Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(27) by Ilona Andrews
Julie knelt next to me and reached to brush more dirt off.
“Don’t touch it.” I passed her the gauze. The first rule of staying alive in Atlanta: if you see something weird, stay the hell away from it.
We began brushing the dirt aside, Julie and I from one side, Curran and Derek from the other. In twenty minutes we had it cleared and I climbed the Tahoe again. A perfectly round ribbon of glass sand, about eight inches wide, circled the vehicle, lying on top of the dirt like a thin crust of dirty ice on the surface of a pond after the first frost. Someone, probably the ghouls, had tried to cover it, but there it was.
“Copper?” I asked Julie.
“What does it mean?” Curran asked.
“I think there was a burst of magic up there.” I pointed to the area above the car. “It’s probably the teleportation footprint. The group of ghouls from the Oswalds’ neighborhood came here and were teleported to wherever the rest of the ghouls have gathered. And this glasslike ring is the physical evidence of it.” At least it was something. “Teleportation usually requires an anchor, some substance from the place you are teleporting to. Hugh carried water. This glass thing is probably an anchor. I definitely want a sample of it.”
Maybe if we got this analyzed, we could figure out what it was and where it came from. And then we would go there and ask the ghouls to give us Eduardo back. Pretty please with sugar on top.
“If it occurred as they teleported, who covered it?” Curran asked.
“Maybe they covered it before they teleported,” Julie said.
I jumped down from the Tahoe, pulled a ziplock bag from my pocket, and unsheathed Sarrat. “You might want to give me some space.”
They backed away.
I quickly sliced with Sarrat. The thin crust of glass broke into sections. I waited to see if it would sprout needles or deliver some other lovely surprise. It lay in the dirt, looking inert. I used the gauze to pick up a piece, about four inches wide and three inches long, and slid the translucent chunk into the ziplock evidence bag.
Julie squinted at us and wrinkled her nose. “You smell horrible. Did you guys crawl through a Dumpster?”
What would my life be without teenage sass?
“Long story,” Curran told her. “Can you see anything else?”
She shook her head. “Lots of ghouls and the copper explosion. That’s it.”
“We’re done here, then,” he said.
Eduardo had been missing for well over forty-eight hours. Every minute made finding him less likely, and I had no idea where to look next.
• • •
WE SENT DEREK and Julie back to the house, instructing them to swing by the Oswalds’ place to pick up George’s car, and drove to Eduardo’s house. The idea of Julie driving still gave me nightmares, but I had driven at her age, so I had no room to talk.
We drove with the windows down despite the cold wind. We were both too fragrant otherwise. I considered a brief detour to Cutting Edge for a quick shower, but it would be easier to just go and get the home search over with.
Eduardo lived in a nice place in Sandy Springs, a sturdy two-story brick home built post-Shift sitting on a half-acre lot. The walls of the first story looked reinforced, their windows narrow and shielded by steel bars. The second-story windows ran larger, but the steel bars on them were just as well made. No fence. Any shapeshifter gone loup or a loose vampire would scale the tallest fence in the blink of an eye, and razor wire didn’t give them much pause either. In post-Shift Atlanta fences didn’t keep monsters out. They kept people in for convenient snacking.
Curran unlocked the steel security door and then the solid inner door with the keys George left for us. Hardwood floors. Clean house, airy despite the narrow windows. Neat. Curran inhaled. “I’m getting Eduardo and George, nobody else. I’m going to walk around outside.”
I went into the kitchen. Granite countertops, clean and polished. Nice oak cabinets. Happy kitchen towels with bright red apples sewn on them. A big solid table, no frills, and only two chairs. This place must’ve cost a small fortune to rent. No signs of struggle. No blood. I kept walking. Family room. Bookshelves stood against the left wall, mostly empty. A couple of comfortable shapeshifter-sized couches, each lined with a knitted afghan, offered a soft place to sit. A stack of books lay on the coffee table, the top one half-closed because someone had stuck a pencil into it, probably to hold their place. A teacup, a little bit of tea still in the bottom, waited by the books for its owner. This wasn’t some pristine house. This was Eduardo’s home, a place where he hoped George would live with him, and I felt odd moving through this space, as if I were invading their privacy without their permission. I could picture George and Eduardo sitting here on the couch, each with their own cup of tea, reading together under the knitted blankets on the oversized couch.
No pictures on the walls. George was right. Eduardo probably didn’t keep in contact with his family. In fact, the house was barely furnished. They probably hadn’t had a chance to get all the furniture or couldn’t afford it.
The living room ended. Another room, a rectangular, relatively narrow space, lay across the hallway. Probably a formal dining room at one point, now it had been turned into an office, with a lone square window, large enough for a person to squeeze through, but too small for anything larger. A desk stood against one wall, supporting a phone and a yellow book. Weapons hung on the walls, mostly tactical blades. Most shapeshifters used their claws. A few, especially those trained specifically for combat, armed themselves with knives. Eduardo didn’t grow claws. His arsenal consisted of various short swords. Two massive weapons hung on the wall: a big steel maul with a wooden handle and an equally heavy axe. If I tried to fight with either, it would require two hands and take me ages to swing them. Eduardo could probably swing them about as easily as I swung my sword.
I paused by a pair of Iberian steel falcatas, twenty inches overall, with fourteen-inch blades, single-edged, slightly curved, and convex near the point but concave near the hilt. The swords that surprised the Romans in the Second Punic war.
I had a pair of falcatas from the same smithy—they bore the same small mark on the hilt. These were hand forged from 5160 high-carbon steel and marquenched in a molten salt bath to minimize flaws, distortions, and cracking. There was a great deal of difference between a sword and a swordlike object. I had seen very pretty blades made from stainless steel that looked great until someone actually tried to use them and they snapped in half from stress. Battle-ready swords required fatigue-resistant spring steel like 5160. Pre-Shift, people used it for truck springs. It contained chrome and silicon and was expensive, but 5160 took a hell of a lot of punishment before it broke. Eduardo had good taste.
I moved on to the desk. The corkboard held scraps of paper. Most looked like merc notes, the numbers of clients with small notations by them. 1728 Maple Drive, winged snake in a tree. 345 Calwood, feral dog. Call Guild about Walters, 5 days late on payment. I plucked the corkboard off the wall. I would go through it tonight. Unlike the fictional detectives who solved crimes in a burst of brilliance, I’ve slogged my way through investigations and I’ve learned that being thorough pays off.
A stack of open mail lay on the corner of the desk, pinned in place by a large smooth rock. I moved it aside and flipped through the stack of mail. Bills. All current, no past-due balances. A bank statement. Eduardo had a total of six thousand dollars in savings and two thousand in checking. A page was pinned to the bank statement, detailing a list of expenses, utilities, insurance, and so on, each with a notation by it written in a bold, wide hand. The amounts on some notations were multiplied by two. He was doing the budget for him and George. Underneath in big letters Eduardo had written, Need more money, and underlined it twice.
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