Authors: David B. Coe
Advance Reader Copy
Books by David B. Coe
The Casebook of Justis Fearsson
His Father's Eyes
As D. B. Jackson
Dead Man’s Reach
The Thieftaker series
A Plunder of Souls
HIS FATHER'S EYES
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by David B. Coe
A Baen Book
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
Cover art by Alan Pollack
First Baen printing, August 2015
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Coe, David B.
His father's eyes / by David B. Coe.
pages cm. -- (Case Files of Justis Fearsson ; 2)
ISBN 978-1-4767-8062-7 (hardback)
1. Private investigators--Fiction. 2. Wizards--Fiction. 3. Magic--Fiction. 4. Fantasy fiction. 5. Mystery fiction. I. Title.
Printed in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For my father,
Whose eyes were bright blue,
and who taught me to look at the world with humor and passion.
I miss him every day.
It burns and burns and burns, a pain he can’t salve, a fire he can’t extinguish. White, yellow, red, orange. Shades of pale blue sometimes, but then white again. Always white. White hot. Pure white. White for wedding gowns and babies’ diapers and clean sheets on a crib. White. Like blank paper. And then it burns. Brown giving way to black, which comes from the yellow and orange and red and pale blue; flame creeping like spilled blood, spreading like a stain.
The land rolls downward from his chair, baked and dry, empty. But also full, if only one knows how to look at it. The rising swirls of red dirt. Red-tailed hawks wheeling on splayed wings. Jackrabbits and coyotes, watchful and tense, death and survival hanging between them.
The sky is too clear—not a cloud, nothing to break the monotony of blue so bright it makes his eyes tear. Except low, to the east, where the blue mingles with brown, like dirty, worn jeans.
That’s how he is. Muddied. Clouded. Enveloped in a haze. He feels the hot wind moving over his skin, and he waits for it to clear the air around him. But it never does; instead, dust stings his eyes, and grit crunches between his teeth like slivers of glass. He wants a cup of water, but his legs feel leaden and the trailer seems so far. So he sits, shielding his eyes with a shaking hand, listening to the flapping of the tarp over his head.
She winks into view before him, wearing a simple dress. One of his favorites. Cornflower blue, as soft as the sky is hard. She flashes that familiar crooked grin, cocking her head to the side, honey brown hair dancing around her face. The boy is there, too. Suddenly. Dropped into the scene as if by sleight of hand. Shorts and an ASU t-shirt, his hair the same color as hers, but wild with curls and the wind, so young, so oblivious to it all: the phasings that await him, the dark sadness that lurks behind his mother’s smile, the betrayal masked in those gorgeous blue eyes. He’s wept for her until the tears run dry, like a desert river in late summer. But he can still cry for the boy; the boy who has become a man so much like his father that it breaks the old man’s heart.
Ghosts. Both of them, though only the one is dead. He shifts his gaze, follows the flight of a plane as it carves across the sky, leaving a stark white scar. He refuses to blink, until his eyes ache with the effort. When at last he checks again, the woman and child are gone.
But if he closes his eyes they’re back, the images seared onto his mind, like blotches of light after he has stared too long at the sun. They were never here, of course. Not on this land. He knows that. The trailer, the tarp, the chair—all are new.
New. The boy would laugh at that. None of it is new. But she never saw any of it.
He opens his eyes again, shakes his head, sits up straighter. One of those days. The haze. The confusion. The hallucinations. He’s had it all before. The secret is not giving in to it, fighting the pull. But when it gets this bad it’s like climbing a mountain of sand; with every step up, he feels himself sliding backwards. Sometimes it’s the visions. Violent, bloody, horrible images, so vivid, so familiar. They might be echoes of old phasings or they could be things he really saw and did. He can’t remember anymore. Other times it’s no more or less than the relic of younger emotions—love, jealousy, rage, grief—as vague as the scent of sage riding the desert wind, as sharp as a razor. And on some days, like today, it’s all of those, and it’s none of them. It defies description or understanding, and he’s left to stumble alone, as though lost within that muddy cloud draped over the Phoenix skyline.
