Gather round the campfire, young bucks. Fall is in the air and we’re heading into dangerous territory with our Old West Urban Fantasy serial, CONJURING MISERY. Come join our yarn spinners Jami, Camille Douglass and Dave Benneman as we rejoin our motley cast as they face the evil tumbling through the dusty trails of Misery…
Chapter 7 (the second half)
Staring down into Sam’s surprised face, I grinned, keeping my voice low so not to interrupt the pain filled song ringing through the late morning air. “Or you’re more than welcome to stay here and just watch.” I shrugged. “Up to you.”
“Maybe he just likes watching.” That little gem came from Smoke, who was still pissed about having no sleep, no coffee and dealing with Jinx. Couldn’t fault her temper, it’s not a combination I’d want to endure either. She stood next to me, hands on her hips that damn taffeta replaced by her preferred head to toe black, which is how we were able to sneak up on Sam without giving our presence away.
At our booted feet Sam shifted his position and the beautiful piece of firepower he was holding. “Fancy meeting you two here.”
There was the merest snarl to his words and hearing it, my grin grew. Guess we were finally getting somewhere with Mr. Fancy Pants. I scratched an itch behind my ear. “Considering you never came back—”
“And the idiot German was passed out in your room,” Smoke snapped.
“We figured you’d decide to do some investigatin’ all by your lonesome,” I finished, shaking my head even as I tisked. “Goes to prove that your luck isn’t based on brains now, is it, Gambling Man?”
His lips thinned into a mutinous line, before he pushed to his feet, taking the time to straighten his scarf, which had come loose. A shadow of something caught my attention before the scarf resumed it’s position, but I shrugged it off as Sam spoke.
“I went looking for Two Crows.”
Another scream cut through the morning, bringing our low toned conversation to a halt. Sounded like Villalobos was having a very bad morning.
“That’s not Two Crows’ handiwork,” Smoke muttered. “That’s Donoma’s.”
Her comment earned a narrow eyed look from Sam. “You willing to make a little wager on that?”
Smoke’s smile was far from reassuring, in fact, if Sam was a lesser man, he be tucking tail and running as if the hounds of hell were on his heels. “You’re not quite ready for my type of wager, Samuel Conner.”
Oh yeah, Smoke’s temper was a breath away from snapping. Time to intervene. “Two Crows was in the room when Jim came shambling in. Someone in that room was Jim’s target, and based upon the happenings occurring inside, I’m thinking Villalobos was the target. Beside Two Crows made his wants very clear. From what Smoke told me, Donoma has her own vendetta to pursue. Two Crows has nothing to do with this.” I waved a hand at the boards.
“So, what? You teaming up with Two Crows?” His question was heavy with suspicion.
“Not yet,” I drawled. Sam turned to me, sunlight glinted off his lenses adding a surreal bent, as if I was being eyed by blind Atropos, the crone of Fate. A shiver crawled over my skin. A warning, one I didn’t need as I had no doubt there was much more to Samuel Connor than either Smoke or I could begin to guess. “However, he’s claiming to be the Star’s rightful owner.”
“And you believe him?”
Sounded as if Sam didn’t. “Considering the payment he’s offering, yeah, I do.”
Sam’s intelligence wasn’t dimmed by the horrific scene playing on the other side of the boards. “You really believe he can grant three wishes.”
I held his gaze. “After what you’ve seen so far, Sam, don’t you.”
Another long, agony filled wail curled around us. Sam flinched and flicked an uneasy glance as if he could see through the barely standing walls. “We need to stop her.”
“Why?” That was Smoke, the epitome of compassion and mercy.
He shifted his hold on the shotgun and I inched my hands closer to my girls nestled at my hips. Didn’t matter how much I might like him, no one threatened Smoke.
He lifted his free hand, palm up. “Ease down, Snake.” His attention went back to Smoke. “Call me soft hearted, but listening to a man get tortured to death isn’t something I’m at ease doing.”
Another cry was followed by a female’s croon. “Now, mi amigo, let’s see if you’re up for conversation.”
Smoke and I shared a look. From the sounds of things Doona was getting ready to up the stakes. Truth be told, torture was palatable so long as it was deserved. The world wouldn’t lose much with Villalobos’s death, but there were a few questions I wanted to ask, not just him, but her as well. Starting with what her stake was in this treasure hunt. The last damn thing we needed was another player in this game. There were popping up like rabbits, and I was about to start eliminating the players like targets at a shooting gallery. My patience wasn’t infinite. Cyrus was running out of time.
“Exactly how are you planning on bringing that there conversation to a halt?” I aimed my question at Sam.
He hefted the shotgun. “I can ensure my words carry weight.”
Smoke shook her head. “A pocket full of lead won’t do more than piss her off. You’re going to need a bit more persuading power on your side.”
Sam cocked his head. “You suggesting we team up?”
“You want to go in alone, go right ahead.” She gave him an evil smile. “When she kills you, Snake and I can handle clean up.”
We were interrupted by another scream, this one a bit longer and more desperate than its predecessors. Sam’s hands tighten on the shotgun, his fingers going bloodless, his throat bobbing as he swallowed.
