Book Two — Broken Magic
The door behind Eleanor opened, letting in the March wind, a little rain, and the man I had come here to kill.
The man was a few years older than the photo I’d seen, black hair shot through with gray, white face gone pudgy behind square bifocals. His name was Stuart, and he carried himself like someone who was irritated with his own skin: stiff movements, coat clutched closed with one hand over his stomach, a scowl hammered into his face.
Not what I’d expect a murderer to look like, but then, killers came in all shapes and sizes.
After all, it took one to know one.
He gave the interior of the diner a quick glance. Didn’t notice me because I looked right at home in a diner that hadn’t passed a health inspection for a decade. And although it might be fun, I didn’t go around introducing myself as “Shame Flynn, Death magic user, loyal friend, troublemaker, and the last guy you want to meet in a dark alley if you’ve done something naughty.”
He didn’t notice Eleanor either, but that was understandable.
Eleanor was a ghost.
She sat across from me, long blond hair flowing with an underwater grace as she moved. Soft features, sweet smile, she was beautiful when alive, and still beautiful when dead. She noticed me noticing him. Tipped her head a bit, narrowed her eyes. What? she mouthed.
I couldn’t actually hear her because, hello, she was dead. But I’d learned how to read her lips over the last couple of years since she’d been tied to me.
“Nothing,” I lied.
She, as usual, didn’t believe me.
She scanned the diner, saw the guy take the booth just off to our right, looked back at me. Shook her head.
“Not listening.” I stared at my breakfast so I didn’t have to see her, poked at the waffles. My fork bounced off the hardened whipped cream.
She shifted through our table like someone forging a stream and floated in front of me, half her body stuck in the table.
“Jesus. Do you stay up at night thinking of ways to creep me out?”
No killing, she mouthed. Or maybe it was no kidding. I didn’t say I was good at reading lips.
“Sorry. I made a promise. I never go back on my word.”
She rolled her eyes.
“Fine. Lately,” I amended. “I never go back on my word lately. That man.” I lowered my voice because seriously, I did not need to draw attention to the crazy guy who was yelling at his waffles. “Has done unspeakable things to people. With magic. For years. He’ll continue doing unspeakable things to people, with or without magic, because it’s kind of his thing. He should have been dead a long, long time ago. I’m just taking care of business.”
She pointed at my heart, which wasn’t beating all that well today since it had been a while since I’d killed or consumed. A problem I intended to take care of as soon as the ghost got off her high horse so I could kill the guy.
I lifted my knife and started sawing at the waffles. “Terric doesn’t need to know what I’m doing. If Victor had wanted him to know about the hit list, he would have given him a copy of it. Plus, Terric’s not really a supporter of vigilante justice. Also, he’s been avoiding me, not the other way around.”
Not that I could ever get away from him. We were Soul Complements, Death magic, Life magic. Ever since the magical apocalypse a few years ago had made magic a gentle force, it was just us Soul Complements who could break magic into light and dark and make it do the old, horrifying things.
Well, and the old wonderful things too, but that wasn’t really my department.
I was the guy who handled the darker side of magic.
I’d been a damn fine Death magic user back in the day. And now? Well, now I was death.
While it had its perks, it didn’t come without a hell of a price. I carried death, but if I didn’t let it loose, didn’t let the Death magic in me consume and kill people, plants, or things, then it simply consumed and killed me.
Victor had been a teacher and a mentor in all things magic. The hit list he’d left for me when he’d died had been a blessing for my death hunger. Even so, I was never going to live to be an old man. If the Death magic in me didn’t kill me, it was highly likely one of the murderers I was tracking would.
But I was damn sure going to live long enough to take out as many of the killers as I could before my time was up. It was just my way of giving back, and making the world a little more livable.
Today’s cleanup was on aisle killer-in-the-booth across from me. After him, I’d move on to the next on the list. Unless I found Eli Collins.
Eli was at the top of my own personal list of people who the world would be better without. A psychopath and magic user, he’d tried to kill me, Terric, and my friends. He was still suspect number one in the kidnapping six month ago of our friend Davy Silvers, who’d worked as a Hound to track down illegal magic use.
And he’d killed the first woman I’d thought I could take a chance on loving——Dessa Leeds.
I’d been wrong to take that chance, and she had paid the price for my poor judgment.
The only good thing about not finding Eli was that it gave me time to think about exactly how much agony I was going to put him through while I was killing him. His death was not going to be quick or painless.
There had been no hint of where he was holed up, no clue of what the government agency he was involved with had been doing since we’d thrown magic and bullets at each other.
But he couldn’t hide forever. I’d catch his scent, and then he’d be dead.
A cold slap of pain hit my shoulder and forced my attention back on my surroundings. The grease and noise of the diner fell around me again, the heat of the air, the cool of the wind coming through the door.
Eleanor sat across from me, her hand up, ready to slap for attention again. She didn’t need to.
Another man had stepped into the diner and was scanning it.
Terric Conley was a bit taller than me, dressed better than me, and had blue eyes and good looks angels would fistfight for. His hair had been white since the day when we were teens and I’d tried to kill him with magic, which was only the beginning of my life of bad choices.
Taken all together, he was the sort of man women fell for. Unfortunately for women, he was the sort of man who fell for men.
He was also a hell of a Life magic user and, when we admitted such things, my friend and my Soul Complement.
He spotted me and started my way.
“Make room, Boy Scout’s here,” I muttered to Eleanor.
“Shame.” He stopped at the table, glanced down at my plate of sawed-off waffles, strawberries, and whipped cream. “Breakfast? Why are you eating breakfast here? Now?”
“Mum kicked me out. What’s wrong with here and now?”