There are pills. He’s supposed to take them if it gets too bad. The boy has left them out on the counter, where he’ll see them. But they don’t help: not enough. They bring clarity of a sort. They wake him up, like a dousing with ice water. It’s not him, though; it’s not anyone he recognizes. He’s spent hours staring at that grizzled, slack face in the mirror, peering into those eyes, pale gray, like his own, but flat and dead and nothing like the eyes he remembers from his youth, or those he sees now in the boy. That’s the drugs. As opposed to the Drug, the one the doctor won’t talk about in front of him.
He laughs at the distinction, startling himself with the sound.
They give him these drugs—their drugs—to fight off the damage he did by refusing to take the other, by clinging to his magic and subjecting himself to the cruel moon. They whisper about it to the boy, not wanting him to hear, fearing that it will awaken the old visions, or send him into a fit of rage, like in old movies. As if their whispers can guard him from the memory, as if he doesn’t curse his magic every goddamned day of his life, as if it isn’t already too late for him.
No, he might be screwed up, but he’s not that screwed up. He’s not completely beyond reality. Even on those days when he can’t put together a coherent thought, when the boy sits beside him, concern etched on his face, which is so like his mother’s that it makes the old man’s chest ache. Even when it seems that he’s too far gone to see or hear or understand anything, he knows who and what he’s become. That might be the worst part. If he was so far gone that he didn’t remember it all—if dementia carried with it the comforting numbness that everyone thinks they see in him - then they could whisper and conceal, and smile their false reassuring smiles, and he wouldn’t care. But he knows.
That’s the slow death. That’s the torment. That’s the price he pays for ancient sins. Better to have nothing left. But when did the moon ever care what was better for him?
He sees the boy wrestling with the same demons, and he prays for him. Yes, he prays. He hasn’t prayed for anything else in almost fifty years, not since he was a kid. Not even when he was on the job, going into Maryvale or the worst beats of South Mountain or Cactus Park with nothing more than an old service revolver in his hand and his partner watching his back; not even that time when a kid so jacked up on dust that he seemed to be doing everything with his eyes closed put four bullets in him; not even when he found her dead beside her lover, his pain an amalgam of humiliation and heartache and debilitating grief.
Even then he didn’t turn to God. The Great Unbeliever. A cop to the core. A man of reason and evidence and laws. Utterly earthbound.
But for his boy, he prays. Not that it’ll do a damn bit of good.
The moon is a goddess unto herself. She’s as merciless as time, as unforgiving as memory. She laughs at prayers. No, the boy has to fight this battle on his own. The old man can only hope that the kid has more of his mother’s strength than his father’s weakness.
He wonders if the boy will be coming today, until he remembers that he was here yesterday, or maybe the day before. It’s hard to keep track sometimes. The days all blend. Hot, sunny, slow. When things are good, and he keeps busy, he can follow the progression. But not in recent days. Or weeks. It’s hard to keep track of time.
It’s this burning. A new kind of invasion, an assault on his mind that even the phasings couldn’t match. The sorrow and remorse and shame and loss are melted together into some glowing alloy that flows in his veins, scalding him throughout. Everything hurts. The sunlight scorches his eyes. The wind stings his skin. Every breath is agony. Every movement makes him wince.
And he knows that this means something. He is a scrying glass. Shining, smooth—a blank surface on which others might glimpse the future. For years, the powers of the world have ignored him, seeing in him no more than is there: a disgraced former cop, an empty, burned-out old sorcerer. But now, for some reason, they’ve taken notice of him again. With all the crafting he used to do, scrying was the one type of magic he truly hated. There was too little certainty, too little control. But this is different. Others are doing the crafting now. He can’t see them. He doesn’t know who they are, or what they want of him. But they’re all around him. Setting him ablaze, flaying his body with their power, watching him for signs of what is to come.
