Magic Graves Page 25

He raised the meth pipe. Most of the Weird's gadgetry was still new to him. He hadn't seen this one before.

The blonde clicked the flashlight. A bright beam of pale green light stabbed the pipe, highlighting dirty smudges, specks of dirt, and on the bulb, one large beautiful fingerprint. The woman placed the paper between the light and the fingerprint, holding it an inch away from the glass and clicked the flashlight again. The flashlight whirred. Its back end split, the metal plates lifting up, revealing the interior, a series of small gears speckled with tiny gems. The gears spun. The flashlight clicked loudly, in a measured rhythm. With each click the light turned darker and bluer. Thin lines appeared on the paper, growing darker and darker. The beam of the flashlight turned indigo and winked out. The blonde woman handed Kaldar the piece of paper with the fingerprint squarely in the center.

He hit her with a dazzling smile. "Thank you, m'lady."

She smiled back. "You're welcome, m'lord."

If he didn't have to leave, he could've asked her to share a meal with him and she would say yes. Kaldar checked the hint of a smile hiding in her eyes. She would definitely say yes, and then he would get her to say yes to a night together, and it would be a lot of fun for them both. Unfortunately, he wasn't his own man at the moment.

"So what's next?" Kaminski asked.

"Next, I'll go hunting," Kaldar said.

Fifteen minutes later, Kaldar finished with the pleasantries, shook the hands, thanked and was thanked, and finally headed to his wyvern, waiting for him on the edge of town. Addicts in the Weird didn't use meth pipes, which meant the West Egyptians were right. These thieves must have come from the Edge or the Broken . Almost four months had passed since he had visited either place. The hop back across the boundary was long overdue.

Of the three people involved, the lockpicker had to be his best bet. A man with a gift like that wouldn't stay idle for long. Somewhere, somehow, that man had left a trail. All Kaldar had to do was find it.

He couldn't wait to meet the talented bastard.

*** *** ***

The fallen tree still blocked the road. Audrey sighed, put her parking brake on, and started up the mountain. The evening sky sifted grey drizzle onto the forest. Soon June would come and with it heat and crystalline blue skies, but for now the world was still damp; its colors, except for the brilliant green, muted. A far cry from Florida. Travelling through the Weird meant crossing four countries, impossible without a wyvern. She had flown from Seattle into Orlando instead. The plane had landed late, and they pulled the job off that night, but when they had driven to Jacksonville, she got to see the sunrise through the windshield of a stolen car. It started as a pale glow of purple and red near the horizon, just over the smooth expanse of silvery ocean, and then, suddenly, it bloomed across the sky, pink, and orange and yellow, a riot of color, huge and shocking. If it had a sound, it would've deafened everyone on the road.

Audrey sighed. She wished she could've stayed longer, but common sense had won. Every moment in Florida put her in danger. Besides seeing Alex again was like ripping off a scab. He hadn't changed, not even a little. Same sneer, same hollow eyes, same junkie-contempt for everyone and everything. She abandoned dad, no, Seamus, since he hardly was her father anymore, and Alex to their scheme and took the first available plane from Jacksonville. Ended up with a six hour layover in Atlanta, just like everyone else. She was pretty sure that if you died in the south, you'd have a layover in Atlanta before you reached the afterlife. But now, almost fifteen hours later, she was finally home.

The pyramid had been a hell of a challenge.. Complex locks weren't a problem, but three doors had heavy bars. Lifting a bar by magic felt harder than lifting her own weight. The three reinforced doors had nearly drained her dry, but she had done it. It was over now and she was living the first day of the rest of her life. Free life.

Audrey conquered the fallen tree, crossed the clearing, and knocked on the door of Gnome's house. A rough growl answered. "Come in!"

Audrey tried the door handle. Locked again. A little test, huh. She put her palm against the keyhole and the door clicked. Audrey opened the door, wiped her feet on the little rug, and went inside. Gnome sat in his chair. His thick eyebrows furrowed as she approached. Audrey took a seat across from him, reached into her bag, and pulled out a bottle of AleSmith Stout. She set the bottle on the table.

"Thank you for feeding Ling for me while I was gone."

"No trouble. All she needed was a cup of cat food." Gnome shrugged his huge shoulders. "The little beast hates me, you know."

"No, she's just weary. She's been beaten up by life," Audrey said.

"Haven't we all?" Gnome took the bottle by the top and turned it, this way and that. "That's some talent you've got there."

"It comes in handy." What was he getting at? If there was a job offer on the end of this conversation, she'd turn it down flat.