Tired of dancing around things, I snapped, “Decide, Sam. We team up and split Two Crows payment, or you go in and play White Knight and see how much damage the lizard bitch can really do.”
Another moment or two passed, filled with low whimpers and a husky laugh that would make bones rattle in fear. Sam finally dipped his chin. “Deal. We get the Star back to Two Crows and split the payment. Providing Two Crows is who he said he is.”
I bumped shoulders with Smoke. “Told you there were brains in there somewhere.”
“Whatever,” she muttered even as she lifted her arms away from her sides and shook her hands. Between one blink and the next a silent blue flame erupted, gloving her hands. She balled them into fists and the glow intensified.
I pulled my girls free, a surge of predatory anticipation singing through my blood. “Let’s go conversate.”
Sam looked at my hands and swallowed. That’s right, play time was over. I appreciated the the sentimentality from both Snake and Sam but at the end of the day a job needed to be done and an innocent boy’s life hung in the balance. Perhaps Villalobos didn’t deserve the torture that was currently being inflicted on him, but someone had to be pragmatic and the man had chosen to enter the game. I hoped Sam would finally realize how high the stakes were.
“Yes, I enjoy a good chat,” I murmured in agreement taking the lead.
I heard Sam fall in behind me. His footsteps carried slightly more resonance than Snake’s and she wouldn’t leave him at our backs. Magic wouldn’t protect us from getting our heads blown off with a shotgun. We were quiet now. The woman within hadn’t appeared to hear our hushed conversations over the torture but we didn’t need to push it. A trickle of sweat ran down the back of my neck. Not a good sign, nerves weren’t part of my usual retinue. I glanced back once more. Sam’s face had taken on a hard look. He either didn’t like being sandwiched between Snake and I, felt ready to play the hero, or both. My eyes met Snake’s. ‘Hurry up,’ she mouthed. Bless her, my sister had more guts than sense sometimes.
Taking a deep breath, I waited for another painful shriek to fill the air before nudging open the squeaky door with my boot and stepping into the door way. A woman in a long cotton skirt and loose blouse, dark hair past her ass stood over a bloodied and broken man staked to the floor. Sam and Snake quietly filed in behind, but apparently not quiet enough as the woman’s head snapped back to look at us. Her dark eyes held no hint of warmth, just endless dark pools. The smile she delivered caused another streak of sweat to run down my neck.
“Oh look, we have visitors.” She glanced down at my hands. Normally that would incite, if not fear, then wariness, but she didn’t even blink. “Not very friendly though, are they?” She looked at Villalobos for confirmation. Incapable of speech he moaned, accompanied by a pleading look of hope . She tisked.
Sam stepped up next to me. “Oh we’re always friendly ma’am. Do you prefer Donoma or Night Bird?” We waited for a moment, but the woman remained silent studying Sam. Unflustered he charged on. “Your uncle, at least I believe he’s your uncle, is looking for you.”
She spat on the floor. “So?”
“Well, we would hate to interrupt a family squabble. Not our concern, but he claims you may have taken a certain artifact that belongs to him. I myself believe one shouldn’t steal from kin.” Sam somehow managed to sound sympathetic, cajoling, and stern all at once. Impressive.
Night Bird didn’t seem to think so, the black of her eyes hardened. “One cannot steal what cannot be owned. Do you think I don’t know that you want the Star? That this shit hole of a town just filled up with those inclined,” she gestured toward my hands. “The Yaqui Star belongs with whomever can hold it and I don’t think that’s you, little man, or your two guard bitches.”
The hard click of Snake pulling back the hammer on her girls resonated through the cabin. Time to step in.
“Donoma, Night Bird, whatever, you may be right about The Yaqui Star belonging to no one, but you seem like a wise enough woman. So you must know that items of great power need a keeper. A keeper that won’t do foolish things like raise a man from the dead.” Lecturing her on karmic laws of balance was as pointless as whiskers on a fish, but I had to try.
She laughed, a rusty, squeaky sound. “Yes, I know of the balance. Where there is light there must also be dark.” Without warning her body shimmered turning into a dark shadow.
Her unexpected play took me by surprise and left me chewing at the bit because in that form the magic in my hands was useless.
“Well shit,” Snake muttered, genuine trepidation dousing her usual bravado.
The shadow moved quickly and silently over Villalobos, entering his body. He didn’t have time to utter a sound before his eyes turned black, his body shuddered twice and then fell still. The shadow that was the Night Bird exited the corpse as quickly as it had entered, then swept out a crack in the wall of the shed.
I crossed myself unconsciously.
“Well, Smoke, we’ve got a problem.” Snake had regained her bearings.
“Too many to count.”
“Yeah, but how you gonna walk around claiming the name Smoke when that woman is literal smoke? Must be embarrassing for you.”
The fear flooding my body moments ago fled abruptly. “You’re right I’m mortified, do you think she’d switch names? I could be Night Bird.”
“You two are fucking bat shit, you know that?” Sam gave us each a hard look before turning on his heal and storming from the shack.
I looked at Snake and shrugged. “He’s not wrong.”
She winked at me. “He’s not right either.”
Come on back in a couple of weeks for our next installment. Until then, wishing you a wonderful holiday weekend!