If he sees her, if he sees the boy, do these others see them, too? Are his visions his own or someone else’s? Why would they care about her? The boy is one thing. He has power of his own now. He matters. But what is she, beyond a memory that warms him and plagues him and leaves him longing for something he no longer believes was real? Why should his torment interest these others?
He has no answers. Questions lay siege to his mind, assailing him from all sides. And he has nothing to offer in response. He sits, watches the sky, frowns at the brown haze, envies the grace of the hawk, waits for the coyote to make his move. The wind blows, an occasional cloud slides past, the sun tracks a slow circle above him, shadows grow longer, gold suffuses the light, the air cools a little.
He can feel their eyes upon him; he senses their impatience. They want portents, but he has nothing to offer. He is glass, or perhaps stone. Fate is reflected off his life. Or so they seem to believe. He doesn’t know if they’re right, or if they imagine in him more than is there. He just sits.
And still it burns and burns and burns.
The image flickered in my scrying stone, like a candle guttering in the wind, before becoming more fixed, more substantial. I hadn’t been sure the spell would work, but there he was—“he” being Mark Darby, an employee at Custom Electronics, in Mesa, who had been stealing computers, phones, stereo equipment, and pretty much anything else you could think of. He was by the loading dock at the rear of the store, shoving boxes into the back of a beat-up old Subaru wagon.
“Gotchya,” I whispered, still peering down at the stone.
Darby’s bosses had known for some time that someone on their staff was robbing them, but they didn’t know who; only that he or she had been clever enough to avoid detection for the better part of four months.
Not that the magical vision I’d summoned to the stone was proof, at least not the kind that I could use in any court of law.
“No, Your Honor, I don’t have any surveillance tape. But I cast a seeing spell and saw him in this shiny piece of agate . . .”
But now that I knew for certain who the thief was, I had no intention of letting him get away.
I got out of the Z-ster, my silver 1977 280Z, which was parked along a side street near the store, closed the door with the care of a burglar, and began to limp toward the loading dock.
If someone had told me a year ago that getting shot could be a good thing, I would have said that person was nuts. And I know nuts. I’m a weremyste, which means that for three nights out of every month—the night of the full moon, and the nights immediately before and after—I lose control of my mind and my magic. It also means that eventually, the cumulative wear-and-tear of those monthly phasings will leave me permanently insane. As they have my dad.
But this is about the risks of my profession, as opposed to the dangers of my runecrafting. I’m a private investigator, owner and president of Justis Fearsson Investigations. And not so long ago I was shot—twice, as it happens—by a powerful sorcerer named Etienne de Cahors, who was known here in Phoenix as the Blind Angel Killer. He didn’t survive our encounter, mostly because I had help from Kona Shaw, my old partner on the Phoenix police force.
Bringing down the bastard responsible for the Blind Angel murders, a killing spree that had terrorized the Phoenix area for the better part of three years, was enough to make me a hero. Ending up with a couple of bullets in me was icing on the cake, and it got me in the headlines. Business, which was slow before then, had been booming ever since. Except that for the first several weeks I had one arm in a sling and my leg bandaged from hip to knee, and so I couldn’t do much more than sit on the couch in my home and answer the phone. People were lining up to hire me, and I was every bit as eager to get to work. But for more than a month I had no choice but to decline more jobs than I had worked in the previous year.
I still miss being a cop—losing my badge about killed me—but if I can’t be on the force, working as a PI is the next best thing. Despite the reward money I’d collected for killing Cahors, I didn’t want to sit on my butt catching up on the latest in daytime drama; I wanted to do my job. So about ten days ago, when I was cleared by the doctors and my physical therapist to start working again, I took the first offer that came my way. The doctors and PT told me to take it easy, and I really have tried to be good. But it’s not like there are volume settings for investigative work. You’re on or you’re off. Despite my limp, and the lingering twinge in my arm, I was on again, and I was glad.
I reached the back of the building and peeked around the corner to get some sense of how far I was from the loading dock. Pretty far, it turned out. Custom Electronics was one of those huge warehouse stores that seem to go on for miles, and so I was still at least one hundred yards from Darby and his wagon. But the old floodlights shining high over the loading area were strong enough for me to see him. They would also be strong enough for him to see me when I stepped around the corner.
