Blue Diablo (Corine Solomon #1) - Page 32


Well, I was glad it wasn’t a problem for him to keep manning the shop, but a chill rolled over me at his next words. I’d felt as if we had a shadow, starting that first morning in Mexico City. I shivered and tried to convince myself I was overreacting. A man looking for me didn’t necessarily qualify as sinister.

“Looking for me or looking to buy something particular?” I asked in Spanish.

“Looking for you.” He stressed the last word.

“What did he look like?” The tightness in my stomach must come from the burger.

“I don’t know,” he said, sounding a trifle impatient. “I was with a customer.”

The bell jangled in the background, telling me he had a customer now too, so I let him go. I felt a little better, knowing that I’d have somewhere to return to, provided I survived. However, I couldn’t write off my unease as paranoia, as I had good reason for going to ground eighteen months ago.

Just then, Butch saw a cute poodle with a rhinestone studded collar and tugged on his leash, disrupting my thoughts. “All right, I’m coming. First sign of humping, and we’re gone,” I warned him.

They smelled each other’s butts, but then the poodle’s owner pulled her away with a sniff and stalked in the opposite direction.

I gave him a sympathetic look. “She wasn’t good enough for you anyway.”

The park killed an hour, during which time I gave Butch a drink and fed him some Hill’s Science Diet, but it was starting to get dark. We walked along the sidewalk, enjoying the sunset despite the stillness in the air. Slowly I registered wrongness. Where was the wind? The birds?

Oh, shit.

I recognized this stillness.

Something bad was about to happen.

Butch barked as if to warn me but I already knew. Quickly I scooped him up and he took cover. Our walk had brought us around downtown and out near the cemetery. It was an old place, full of dead heroes.

The Mustang was a good mile away, so I’d face whatever came without an escape route and without backup.

Dank mist rolled in, more suited to London than San Antonio. The power required to twist the weather like this must be astronomical, and he’d already exerted himself with the sending a few days ago. If anything he, whoever he was, seemed to be getting stronger. I couldn’t see to make my way to safety, might even get myself run over if I tried to cross the street. Blind, I tried to retrace my steps, but it felt as if I was being herded.

When I passed between the iron gates into the cemetery proper, I froze. This wasn’t a New Orleans-style place with aboveground vaults. Most graves possessed a modest marker, maybe a statue and some flowers. I couldn’t make out much between the mist and the dark.

From utter stillness a fetid wind rose. The air stank of death and decay. The prickling sensation of unseen eyes sparked my fight or flight reaction, and God knew I wasn’t a warrior on my best day.

I didn’t wait to see what might come after me. Hunched low, I dodged between the headstones. There was no rational explanation for the fear spiking through me, the kind of visceral terror a child feels alone in her room when nobody cares enough to check the closet for her and when calling out might invite something worse than whatever lurks in the dark.

Monstrous shapes loomed out: a hunchback that became a gravestone, a towering skeleton that became a statue. The mist felt clammy against my face, ephemeral fingers leaving repulsive residue. My heart pounded in my ears. If I stopped running, something terrible would get me. And I hadn’t felt like this since my mother shoved me out our back door with an awful look in her eyes.

In the dead calm I heard only my own breathing. There had to be other people around, people who could help or at least report what became of me. Except I felt trapped, as though I existed in a space separate

from the sidewalk surely just a few yards away on the other side of the black iron fence.

Sobbing for breath, I ran until I nearly pitched into an open grave. For what seemed like an eternity I teetered on the edge and finally threw myself backward because I felt the wet soil sliding beneath my feet. I came up on my hands and knees, liberally smeared with mud. No birds. No insects.

Inside this dead zone, there was only me, Butch, and the thing coming for us.

A shudder washed over me like a dead man’s kiss. But it was more than a simple chill. All around me, the temperature dropped, so that when I exhaled, I could see my own breath. I literally couldn’t move.

Part of my brain recognized the deer-in-headlights feeling, but I couldn’t fight it as darkness seeped out of the fog. I’d never seen anything like it, but it felt as though it sapped the life out of everything around it. Dimly I thought of what Maris had said about shadows that ate her up. Heat and light vanished in its proximity, producing a dense blackness that crackled with cold.

I could feel my heartbeat slowing as it approached. The shade didn’t seem in any hurry. Inside I screamed with terror and desperation, but I couldn’t do a thing in my own defense. Tears froze in my eyes, and I wondered what I’d look like when they found me.

Frozen woman found in cemetery, film at eleven. . . .

Or would my torn flesh look like Maris’s?

The shadow drifted closer to me, and I swear I felt the blood freezing in my veins. The strange, unnatural pressure hurt like nothing I ever knew, but I couldn’t scream. I wanted to tell the stupid dog to run, but maybe he was frozen too. Resigned, I clenched my jaw, bracing for the worst.

And then a sunbeam split the clouds from above, cut through the mist like a laser. For a few seconds, the open grave bathed in golden light. But it was enough. With an agonized hiss, the nightmare two feet away from me boiled into dire smelling smoke.

