Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(28) by Ilona Andrews
I checked the desk drawer. Paper, pens, sticky notes, a stack of gig tickets . . . I leafed through it. The most recent one was from a week ago. He must’ve filed them weekly. Some days had three gigs, sometimes six, seven hours apart. He was working himself into the ground. He would take a job, finish it, return to the Guild, and sleep there until another gig came up, and he did it day after day. George couldn’t have known. She would’ve made him stop.
I moved the gig stubs aside. A small wooden box . . . I picked it up and flicked the latch. A ring rested on the cushion of velvet. A big round sapphire set in a framework of triangular petals, resembling a lotus flower studded with tiny diamonds. The metal of the ring was solid black. Fourteen-karat gold plated with black rhodium. It would’ve been expensive before the Shift; now, with technology suffering, the price was crazy. Shapeshifters didn’t like the feel of precious metals. Silver was poison and gold was only slightly better. Rhodium insulated them against gold. Raphael had given a black rhodium ring to Andrea for her birthday, starting a craze. The Pack wouldn’t shut up about it for days.
I was looking at more than seven thousand dollars in this tiny box. George was way too practical to ever expect a black rhodium ring. If I asked her, she would tell me stainless steel was just fine. But he’d bought it for her anyway. He wanted her to have the best there was, and if she ever found out how much he worked to get it, she would probably kill him.
The sapphire caught the light from the window, the fire within sparkling, as if a drop of pure seawater had somehow crystallized, retaining all of the color and depth of the ocean inside it. The future of two people sitting here on a velvet pillow. George’s words came back to me. He could be dead in a ditch somewhere . . . Worry gnawed at me. I packed it away, into the deep place inside me, and snapped the box closed. Eduardo didn’t need my emotions. He needed my help.
I reached for the wastebasket. Sometimes the things people threw away said more than the things they chose to keep. A hilt protruded about an inch from the papers inside the basket. The pommel had the unmistakable pale softness of bone. Hmm. Odd.
I pulled the weapon out. A slightly curved dagger in a sheath, about twenty-five and a half inches long overall. The sheath was wood wrapped in black leather. Silver leaf covered the tip of the sheath and about two inches at the top, twisting into a complex ornate pattern with plaited silver wire, gilt filigree, and niello. I counted the braided strands: one, two, five total. The handle had been painstakingly carved to give the bone just enough texture so if the grip became bloodied, it wouldn’t slip from your hand. A bright blue-green turquoise stone the size of my thumbnail decorated the grip and an even larger bright-red carnelian graced the pommel, like a drop of opaque blood. Wow.
I wrapped my fingers around the grip. The bone was warm, soft, and slightly rough. Like shaking hands.
The blade came free of the scabbard with a soft whisper. The seventeen-inch double-edged blade shimmered, a ray of sun caught and bound into steel. Silver script, delicate and elegant, ran the length of the grooved blade. I didn’t speak Arabic, but I’ve learned to recognize some verses. It was often used by Muslims against evil spirits. Hasbiya Allahu la ilaha illa huwa àlayhi tawakkaltu wahuwa rabbu al-àrshi al-àzhim. Allah suffices me; there is no god but He; in Him I place my sole trust; He is the Lord of the mighty Throne.
A kindjal dagger. Not one of Russian make. The profile was too curved. This was a kindjal with an Arabic spin on it. I balanced the dagger on my finger. Perfect. Full tang, sharp but not brittle-edged, and the kind of weight distribution that let the dagger sink into the body almost on its own. This wasn’t a weapon. It was a masterpiece. The kind of blade you treasure and pass on to your children.
So the falcatas were on the wall, but the kindjal got thrown into the wastebasket. Why? If Eduardo didn’t like it, why not sell it? He needed the money.
The tiny hairs on the back of my neck rose. My shoulders tensed. Someone was watching me.
I looked up slowly. Outside the window, the sun was beginning to set. Someone stood in the shadow of a tree about fifty yards away, half hidden by a low branch. I could barely make out a dark silhouette by the darker trunk.
Three seconds to the door, five seconds to cover the distance. Too long. If the watcher wasn’t completely human, he’d be gone before I’d get out the door.
I leaned forward, focusing on the watcher. My body tensed.
The shadow was still there, by the trunk. Definitely human.
Come out, come out, whoever you are.
The human shape moved.
That’s it. Come forward. Come out to play.
The branch slid out of the way.
I reached for my sword.
Curran stepped into the open.
I grabbed a canvas sack from a shelf, slid the dagger, the corkboard, and the bills into it, and marched outside. He was still standing by the tree.
“Quit scaring me.”
“Eduardo was being watched.” He nodded at the trunk of the tree. A barely perceptible scrape marked the bark about three feet up. I grabbed a thick bottom branch, put my foot against the scrape, and pushed up into the tree, into the spot where the thick trunk split into twin branches. If I crouched, I could still see the window and the desk by it. If the light was on, I could see inside the office.
“It’s a layered scent,” Curran said. “Human. Male. He came here several times. Last time a couple of days ago.”
“A stalker?” I jumped out of the tree.
“Looks that way.”
“Did he do anything while here?”
Curran shook his head. “No. He didn’t jerk off, didn’t spit, and didn’t sweat. Occasionally he was in the tree.” Curran crouched by the dry leaves and mulch at the roots. “Most people move around while they wait. They shift foot to foot.” He pointed at the mulch with his hand.
“Doesn’t look disturbed,” I said.
He nodded. “The scent is old but dense. He came here often and stayed for some time in one spot without fidgeting. This is a guy who knows how to not be seen. He wasn’t indecisive. He wasn’t worried about being caught. He just stood and watched. When he was done, he walked to the end of the street. The trail ends there. Likely he had gotten into a car.”
Disciplined and patient. Good for him, bad for us.
“Would Eduardo know he was being watched?”
“Hard to say.” Curran frowned. “If he were a cat or a wolf, he would’ve patrolled his territory, so he would notice the scent immediately. Eduardo is a bison. Hell if I know.”
“Is it possible he could’ve missed the scent?”
“This time of year, the wind usually blows southeast. I didn’t smell him until I was right up on the tree. Eduardo wouldn’t have any reason to come out here, unless he was mowing the yard, which he probably won’t do for another couple of months. So yes, it is possible he missed it. But bison have good hearing and an acute sense of smell. So he may have known about it.”
“If he had known about it, wouldn’t he have ruffled the mulch or something to put his territorial stamp on it?”
“I don’t know. I have no idea what bison do besides charging intruders.”
“Could we ask somebody?”
Curran stared at me helplessly. “The Pack has one werebison and he’s missing.”
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