I ducked back out of sight and hesitated, unsure as to whether I could pull off the spell I had in mind.
I had spent a good deal of my recovery time honing my casting—my runecrafting, as Namid would call it. There was nothing like almost dying at the hands of a renegade runemyste to motivate a person. Namid, who oversaw my magical training, had taught me a number of new spells, including the variation on a standard seeing spell I had used to track Darby. Two nights ago, we had worked on camouflage spells, which, in theory anyway, would make me virtually invisible to the man. I’d practiced such spells before, and I was growing more comfortable with them. Problem was, I had never used one out on the street, when it really mattered, and I had no confidence that I could pull it off on my own, without Namid instructing me each step of the way.
Then again, I didn’t have any better options. If I could have made myself fly, or given myself superhuman speed, I would have. But magic doesn’t work that way, at least not for weremystes who still have way too much to learn about runecrafting. I had my .40 Glock 22 in a shoulder holster beneath my bomber jacket, but I didn’t think Darby was armed, and I wasn’t aiming to hurt the guy. My goal was to catch him in the act with enough clear evidence to convince his employers of his guilt. Those employers had impressed upon me that they didn’t want to involve the police in any way, for fear of embarrassing the company.
The most simple of the spells I cast required three elements; this one would require more. Seven probably. Certain numbers carried more power than others: three, seven, eleven. I’d never managed to cast a spell with eleven elements; I had trouble keeping track of all of them. But I could handle seven.
Darby, me, the wall of the building, the dim light of those floods, the cement under my feet, the chain-link fence and bushes behind me, and Darby again. Seven elements. The truth was, it didn’t matter what those elements were, so long as I could keep them fixed in my mind long enough to cast the spell.
I recited the litany to myself six times, and on the seventh go-round I released the magic that had been building inside me. I felt the spell settle over me, as light as mist, as reassuring as a blanket.
I took a long breath, and then I eased around the corner, keeping my back to the building wall, and placing each step as softly as I could. Darby didn’t notice me. I sidled toward him, wondering as I did what spell I ought to try next. Mark was bigger than I had thought—maybe six foot four, and nearly as wide as he was tall. He was soft around the middle, and with his shaggy curls and thick features he bore more resemblance to a pastry chef than to a linebacker, but still he had at least six inches and sixty pounds on me.
Most times I might have been able to take him anyway. I was wiry, and I kept myself in shape. But my muscles had atrophied a bit in the past few weeks. For this evening at least, I was hoping to rely on magic rather than brute force. That said, I was doing all right. My physical therapist had warned me that my leg might start to hurt if I tried to do too much, but for the moment it felt good. Too good.
Overconfidence in a sorcerer—or in an investigator for that matter—can be deadly. In this case it wasn’t that bad; it was just stupid. As I drew closer to Darby and the car, I slid my lead foot into an empty bottle that had been left by the side of the building. It fell over with a clinking sound, rolled in a circle and bumped up against the building.
Darby spun. “Who’s there?”
He sounded scared, and his eyes were wide. But he was looking bigger by the moment, and in the time it took him to whirl in my direction, he had pulled out a .380—in that light I couldn’t tell what brand. Not that it mattered.
He was staring at the bottle, and still had given no indication that he could see me. But I didn’t like the way he was holding his weapon; I half expected him to fire off a few rounds in my general direction, to be on the safe side.
I cast another spell, three elements this time. My fist, his jaw, and an impact that would rattle his teeth. It was a simpler conjuring, and I didn’t have time to wait for the magic to build. I cast, and an instant later, he reeled. I charged him, the leg that had been shot going from “fine” to “crap that hurts!” in about two strides. If I survived the night, my PT was going to kill me.
Darby must have heard my footsteps, even though he still couldn’t see me. He straightened, aimed his weapon—straight at my chest as dumb luck would have it. I knew I wouldn’t reach him in time. I wasn’t moving well and the distance was too great. I tried to recite that same three-part spell again, desperate to do anything I could to knock him off balance.
