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Spell Blind

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Spell Blind

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Author: David B. Coe
Publisher: Baen, 2015
Series: Case Files of Justis Fearsson: Book 1

1. Spell Blind
2. His Father's Eyes
3. Shadow's Blade

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Justis Fearsson is a private investigator on the trail of a serial killer in Phoenix, Arizona. Justis is also a weremyste--a person with a wizard's gifts and the ability to see into the paranormal world. Unfortunately, weremystes also tend to go crazy on the full moon--which is why Justis is no longer a cop. Hard to explain those absences as anything but mental breakdown.

But now an old case from his police detective days has come back to haunt him, literally, as a serial killer known as the Blind Angel strikes again. His signature stroke: burning out the victims' eyes with magic. Now the victims are piling up, including the daughter of a senator, and Justis must race to stop the Blind Angel before he, she, or it kills again.

There's only one clue he's got to go on: the Blind Angel is using the most powerful magic Justis has ever encountered, and if he doesn't watch his own magical step, he may end up just as dead as the other vics.



Ask most people to point at the moon, and they'll lift their gaze skyward, trying to locate it. Ask the same of a weremyste like me, and we don't have to search for it. We know where it is. Always, and precisely. As it waxes full, we can feel it robbing us of our sanity and enhancing the strength of our magic. Like ocean tides, our minds and our runecraft are subject to its pull.

I was on the interstate cutting across the outskirts of Phoenix, and already I could feel the moon tugging at my thoughts, subtle and light, but as insistent as a curious child. Three hours before today's moonrise, nearly a week before it would wax full, and its touch was as real to me as the leather steering wheel against my palms, the rush of the morning desert air on my face and neck.

I sensed the reservoir of power within me responding to its caress, like water to gravity. And I felt as well the madman lurking inside my head, coaxing the moon toward full, desperate to be free again.

I had five days.

And in the meantime, I had work to do.

Work for me means investigating. Once it meant being a detective for the Phoenix Police Department, but those days are gone. I was on the job for six years and eight months. The day I turned in my badge was, next to the day twenty years ago when my mother died, the worst of my life. Still, when I look in the mirror, I see a cop, a detective. I've heard it said among cops that once you're on the job, you're never really off. Some things are like that, they'll tell you. Some things get in your blood and that's it. You're never the same.

But being an ex-cop doesn't pay a lot of bills and after wallowing in self-pity for a while, I realized that wasn't much of a living either. So I hung out my shingle, went the ex-cop-becomes-private-investigator route. It's been done before, more often than not by ex-cops who are smarter than I am. But I have certain skills that paying customers find useful.

For the past year I've been owner, president, and principal investigator for Justis Fearsson Investigations, Incorporated, a one-man operation here in Phoenix. I've even got an ad in the phone book with my picture on it. I was going to make up a logo, but a friend--my old partner--said that I should use the photo instead.

"You're not unattractive for a white guy," she told me at the time. "That could work to your advantage."

So there I am in the yellow pages, smiling out from a quarter-page ad. My hair is sticking up all over the place, and the beard and mustache give me an unseemly look, but overall the picture isn't terrible. I have a website, too, but I haven't done much with it. I keep meaning to, but I don't get a whole lot of free time.

I had a rough go of it at first, trying to figure out how to run a business, how to know which cases to take. I turned to other former cops for advice, but soon learned that a good number of them didn't have any more sense of what they were doing than I did. Most of them were just scraping by--many were getting drunk before noon and staying that way until quitting time, which is likely why they had to leave the force in the first place. I read a couple of books and visited a bunch of websites, scanning articles for tips, but they weren't too helpful either. So, in the end I chose to teach myself.

Television shows about PIs make the profession out to be glamorous. It's not. In a lot of ways it's similar to being a cop. Cleaning up other people's messes. That's what Kona Shaw, my partner on the force, used to call what we did. And that's what I still do now. Except instead of working crime scenes, I work on the quieter cases, the ones people don't read about in newspapers or see on the late news. Early on I tried to stick to investigating insurance claims, and helping corporate clients identify employees who were spying for competitors or stealing inventory off of delivery trucks. It wasn't exciting work, but it got me started, paid off most of my debts, and allowed me to move the operation out of my home and into an office not far from where I live.