“For one…” He glanced back across the diner, then at me. “This place is a dump. And secondly, you promised you’d go with me to a meeting today.”
“Okay, fine. I promised. Allie and Zayvion want you there. Us there,” he corrected.
Allie and Zayvion were our friends, and also Soul Complements to each other. Zayvion had run with Terric and me when we were young bucks growing up in the Authority under Victor, and Allie was the daughter of one of the Authority’s richest, and more conniving, members.
The Authority wasn’t the same after the apocalypse. No need for a secret organization to keep the darker uses of magic secret since magic had been tamed and fully revealed to the public.
“Busy. Sorry.” I hacked at the waffle with the wholly inadequate knife. Switched to the fork and shoveled waffle and whipped cream into my mouth. Chewed. And chewed. And kept on chewing.
Tough didn’t describe this mouthful of particleboard. Kevlar had more give. And taste, come to think of it.
“Just . . . come, Shame,” he said. “Allie wants you there.”
Ever since Allie had gotten pregnant, she was all sort of unpredictable in the emotional department. I found it endlessly entertaining. Terric had taken to tiptoeing around her and doing everything she asked of him, and Zayvion had threatened to tie my spine in knots if I riled her up again.
I spit the waffle into the napkin. “If I don’t?”
Terric raised an eyebrow. “You need me to threaten you?”
“Might be amusing.”
“I can promise you the follow-through would not be.”
Had some fire behind those words. Man could deal out the hurt when he wanted to. Apparently my not going to see Allie and Zay would make him want to.
“What the hell kind of meeting is it, anyway? You and I are no longer employed by the Authority.”
“We aren’t the head of the Authority,” he corrected. “It doesn’t mean we aren’t a part of it.”
The killer at the booth had finished his coffee and small bowl of oatmeal. He tossed cash on the table, pushed up on his feet, glanced over at me when he thought I wasn’t looking, and walked out the door.
Damn it. He knew I was tailing him.
I could kill him from here. Without even standing up. Without even laying a finger on him. I could reach out, let the Death magic inside me pop his heart, blow his brain, drain his lungs.
Just the thought of it made my heart race.
Eleanor glared at me and shook her head, then pointed at Terric as if she was going to tell him what I was thinking.
I still hadn’t quite figured out why she was so concerned about me. I was, after all, the bloke who had killed her and then hog-tied her spirit to my mortal coil. Another bad life choice.
I took a couple even breaths and shouldered into the death hunger, pushing it away. Terric was saying something, but I was a little busy, thank you, trying not to blow a kill zone a block wide.
Finally the hunger released and my heart came back down to human rhythms. It was painful and heady and I was still starving.
“. . . drunk?” Terric asked.
“Yes.” I had no idea what he was talking about. Hoped it was that we should get a pint or two.
While I’d been wrestling with my inner death, Killer Guy had strolled out of my reach.
Great. There went two weeks of hunting down the drain hole, thanks to Mr. We-had-a-date.
“Still drunk or already drunk?”
“What? Neither. Cover that for me, will you?” I said. “I left my cash in my other coat.” I stood, wavered a little. I really needed to consume something, or someone, real soon now.
Eleanor pointed at Terric. Life, she mouthed.
I ignored her.
Why not? she mouthed.
“Reasons,” I said to her.
“What?” Terric asked. He’d dug a bill out of his wallet and slipped it between the salt and pepper shakers.
“For the meeting,” I said. “Why are we going? Is it about Davy Silvers?” I strolled toward the door and he followed. March meant rain, and today was no exception. I stepped out into the downpour.
Terric flipped his collar before taking the plunge to the sidewalk. “Weren’t you listening?” he said. “Never mind, don’t answer that. No. Nothing new there. We still haven’t found Davy, Eli, or where the government has them stashed.”
“So, what is it about?”
We strode down a block or so to his car——double-parked. Every heartbeat from the people around us was a finger plucking rhythm against my spine. Forty-seven lives in the office building, twelve in the coffee shop, eight in the bank.
He didn’t say anything more until we got into the car.
“How’s Eleanor?” He couldn’t see her unless he drew on magic to do so, but lately he made it a point to ask about her. Which she loved.
She smiled, then made pointy motions toward him again.
“Still dead,” I said.
She slapped me in the back of the head. Ow. Brain freeze.
“Who can tell? Female things?”
She took another swing at me, but I leaned forward out of her reach, fake-checking my bootlaces.
Terric glanced over. “What is wrong with you today?”
Time to change the subject. “I could ask you the same thing, mate.” I straightened, checking to make sure Eleanor was done with the smacking. She crossed her arms over her chest and stuck her tongue out at me.
I gave her a wink and a grin.
Terric started the engine. “What do you mean?”
“You’re avoiding my question. You didn’t get in until five this morning. You paced until six. It’s what, nine o’clock?”
“You’ve had three hours of sleep, which is the most I’ve seen you get all week. It’s not like you to miss your beauty shut-eye.”
He locked his jaw. Uncomfortable subject. I should probably just leave it alone.
So of course, I didn’t.
“Come on, now, Ter. Gotta new guy working your night shift?”
He stopped for a light. Pedestrians without umbrellas took their time crossing the street.
“I’ve been . . . keeping busy,” he hedged. “Looking into things.”
“Do these things have names? Social Security numbers? Memory foam mattresses?”
He didn’t say anything.
“Look at you,” I said. “All mysterious and secretfying. Please tell me it is both a deep and shamefully dark secret you’re hiding from me.”
“I’m not hiding anything. Nothing you need to know, in any case.”
“Those are not quite the same thing, are they?”
I glanced out the side window. As I did so the blur of light surrounding him flared. Huh. Maybe it wasn’t a new boyfriend on his mind.
Maybe it was magic.