Spider's Trap(Elemental Assassin,book 13)(14) by Jennifer Estep
Owen let out a low whistle. “That’s a deadly bit of business. All those nails . . . they would have shredded everything and everyone they came into contact with.”
“Maybe the watcher didn’t want to kill me outright,” I said. “Maybe he wanted to mess me up and watch me suffer first. Maybe that’s why he had a sniper rifle. To put me down after the bomb went off.”
Owen grimaced, but he didn’t disagree with my assessment. I thought about my words to Phillip and Silvio, my musing that maybe the watcher liked collateral damage. The nails definitely proved that. Whoever the watcher was, he definitely had a sadistic streak, which only made me more determined to figure out who he was and what he wanted.
I rolled the nails around in the box again, listening to them tink-tink-tink together, the sound almost like a clock, ticking down the seconds to my death.
* * *
I left the bomb where I’d found it, and Owen and I searched the rest of the area. It was easy to tell where the fake waiter had slogged ashore, since he hadn’t bothered to hide his muddy tracks. But they led back to the parking lot and vanished, which meant that he’d left in a car, so there was no way to trace him farther at the moment.
But it was the watcher’s nest that interested me the most.
Owen and I followed the fake waiter’s tracks straight to it. The watcher had chosen a good spot, on a slight rise just inside the trees that lined the shore. The area gave him a clear view of the riverboat from fore to aft but still had enough foliage to hide him from sight of anyone on the Delta Queen looking in this direction. The flash of light on his binoculars had been his only giveaway. But even then, it was mostly luck that I’d spotted the reflection. If I hadn’t . . . well, I didn’t want to think about what would have happened on the riverboat, especially to Phillip and Silvio.
But the watcher hadn’t left any glaring clues behind. No restaurant receipts, no parking stubs, no hotel matchbooks. As far as I could tell, all he’d done was stand here, peer through his binoculars, and watch the riverboat before leaving. He’d even taken the time to pick up his shell casings and scuff over his footprints to hide what kind of shoes he was wearing. Smart.
And I didn’t think anyone else had been here with him. No other tracks littered the ground, and the surrounding foliage wasn’t trampled or disturbed enough for more than a couple of people to have passed this way. Besides, if the watcher had a group of men at his disposal, then why not send them to storm the riverboat and shoot me point-blank? No, this struck me as a two-man job: the waiter and the watcher.
I was betting that the watcher was also the metal elemental who had built the bombs. After all, why construct a bomb if you weren’t going to stick around to watch it explode, and there hadn’t been anyone else here to witness the blast. Besides, the metal elemental was smart enough to build a bomb, which meant that he was smart enough to get someone else—the fake waiter—to plant it on the riverboat so he could be sure to stay out of range of the destructive blast.
I crouched down and examined the same patch of ground for the fifth time, hoping that a clue would miraculously sprout up out of the earth like some magical fairy-tale rose. I’d even take a weed at this point. But of course that didn’t happen, and I came up empty. Frustration surged through me. Another dead end—
“Hey, Gin,” Owen called out. “Check this out.”
I got to my feet and went over to where he was standing, about twenty feet to my right and another ten back in the woods. Owen pointed at a tree trunk, where a gnarled knot stuck out right at my heart level. At first, I didn’t see what he was so interested in, but then I noticed the deep gouges in the wood. The bomber must have gotten bored while he’d been out here, because something had been carved into the knot. I leaned closer and squinted at the crude shape—a long line with a spiked ball on the end.
“Is that . . . a mace?” I asked.
I wasn’t sure why that particular weapon popped into my head, but as soon as I said the word, my stomach clenched with a vague, uneasy feeling of . . . dread. But why would I be worried about some symbol carved into a tree? It wasn’t the first one I’d seen, and I doubted it would be the last.
“Your guess is as good as mine.” Owen flashed me a grin. “I was going with some sort of bomb or maybe even fireworks. Since there have been so many of those already today.”
I laughed at his black humor, then stared at the carving again. It didn’t look like it had been done with a knife, at least not a sharp one. Otherwise, the image would have been clearer, deeper, with more defined edges, and more curls of wood would have been littering the ground. This looked like scratches more than anything else, like it had been done with . . . a nail.
Like all the nails he’d packed into those two bombs.
As soon as the thought occurred to me, I knew that it was right. I wondered how many nails the watcher, the bomber, carried around with him—and why. Sure, they were practical tools for a metal elemental, but the nails had to mean something more, had to represent some sentiment or memory. Weapons always did to the people wielding them.
“You’re sure it’s not fireworks?” Owen joked again.
“No,” I said. “Long line topped with a spiked ball. I really think it’s a mace.”
My stomach clenched again at the word, but I pushed my unease aside.
“A medieval weapon.” Owen shook his head. “You don’t see those every day. What does it mean?”
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