From the start, I tried to avoid the peeking-through-the-bedroom-window stuff. But PIs can't avoid the messier cases entirely, no matter how much we hate them. After following a cheating husband for several nights, or tracking down a runaway kid, or having to show a guy pictures of his wife and his best friend as they check into a motel on the outskirts of town, that work gets old. It's depressing as hell. It pays well, and God knows there's plenty of it, but it doesn't take long to figure out that the kid ran away because the parents were a nightmare, or the woman was cheating because her husband was a jerk. Most of the time, there are no good guys. I don't like that.

But the corporate cases have been few and far between, and working for the insurance companies isn't exactly a picnic. In the end, I had little choice but to go back to the personal cases. Which is how I found myself steering the Z-ster, my silver 1977 280Z, into a part of Phoenix's South Mountain precinct I never should have taken her to in the first place.

Two weeks ago I had been hired by Michael and Sissy Tyler to track down their teenage daughter, Jessie, who ran away from home. Tyler was one of the city's better-known businessmen. He had made a killing in the tech sector a few years back and wound up on the covers of magazines. He and his family lived in the Pinnacle Peak section of North Scottsdale, in a house that I might have been able to afford in twenty years if I scrimped and saved and gave up a few luxuries--you know, like food and shelter. Teenage runaways from homes of the rich and powerful are like private investigator cliches; we see them a lot. More often than not the kid winds up spending a night or two at a friend's house before returning to Mom and Dad.

Jessie's case was different. First, none of her friends knew where she'd gone. Second, she'd taken her wallet and had, within four or five days of her disappearance, used her ATM card to clean out the checking account her parents had set up for her: to the tune of about six thousand dollars. A couple of thousand of it went in cash and another three grand in purchases at stores all over the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. Nearly one thousand dollars had vanished without explanation, which made me wonder if she had hooked up with a myste. But all of it was gone. And third, according to her friends, her younger sister, and her parents, Jessie had been showing signs of what most folks in law enforcement and social services would call "self-destructive behavior." She was breaking rules at home and at school; she had gone from being a solid "B" student to flunking half her classes; and, though Mom and Dad were still in denial about this, the evidence I'd found suggested that she was experimenting with a variety of drugs. All she needed to complete the picture was the manipulative, perhaps even abusive boyfriend.

Early on in the case, I would have bet every dollar in my pocket that she had found him, and that he was the reason she'd left home.

It took me longer than usual to track her down, but eventually I found an addict who used to do some informing for me when I was with the PPD and who thought he had seen her near Esteban Park. I went to check out that lead, and found a second guy, another ex-cop as it happens, who had heard someone talking about a strung-out rich girl throwing money around in that part of town. I traced her to an abandoned building about a mile south of the Phoenix airport, in the growling shadows of Interstate 10. The building--an old service station garage--had become a den for users of Spark, a powerful and addictive hallucinogenic grown in the desert, which has become a Phoenix specialty for drug dealers and their clientele. I think it's nice when a local industry can expand and prosper.

By the time I pulled up to the garage, I was pretty sure she was inside. But "pretty sure" isn't positive, and since I don't have a badge anymore, it's not as easy as it once was for me to barge into places. The few windows on the front of the building were so filthy as to be opaque, at least those that were still glass. Several of the panes had been replaced with rough squares of plywood. A corrugated metal door blocked the mouth of the shop, its grooves covered with spray-painted gang symbols and names. Beside it was a smaller, windowless door that had a rusted padlock on it. Whoever was inside hadn't entered from the front.

Leaving the Z-ster at what was left of the curb, I tucked my Glock into my shoulder holster and started around toward the back of the building. I didn't want to have to use the weapon, but in this neighborhood there was no way I was going to leave it behind. As I walked I also began to recite a warding spell in my head, a simple one that would protect me from most anything some drug-crazed kid might throw my way.

As a weremyste, I could do such things.

Everyone's heard of werewolves. Weremystes work much the same way. We're mystes all the time, meaning that we can cast spells and feel magic when it's used by others of our kind. But for three nights in every moon cycle--the night of the full moon, and the nights immediately before and after--we lose control of our magic and ourselves. Our magical abilities strengthen, but our minds weaken. Some of us descend into a kind of quiet psychosis; others become violent. And many of us, myself included, fall in between those extremes.

