Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(25) by Ilona Andrews
“We need Julie,” Curran said.
Once magic came on the scene, it was quickly determined that figuring out the nature of magic at any given crime scene was vital. That was why investigators used m-scanners, clunky heavy contraptions that sampled the magic and spat out colored printouts of it: blue for human, purple for vampire, green for shapeshifter, and so on. Julie was the human equivalent of an m-scanner, and she was much more sensitive than the most advanced model.
I pulled the keys out of my pocket. “She should be at home by now.”
Curran eyed the hole in the cavern’s ceiling. It was fully forty feet up. Derek took the keys, put them in his jeans, and backed up for a running start. Curran locked his hands together and crouched, holding them out like a step. Derek charged him, fast like a blur. His right foot stepped on Curran’s fist, Curran straightened, his arms propelling Derek like a spring, and the boy wonder shot up like a bullet. For a second I thought he would fall short, and then his hand caught a broken metal pipe sticking out of the edge of the hole. He pulled himself up and vanished into the daylight.
LONG RIPS SCOURED the Tahoe’s front passenger seat, the edges of the fabric frayed, ripped by claws rather than cut. A much smoother cut scarred the dashboard and the far edge of the passenger seat. Dents potholed the dashboard, some with pieces of bone and clumps of dark red tissue stuck to the surface. Several dark smears, thick, the color of reddish tar, stained the inside of the Tahoe, all except for the driver’s seat, which meant Eduardo was in it when the fight happened. I sat in the driver’s seat—my feet could barely touch the pedals—and swung my hand out. Yep. Eduardo had some sort of a short blade in his hand, probably a machete judging by the cut in the dashboard, and he’d hacked at something with it. Then the blade was ripped out of his hand¸ and he started bashing his attackers into the dash.
I pulled a small plastic bag out of my pocket on my belt, got a pinch of powder, and sprinkled it on the blood. The dark green powder turned white.
“Ironweed,” I explained to Curran. “Ghouls don’t like it. Not sure if it hurts them, but it reacts with their blood.”
Curran examined the dash. “For being pinned by the seat belt and swarmed, he put up a hell of a fight.”
“And that’s what puzzles me.” I reached over and touched the remains of Eduardo’s seat belt. About eight inches of it hung from the top bracket, the end of the section rough and frayed.
“Gnawed through,” Curran said.
“Yes. He was wearing the seat belt when they jumped him. You’re a ghoul. This guy’s hacking at you with a blade and crushing your buddies’ skulls left and right, and instead of killing him right here, while he is trapped by his seat belt, you take the time to chew through it and pull him out.”
“They wanted Eduardo alive,” Curran said.
We searched the rest of the Tahoe. I found Eduardo’s backpack with his lunch and his wallet in it with a hundred bucks in cash. The cache of weapons in the back of the Tahoe was intact. Any human predator would’ve taken the guns and the tactical blades. Whoever took Eduardo had no interest in his weapons or his money, which probably meant our ghoul theory was correct. Not only had the ghouls kidnapped Eduardo, they pushed his car into a hole to hide it. They weren’t that devious under normal circumstances. Some sort of malevolent intelligence was controlling the ghouls, and it clearly had a plan. If only we could figure out what that plan was.
I sat on a rock. Curran stretched out next to me. He looked like hell. Some time ago the ichor covering us had begun to smell like rotten fish, and while we crawled around underground, loose dirt had mixed with it to form a cement-like substance on his skin and mine, in my case no doubt tainted by whatever blood seeped through the bandages. My shoulder hurt. My back hurt, too. Neither of us had eaten since morning. Curran had to be starving. Some pair we made.
He noticed me studying him. “Here we are in a filthy hole.”
“Yep. Looking like two ghouls who rolled in some rotting corpses.”
He flashed a grin at me. “Hey, baby. Want to fool around?”
I laughed at him.
“If I were planning to kidnap Eduardo,” Curran said, “and I knew where he was going, the easiest thing would be to station some shapeshifters near his destination so they could ambush him as he arrived. Except that destination happens to be in a residential neighborhood, which meant if my people jumped Eduardo there, they would have to drag him through the streets kicking and screaming.”
“Yes. Too risky. Too exposed, and too many potential witnesses,” I agreed.
“I would want to grab my victim off the street fast and quiet, so I would scout the possible routes to his destination, find good places to jump him, and put a group of shapeshifters at each route and one final group near the destination itself, just as insurance.”
“Makes sense.” That was exactly what the ghouls did.
“So what is so special about Eduardo?”
“I don’t know.” I sighed. “Maybe he’s a secret ghoul prince.”
I wanted to climb out of the hole and kill something to make Eduardo be okay. Instead I had to sit here, twiddling my thumbs. I reached over to Curran and squeezed his hand.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll find him. They took him alive, so they want something from him.”
“It’s not finding him. It’s finding him in time.”
“He knows help is coming,” Curran said. “George loves him. He knows she’s searching for him and she’d make the Pack look for him.”
“I keep wondering how I missed it,” I murmured.
“George and Eduardo.”
“They were very careful,” Curran said. “George loves her father. She didn’t want him and Eduardo fighting. Mahon is the Pack’s executioner and has more experience, but Eduardo is younger, five hundred pounds heavier in beast form, and he would be very motivated. It wouldn’t matter who won. When they were done, one of them would be dead and the other one dying.”
“Would he really fight Eduardo?”
“Depends on the circumstances. Martha can pull Mahon back most of the time, but sometimes his brakes malfunction.”
“But why? What would that accomplish except makes everyone involved miserable?”
Curran sighed. “Mahon’s problem is that he has some very definite ideas about what a man’s supposed to be and what a male werebear should be. It sounds great in his head and he gets carried away with it. He isn’t shy about sharing his bear wisdom. Then his views collide with reality and they mostly don’t survive. At the core Mahon isn’t evil. He means well and he wants to be seen as a good person, so when people react badly to the nonsense coming out of his mouth, he gets shocked and has to readjust. For example, the first time Aunt B came to the Pack Council, he took it upon himself to lecture her about how men should be men and women should be women, and Clan alphas should be men with women helping them, not the other way around.”
I laughed. “What did she do?”
“She petted his shoulder and said, ‘Bless your heart, you must be awful in bed.’”
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