" Lynx asked greedily.
I swallowed. "I have the papers. I don't think--"
He turned to the door, disappointed and moving fast. I guess he figured if he could get the door open before I finished the sentence, it wasn't a "no."
The lock snicked quietly. "I'll check it out. You wait here."
I blinked. I would have called him back, but he had disappeared down a stairway.
Peering after him down the dark hole did no good. The inky blackness didn't bother him, but I didn't like it. I leaned in and found a light switch.
Not much help. Lynx had already gone beyond where I could see. "Lynx!" I hissed. "We've already been here too long." I looked at my watch. It was nearly eleven. Though I had expected finding the safe to take longer, I had used up any leeway by collecting the fingerprints.
"Lynx?" I called again down the stairs. "Lynx, get back here!" How could I let the kid go into possible danger while I stood there like an idiot?
My skin crawled. I wasn't sure if it was because I couldn't stand myself or I was afraid. I got my answer soon enough when a loud bang sounded below.
I was on the third step down when Lynx nearly bowled me over as he rushed up the stairs past me. His face was dead gray as if he had seen the ghost of his alcoholic mother. Unfortunately, I knew for a fact that Lynx wasn't particularly scared of ghosts, although I think he avoided jobs that involved them.
"Lynx?" I stared after him as he flew through the outside door. He moved so fast, he outran his illusion spell. "Lynx!" I didn't know whether I should follow him or worry about what he had seen--and maybe left behind. "Dammit."
I dithered, but in the end, I ducked down the stairs. The corridor leading down had probably been cut from rock, but it was carefully finished with a dark paneling. Hopping steps as fast I could go, I nearly fell when I grabbed the brass handrail for support. My silk gloves didn't provide good purchase.
If Lynx hadn't run out like his tail had been on fire, I'd have convinced myself it was nothing more than an ordinary wine cellar.
A door at the bottom gaped opened.
What other evidence had he left behind? The lights weren't on in the room, but a quick sweep with one hand found a switch.
When I hit the switch, I wished I hadn't.
I should have asked Viona what Sheila wanted to research, but at the time, I had been more concerned with what the woman was using to coerce Harold. "Oh my…God in heaven." I crossed myself. My hands shook so badly, I couldn't hit the light switch again.
A noise at the top of the stairs made me get it right on the second try. Was Lynx coming back? I couldn't be sure. Had the lights still been on, I don't think I could have forced my legs inside that room filled with hundreds of mal-formed, diseased, and grotesque rats. The creatures were missing eyes, or had too many...there were things that didn't even look like a rat anymore. I wished my heart would beat louder to shut out the hundreds of squeaks coming from the cages.
No wonder Harold hadn't wanted to sign for Sheila's research. From my one glimpse, it looked as though the woman was strongly inclined towards abusing her test subjects and looking for creative ways to kill--not heal or understand disease.
The lights went on. It wasn't Lynx. Sheila, platinum hair pulled back from her face, stood to the side of the doorway, holding a gun. She wasn't as old as I expected; probably only mid-forties. Her nose was slightly hooked, and with the current snarl on her face, she was easily unattractive. Her eyes searched the room quickly. For a fraction of a second, I forgot about my illusion spell.
With the next breath, I smashed the inside package containing the stronger daylight spell.
I was mist; humidity, a reflection off the glass cages. Oh Lord, don't let her shoot. Don't let her accidentally let any of those things out.
If she shot through a cage and one of the rat-looking things with what appeared to be a human arm came at me--then again, if I stood here long enough she was going to figure out that I was there. The illusion spell would keep her from looking at me, but as a witch, she would see through it eventually. I had another awful thought. What if she closed the door and locked me inside?
That was it. She could shoot me if she wanted. I moved behind a row of cages, watching my feet so that I didn't make any noise. She hadn't entered the room yet, and it didn't look as though she was going to. If I didn't get back out fast I could be trapped.
When her arm moved to the door, I ran. I stepped hard on the helium and tilted myself forward, muttering the words for wind.
Like a rocket, I shot past her. She was sideways, against the door, about to close it. The wind behind me curled through the doorway, and she crouched down instinctively.
I didn't cancel the spell even when I was past her. Hands out, I pushed off the narrow stairwell, wishing she had left solid rock rather than finishing the walls with slippery wood.
A bullet bit into the ceiling, but the wind at my back shoved me up the stairs so quickly, I'm not sure it could have caught me. One day, I was going to tone down this flying spell, but not today.
I should have canceled it the minute I was in the kitchen, but I could hear her behind me. The back door was closed. Probably locked. I hit the ceiling and had nowhere to go.
Frantically, I grabbed at the wall, the wind still pushing me, forcing the air out of my lungs. I clawed at a high cabinet door. The rest of me, powered by wind, went sideways, shoving my feet over my head.
Sheila came through the small doorway shooting. Thankfully, she was focused on the back door.
I aimed my feet as best I could and let go.
I hit the window over the sink, feet first. The sound of shattering glass didn't stop even when I was through.
I looked back in time to see the window next to where I had gone out burst apart in a rainbow of glass. The window was below me--and getting further away by the second. I was gaining altitude at a frightening pace.
"Exitor," I mumbled.
The blue sky turned into a flash of green and brown. The fence was close enough that if wind had been blowing just right, a spiked limb might have snagged me.
I hit hard, but it barely slowed me down. My shakes were so bad, I moved across the dirt like a jelly blob, making progress as some sort of an amoeba.
My stomach was a pit of fear. Had I left any blood on the glass?
Frantically, I felt my face. One silk glove had been
There was no time to do anything about it. I dodged around trees, jumped over rocks and wished for the wind at my back, but I didn't dare.
There were no more shots fired, not that I could hear. It would be hard for her to target me through the fence and the invisibility spell. Maybe she would be looking up, the last place I had been before canceling the spell.
My arm throbbed even though there was only a minuscule scratch on it. There was little to no chance she would be able to find a single piece of glass or splintered wood that might or might not contain a scrap of my blood. I got myself back to the car by a circuitous route.
I checked every inch of my body that I could see. No blood. My eyes watered in relief. I didn't want that lady getting anything from me. Shivering violently, despite the ninety-degree air inside the car, I sat without moving for several minutes. My backpack may have lost a few fibers.
The whole thing, my jeans, my shirt, even my underwear had to be burned. I needed a mirror to make sure there were no cuts on my back. There was no McDonalds in White Rock, and I didn't have time to drive to Los Alamos to the one on Trinity Drive to use as a restroom. After another frantic check in car mirror, I started to calm down. "Hair." I had probably lost a few hairs despite my braid. Would she find them? Could she be sure they were mine? Her hair was white. Mine was about as far from blond as hair gets.
"Okay, one thing at a time." I looked at my watch. "Lynx, my friend, where did you run to?" It was now past eleven-thirty.
He had been running for…twenty minutes, half hour?
He could probably get himself back home, but I couldn't leave him out here in his present state of mind.
I started the car and drove up and down the streets until I hit the only main drag in town. At a gas station burger joint, I ordered four cheeseburgers, a chocolate shake and French fries. I ate the fries and drank the milkshake on my way back to the neighborhood near Sheila's house.