"Did your talent have something to do with this urgent business you left on?"

Audrey nodded.

"I thought you got a legal job in the Broken."

"I did. It was a special one-time thing. For the family."

"Family, huh." Gnome gave out a gruff snort. "I knew your father."

"He mentioned you."

Gnome studied the beer bottle. "What did he say?"

"It was some years back. He said you knew just about everything there was to know about the Edge business on this coast. He didn't like you much. He thinks you're a tough fence to con."

"Well, I don't like him much either." Gnome grimaced. "You see all this around you?" He indicated the shelves with a sweep of his hand. "That's over a hundred years of the right decisions."

It didn't surprise her. Gnome looked sixty maybe, but a lot of Edgers were long-lived. Couple of centuries wasn't out of the question and Gnome knew the Pacific Edge too well to have gotten into this business only a few years ago.

"I bargained for every item here and I know I can sell it for a profit. Those batteries over there cost me nine dollars and ninety eight cents. I sell them for three bucks a piece. Make fifty dollars and two cents in profit. I don't force foolish people to pay three dollars for a AA battery. I just provide the opportunity and they buy it because they're either too lazy to drive five miles down to the store. or they don't have the gas. or they've don't have the money but they've got something to trade. Why should I charge less because they can't make enough to feed their kids and buy gas at the same time? This is business. You build it little by little and you hold on to what you've got. Your father can't get it through his thick skull. He wants big money now, and when he gets it, he blows it all, because he is too damn stupid to pace himself. He had you with your gift and he's still penniless."

"I won't argue with you there." Childhood in the Callahan family had been feast or famine. One day steak, the next mac with imaginary cheese.

Gnome leaned forward, poking the table with his finger. "I'm not in the business of giving advice. I'm in the business of making money. So you listen to me good, because this is the only time I'll say this. You're a nice girl. Not many of you are left out there. You're an endangered species. Your father's trouble. He's a selfish asshole and his turkey is cooked - he ain't gonna change for nobody." Gnome made a cutting motion with his hand. "He'll drag you into a mess and run the other way. You've got a good thing going here: you've got a house, you've got a good job, and you're your own person. Don't let him screw it all up for you."

Audrey rose. "I won't. This was the last time."

"That's what they all say."

She smiled at him. "Yes, but I mean it. I will never do a job again for Seamus Callahan."

"You see to that."

Oh she would. She most definitely would. If any of Callahans ever showed themselves on her lawn again, she would meet them with a rifle in her hands. If she was feeling charitable, they'd get a warning shot, but chances of that were slim.

Read more about The Edge…


Ilona Andrews

Sneak Peek of the Kate novella tentatively titled Magic Grieves.

The excerpt below represents a section of rough draft. It has not been copyedited or proof-read and it contains grammatical errors. The final draft may differ significantly from this version. Read at your own risk.

I was ten feet from the office door of Cutting Edge Investigations, when I heard our phone ring inside. Unfortunately the key to the office was in my sweatshirt pocket, which at the moment was full of pale pink slime dripping from the tentacles resting on my shoulders. The tentacles weighed about seventy pounds and my shoulders really didn't like it.

Behind me Andrea, my best friend and partner in crime solving, shifted the bulbous mass of flesh that was the rest of the creature on her shoulder. "Phone."

"I hear it." I dug in my pocket, all but glued shut by slime. Cold wetness slipped through my fingers. Ew.

"Kate, it could be a client."

"I'm trying to find the key."

Clients meant money and money was in short supply. Cutting Edge opened its doors three months ago, and while we were getting a trickle of paying jobs, most of them were lousy. Despite a good recommendation from Red Guard, a premier bodyguard outfit in the city, clients weren't knocking down our door in a rush to hire us.

Our world was beset by magic waves. They flooded us at random, smothering technology and leaving monsters in their wake, and then the magic would vanish as unpredictably as it appeared, and the guns stopped jamming, while the electricity once again held the darkness at bay. Sadly the consequences of the magic waves didn't always vanish with them, and Atlanta spawned many places to get help with magic hazmat. All of them had been in business a lot longer than us: the cops, the Mercenary Guild, a slew of private companies, and the big gorilla, the Order of Merciful Aid. The Order and its knights made it their mission to guard humanity against all threats and they did just that, on their terms. Both Andrea and I worked for the Order at some point and both of us left under less than amicable circumstances. Our reputations weren't stellar, so when we got a job, it was because everyone else in town had already turned it down. We were quickly turning into Atlanta's place of last resort. Still, every successful job was a check mark by our name.

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