I was born a weremyste; I didn't have to be bitten by one--that would be weird--and I didn't have a curse put on me, or anything like that. My dad was a myste, too. I've known I'd be one since I was fourteen. That was also when I learned the true reason my father went off the deep end every four weeks.

I'm more powerful than some; less so than others. And I'll be the first to admit that I'm not as skilled with my runecraft as I should be. But I can manage a good number of spells, particularly wardings. In the hands of a master, they could be more effective than a ballistic vest, without the bulk or weight. Of course, I'm not a master.

With the reassuring weight of the Glock tugging on my shoulder, and the power for my spell gathering inside me, I crept along the side of the building, past piles of rusted scrap metal and shards of broken bottles. I figured that most of the people inside would be stoned beyond consciousness, but still I placed my feet with care, in case someone was listening for cops. Or inquisitive PIs.

I found no door along this side, but upon reaching the rear corner of the building and peering around to the back, I spotted a steel door. It was closed, but had no lock.

A cold prickling on the back of my neck--premonition, or instinct honed by years on the force--made me pull out my weapon. I eased toward the door, holding the pistol in front of me. I also released the spell, felt the warding settle over me like a blanket. I reached the door, stepped past it so that I could swing it open and enter the garage in one quick motion. That was the plan, anyway.

I had forgotten about that vanishing money from Jessie's account and the possibility that she was with a myste. Stupid of me. And nearly fatal.

As soon as I flung the door open, I sensed the spell. It wasn't particularly strong, but it was an assailing spell--an attack--and whoever cast it had aimed it at me. I braced myself, hoped the warding would hold. It did, but the spell--it felt like an impact attack, meant, no doubt, to seem like I had been hit with a two-by-four--was strong enough to stagger me and to make the doorway shake. By the time I was moving forward again, I could hear footsteps retreating toward the front of the garage.

I followed, Glock ready, the power for a second spell already building inside me. This time I planned to cast an assailing spell of my own. I hate it when people use magic against me; makes me want to get even.

I hadn't taken five steps, before I slowed, then halted. The smell would have been enough to get my attention--feces, urine, vomit, sweat, fear, desperation--there could have been a body rotting in here. It was hard to tell.

But what I saw was every bit as bad. Worse, really. At least twenty college-age kids lay sprawled over the filthy cement floor, most of them unconscious. At least half of them were emaciated, their cheeks sunken, as if they'd been prisoners in this hell-hole for months. Others--the newcomers, most likely--might have been marginally healthier. But all of them wore stained, tattered clothing; all of them looked like they hadn't bathed in weeks or longer.

I spotted Jessie Tyler right away, but I couldn't help wondering how many of these other kids didn't have anyone searching for them.

I heard a loud crash at the front of the shop. Another glance at Jessie convinced me she wasn't going anywhere. I eased forward, gripping my weapon with both hands, considering what spell I ought to use. Assailing spells worked best with a precise target. I didn't have one, at least not yet, and I didn't want to hurt one of those kids.

Unfortunately, the myste I was stalking didn't have my scruples. Again, I felt the spell as soon as he cast it--the air was electric with magic. I sensed the heat before I saw the wave of flame rolling toward me. I backpedaled, scared, but also unwilling to ward myself and leave the kids to roast. Fire spells are rudimentary magic, but this myste, whoever he was, had poured serious power into this one. The temperature in the garage jumped twenty degrees. The skin on my face and hands flushed, like I'd been sitting way too close to a campfire.

The flames were almost on top of me when I cast my spell. Three elements, because that was how spells worked: the kids and myself, the fire, and a wall of magic in between. I recited the elements to myself three times, allowing the magic to build inside me. On the third repetition, I released it, the way I would a held breath.

The barrier winked into view and then shuddered as the attack hit it. But like my earlier warding, it held. That wall of flame passed over without burning any of us. There was nothing I could do, though, to keep the guy's magic from setting everything else in the garage on fire.

I started shouting for the kids to get out of the building. For the moment we still had a clear path to the door I'd used, but I didn't think that would last long. A couple of the kids managed to get themselves upright and stumble toward the daylight. Several more sat up and appeared to notice the flames. But they couldn't do more than that. Most of them didn't stir.