Luck? I’d been saved by a quirk of the sunset? Something like that should only happen to Chance.

My muscles ached as if I had literally been frozen. With detachment I wondered whether I should have myself checked for frostbite. I shook as I pushed to my feet. Butch poked his head out of my handbag and gave an uncertain yap.

Well, I didn’t have all the answers either.

The fog began to dissipate, at least enough for me to get my bearings. We were closer to the far side of the cemetery, so I made for the gate as fast as my sore legs would carry me. As we ran, I came up behind a fairly tall man in a black hooded sweatshirt. Something about his stride struck me as familiar.

I couldn’t place it at first, but as he rounded the fence, I flashed on him slinking into the alley near the warehouse. It couldn’t be coincidence that I’d seen him at two attack sites. This might even be the guy we were looking for. Warlocks couldn’t go around sporting dark capes or ceremonial robes, after all.

I wouldn’t find a better time to confront him either. A display like he’d just put on would leave him ripe to be brained by an old lady with an industrial sized handbag. So I tried for another burst of speed, but my tired body told me I was crazy for attempting a sprint when I don’t even take the stairs more than I have to.

A stitch lanced through my side, and lack of oxygen made my vision sparkle. He must’ve heard me galumphing after him because he began to run. Shit, he was getting away because I was out of shape.

The granite angel seemed to come out of nowhere and I slammed my head into its wings hard enough to see stars in addition to the white sparks. I must’ve winked out because when I came to, Butch was licking my face, whining in a way that said, Hey, lady, get up. You’re my ride home.

Blinking slowly, I saw that I lay sprawled on a grave marked Montoya. For a moment I stared at the inscription on the base of the statue. The markings rang a bell

somehow, but that might just have been the general ringing in my ears. I touched my forehead and flinched at the red smear on my fingertips.

I found it hard to haul myself upright, even using the statue as support. Maybe I wasn’t meant to take out a warlock on my own. I certainly hadn’t thought about what I’d do once I caught him, that was for sure.

“We’re close to something important,” I told the Chihuahua. “They’re getting scared or they wouldn’t resort to shit like this. You think we can expect big guys with AKs next?” I remembered Lenny. “Oh, right. Sorry. That was insensitive, wasn’t it?”

He barked once.

“Let’s get out of here, huh? Assuming we can find the Mustang.”

Assuming I could drive. Did I even have the keys? I dug in my bag until I found them and then put it down long enough for Butch to hop in. I felt sick and dizzy as I made my way out. Back on the street, the mist had faded, leaving no trace that something very wrong had just taken place.

By the time I reached the car, reaction had set in, leaving me shaking so bad it took me four tries to get the key in the lock. I crawled into the Mustang, put my bag on the seat, and leaned my head against the steering wheel.

I waited a good long time before I trusted myself to drive. Butch watched me with wary eyes. Maybe it wasn’t fair but I couldn’t help feel this was vintage Chance.

He’s having the time of his life while I’m neck deep in shit. I should leave his ass here and head back to Laredo. Hell, maybe I’ll go all the way to Mexico City. I’d take the Mustang as payment for my trouble. He certainly didn’t need me with Twila on his side.

When I made up my mind, I started the car.

Some Like It Hot

I went back to Laredo without him.

Yeah, I chose the middle ground. As far as I was concerned, Chance could go Greyhound. I promised I’d see this thing through but I didn’t say he could dismiss me like a two-dollar whore while he cozied up with someone else. If that sounded like jealousy, well . . . I admitted to some conflicted feelings on the matter. Once I got on the road, I turned off my phone. I didn’t want to hear his excuses.

It was late by the time I got back into town. Butch was a perfect gentleman on the way; I guess he understood he needed to be nice to me now, as I was all that stood between him and the pound. Soon as we got out of the car, though, his hackles came up.

There were several cars parked in the drive, but there always were. Lights showed in the office, the kitchen, and the living room—nothing sinister there. I couldn’t see any reason not to go on in the house and shook my head over listening to a dog’s mood.

“Settle down,” I whispered.

Butch glared at me but consented to being pushed down into my bag. I wanted a chance to explain his presence to my hosts, and I didn’t know how they felt about pets. Chuch probably wouldn’t mind, but I wasn’t so sure about Eva.

As I opened the door, I understood Butch’s unease. Nathan Moon’s gruff, sour voice carried all too well. “So you’re saying you have no idea where she is or when she’ll be back?”

Mentor, my ass. Saldana sold me out. Men. You can’t trust any of them.

Possession of Lenny Marlowe’s dog wouldn’t look good for me, if the cop recognized Butch. Regardless, I wouldn’t let Chuch or Eva take any heat for me.

Summoning a polite smile, I stepped into the living room, conscious that I looked as though I’d been rolling around in the mud and then had let it dry. Which was more or less what had happened. I had a big bump on my forehead and several scratches down my arms, and I was lucky it hadn’t been worse.