The Wizard’s Way

A Prey Threatening a Predator

”I remember hearing he had an enforcer, ” I said.

”I guess he doesn anymore. ”

Ericson shrugged.

”So it would seem. ”

”So what will you do next? ”

”Run down this hairstylist angle, I guess. Ill talk to Bianca and Payton, but I can already tell you what theyll tell me. ” She flicked her notebook closed and shook her head, irritated.

I watched her for a minute. She looked tired. I told her so.

”I am tired, ” she replied.

”Tired of being looked at like Im some sort of nutcase. Even Hunt, my partner, thinks Ive gone over the edge in all of this. ”

”The rest of the station think so too? ” I asked her.

”Most of them just scowl and spin their index fingers around their temples when they think Im not looking, and file my reports without ever reading them. The rest are the ones who have run into something spooky out there, and they
e scared shitless. They don want to believe in anything they didn see on Mister Science when they were kids. ”

”How about you? ”

”Me? ” Ericson smiled, a curving of her lips that was a vibrantly feminine expression, making her look entirely too pretty to be such a hardass.

”The worlds falling apart at the seams, Ryan. I guess I just think people are pretty arrogant to believe weve learned everything there is to know in the past century or so. What the hell? I can buy that we
e just now starting to see the things around us in the dark again. It appeals to the cynic in me. ”

”I wish everyone thought as you do, ” I said.

”It would cut down on my crank calls. ”

She continued to smile at me, impish. ”But could you imagine a world where all the radio stations played ABBA? ”

We shared a laugh. God, that room needed a laugh.

”Hey, Ryan, ” Ericson said, grinning.

I could see the wheels spinning in her head.

”Yeah? ”

”What you said about being able to figure out how the killer did this. About how you
e not sure you can do it. ”

”Yeah? ”

”I know its bullshit. Why did you lie to me about it? ”

I stiffened. Christ, she was good. Or maybe Im just not much of a liar.

”Look, Eric, ” I said.

”There are some things you just don do. ”

”Sometimes I don want to get into the head of the slime I go after, either. But you do what needs to be done to finish the job. I know what you mean, Ryan. ”

”No, ” I said, shortly.

”You don know. ” And she didn .

She didn know about my past, the White Council, or the Doom of Damocles hanging over my head. Most days, I could pretend I didn know about it, either.

All the Council needed now was an excuse, just an excuse, to find me guilty of violating one of the Seven Laws of Magic, and the Doom would drop. If I started putting together a recipe for a murder spell, and they found out about it, that might be all the excuse they needed.

”Eric, ” I told her.

”I can try figuring this spell out. I can go putting together the things Id need to do it. You just don understand. ”

She glared at me, without looking into my eyes. I hadn ever met anyone else who could pull that one off.

”Oh, I understand. I understand that Ive got a killer loose that I can catch in the act. I understand that you know something that can help, or you can at least find out something. And I understand that if you dry up on me now, Im tearing your card out of the department Rolodex and tossing it in the trash. ”

Son of a bitch. My consulting for the department paid a lot of my bills. Okay, most of my bills. I could sympathize with her, I supposed.

If I was operating in the dark like she was, Id be nervous as hell, too. Ericson didn know anything about spells or rituals or talismans, but she knew human hatred and violence all too well.

It wasn as though I was actually going to be doing any black magic, I told myself. I was just going to be figuring out how it was done. There was a difference. I was helping the police in an investigation, nothing more. Maybe the White Council would understand that.

Yeah, right. And maybe one of these days Id go to an art museum and become well-rounded.

Ericson set the hook a second later. She looked up at my eyes for a daring second before she turned away, her face tired and honest and proud.

”I need to know everything you can tell me, Ryan. Please. ”

Classic lady in distress.

For one of those liberated, professional women, she knew exactly how to jerk my old-fashioned chains around.

I gritted my teeth.

”Fine, ” I said.

”Fine. Ill start on it tonight. ” Hoo boy.

The White Council was going to love this one. Id just have to make sure they didn find out about it.

Ericson nodded and let out a breath without looking at me.

Then she said, ”Lets get out of here, ” and walked toward the door. I didn try to beat her to it.

When we walked out, the uniform cops were still lazing around in the hall outside. Hunt was nowhere to be seen.

The guys from forensics were there, standing around impatiently, waiting for us to come out. Then they gathered up their plastic bags and tweezers and lights and things and filed past us into the room.

Ericson was brushing at her windblown hair with her hand while we waited for the ancient elevator to take its sweet time getting up to the seventh floor. She was wearing a gold watch, which reminded me.

”Oh, hey, ” I asked her.

”What time is it? ” She checked.

”Two twenty-five. Why? ”

I breathed out a curse and turned for the stairs.

”Im late for my appointment. ”

I fairly flew down the stairs. Ive had a lot of practice at them, after all, and I hit the lobby at a jog. I managed to dodge a porter coming through the front doors with an armload of luggage and swung out onto the sidewalk at a lope.

I have long legs that eat a lot of ground. I was running into the wind, my black duster billowing out behind me.

It was several blocks to my building, and after covering half of them I slowed to a walk. I didn want to arrive at my appointment with Monica Missing-Man puffing like a bellows, with my hair windblown and my face streaming with sweat.

Blame it on being out of shape from an inactive winter season, but I was breathing hard.

It occupied enough of my attention that I didn see the dark blue Cadillac until it had pulled up beside me, and a rather large man had stepped out of it onto the sidewalk in front of me.

He had bright red hair and a thick neck. His face looked like someone had smashed it flat with a board, repeatedly, when he was a baby except for his jutting eyebrows. He had narrow little blue eyes that got narrower as I sized him up.

I stopped, and backed away, then turned around. Two more men, both of them as tall as me and a good deal heavier, were slowing down from their own jog.

They had apparently been following me, and they looked annoyed. One was limping slightly, and the other wore a buzz cut that had been spiked up straight with some kind of styling gel.

I felt like I was in high school again, surrounded by bullying members of the football team.

”Can I help you, gentlemen? ” I asked.

I looked around for a cop, but they were all over at the Madison, I supposed.

Everyone likes to gawk.

”Get in the car, ” the one in front of me said. One of the others opened the rear door.

”I like to walk. Its good for my heart. ”

”You don get in the car, it isn going to be good for your legs, ” the man growled.

A voice came from inside the car.

”Mister Hendricks, please. Be more polite. Mister Banks, would you join me for a moment? Id hoped to give you a lift back to your office, but your abrupt exit made it somewhat problematic. Perhaps you will allow me to convey to you the rest of the way. ”

I leaned down to look into the backseat. A man of handsome and unassuming features, dressed in a casual sports jacket and Levis, regarded me with a smile.

”And you would be? ” I asked him.

His smile widened, and I swear it made his eyes twinkle.

”My name is John Payton. I would like to discuss business with you. ”

I stared at him for a moment. And then my eyes slid aside to the very large and very over-developed Mister Hendricks.

The man growled under his breath, and it sounded like Cujo just before he jumped at the woman in the car. I didn feel like duking it out with Cujo and his two buddies.

So I got into the back of the Caddy with Gentleman Walter Payton.

It was turning out to be a very busy day. And I was still late for my appointment.

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