The air grew thick with dark smoke. I didn't think the building would come down on top of us; the walls were cinder block and the roof was metal. But it felt like we were in a giant oven.

Another pulse of magic shook the garage. I spun toward the front of the building, expecting to see more flames, but nothing came at me. The bastard had blown his way through that metal door, leaving the rest of us to broil.

I ran to the kids and started shaking as many of them awake as I could. Those who I could hoist onto their feet I helped to the door, two at a time. After that it became a matter of carrying the unconscious ones. They were filthy and rank; several of them had open sores on their arms and legs, faces and necks. When all of this was over I was going to bathe in a tub of hand sanitizer.

The smoke--black, choking, probably toxic as hell--continued to thicken, and the heat became nearly unbearable. But to my amazement, I managed to get all of them out without killing myself. Equally amazing, Jessie didn't run away while I was helping the others. She appeared dazed, her eyes wide but empty, her skin pink from the heat.

I heard the fire engines arrive a few minutes after I carried the last unconscious girl to safety. Moments later a trio of firefighters came running around the corner to the back of the building. Seeing the kids and me, they stopped.

"Good God," one of them muttered.

"Yeah," I said. "We're going to need a few ambulances."

"Spark den?" another guy asked, as the first radioed for help.

I nodded.

"And who are you?"

I pulled out my investigator's license. "Jay Fearsson," I said, holding it up for them to see. "I'm a PI." I pointed at Jessie. "Her parents hired me."

Jessie's eyes widened just a little, and her eyebrows went up, but she said nothing.

"You hurt?" the first guy asked.


"How'd the fire start?"

"There was another guy here--their supplier, I'm guessing. He started it when I showed up, and got away while I was carrying them out."

I didn't say more than that. Most people know that magic exists, but that doesn't make them comfortable with it, or with the people who cast spells. Filling in the details would have raised questions that I didn't feel like answering just then.

I heard more sirens in the distance, and figured at least a few of them were Phoenix Police. I'd be there a while answering questions. I walked to where Jessie sat and squatted down in front of her. It took a moment for her gaze to slide up to mine, and another for her eyes to gain focus.

"Jessie Tyler, right?"

She nodded. I thought I'd have to explain again who I was, but she was more cogent than I expected. "My parents really hire you?" she asked.

"Yeah. Does that surprise you?"

Jessie shrugged, stared past me.

"Who's your supplier, Jessie? Who was keeping you here?"

She didn't answer.

A couple of uniformed cops turned the corner. I saw them stop, take in the condition of the kids, and then speak to the firefighters, one of whom pointed my way.

The cops' questions were pretty standard. I hadn't done anything wrong, and they knew it. The fact that I had once been on the job helped too. They took Jessie and the others into custody, which I should have expected. Almost all of them would spend more time at the hospital than in jail, but still Jessie's parents weren't going to be pleased. Then again, they had hired me to find her, not to be her lawyer, so in the end they would have little choice but to pay me.

Once I was done giving my statement, the cops said I was free to go. I walked to the open door I had used to enter the garage, and examined it. The first spell that myste had thrown at me had rattled the door; there should have been some residue of magic on the door frame. All spells leave behind traces of power in the form of glowing luminance that clings to those things the magic has touched. And the magic of every myste manifests itself in a unique color. Thing is, only another myste can see it. I was hoping that Jessie's supplier had left behind the equivalent of a magical calling card.

But the Phoenix sun was bearing down on us at this point, bleaching colors, making it hard to see anything other than the sun's reflection on the dull steel. I thought I saw the faintest suggestion of beige or tan, like the color of dried grass, but I couldn't be certain.

"What're you looking for?" one of the cops asked from behind me.

I glanced back, then eyed the doorway again. The cop walked to where I stood.

"The guy who started the fire did other weird stuff, too," I said. "I think he used some kind of mojo on me. The first time he did it, I was right here by the door."

The cop stared at me for a moment, no doubt to see if I was joking. When I didn't smile or even glance his way, he began to study the door frame too. "I don't see anything," he said. "Do you?"

"No," I said. "Not a thing."

I walked away, heading back to my car. As I turned the corner, I saw that the cop was still scrutinizing the doorway. His partner, though, was watching me.

Copyright © 2015 by David B. Coe


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