But I didn’t have time even for that. I saw his finger move. An image flashed through my mind: me lying on the filthy pavement, still shrouded in my camouflage spell, bleeding out because no one could see me. Until I died, at which point my casting would cease as well. Spells die with the sorcerer; it’s one of the fundamental rules of magic.
I’m a dead man.
Flame belched from the muzzle of his weapon, three times. The reports roared, echoing off the building. And in that scintilla of an instant—not even the blink of an eye—I thought I sensed a frisson of power ripple the air around me.
Then it was gone.
All three shots should have hit me. The distance between us wasn’t great, and Darby appeared to know how to handle a firearm.
But he missed. Somehow, incredibly, he missed.
He stared, not really at me, since I remained camouflaged, but at the spot where he’d been aiming. Then he glanced down at his pistol.
For a moment, I could do little more than gape myself, amazed at the mere fact that I was upright and breathing. But he was still armed, and I didn’t feel like trusting to good fortune a second time.
I went back to the fist spell, staggering him again. And before he could recover, I closed the distance between us, hammered a real fist into his gut, and knocked him to the ground with another blow that struck high on his temple. The pistol clattered on the pavement and I kicked it beyond his reach.
He stirred, but before he could push himself up, I planted a foot in the middle of his back, forcing him back down to the ground. For good measure, I pulled out my Glock and pressed it against the nape of his neck.
“Don’t move, Mark.”
“I’m feeling twitchy, and I’m a little pissed at you for taking shots at me. So I’d suggest you do exactly what I tell you to.”
“Who the hell are you?”
I pushed harder with the pistol. “Shut up.”
He gave a quick nod.
“Now, I want you to put your hands out to the sides where I can see them. Slowly.”
He stretched his arms wide. He had turned his head to the side, and I could tell he was trying to get a look at me.
Casting the camouflage spell had been complicated; getting rid of it was easy. Three elements: Darby, me, and my appearance, warts and all. Not that I have warts . . . As I said, there’s nothing inherently magical about the elements themselves; more than anything, having them in my head, reciting them a few times, helps me focus my conjuring. Other conjurers might have used other techniques, but this one worked for me.
One second he couldn’t see me, the next he could.
“Whoa,” he said, breathing the word. “How’d you do that?”
“Do what? Kick your ass? It wasn’t that hard.”
“No, I mean—”
“You’re going to answer some questions for me.” I pulled a small digital recorder from the pocket of my bomber.
“The hell I am. I know my rights.”
“I’m not a cop, and you have no rights.”
“If you’re not a cop—”
“I’m a PI. I was hired by Nathan Felder to find out who’s been robbing his stores.” I switched on the recorder. “What’s your name?”
No answer. I smacked the top of his head with the butt of my pistol—just hard enough to get his attention—and then pressed the barrel against his neck again.
“What’s your name?”
“Mark Darby,” he said, his voice low enough that I wasn’t entirely confident the recorder would pick it up.
“How long have you been stealing goods from Custom Electronics?”
“I don’t know what—”
I smacked him again.
“Ow! About four months.”
That matched what Felder said when he hired me.
“Who are you working with?”
He clamped his mouth shut.
Before I could ask him again, I heard a siren wail from not too far away. I listened for a few seconds, long enough to know that it was coming in this direction. Felder would not be happy.
“That’s your fault, Mark. If you hadn’t shot at me, no one would have called the cops.”
“I guess I have rights now, don’t I?”
“Yeah, smart ass, you have the right to go to jail. Felder would have been happy to fire you and be done with it. But you took shots at me, which makes this armed robbery. You’ll probably wind up doing ten years at Lewis or Florence.”
“Shit,” he said in a whisper.
“No kidding. Of course, if you tell me who you’ve been working with, maybe Felder will decide not to press charges. And maybe I’ll be willing to forget about those shots you fired off.”
The police car came around the corner with a squeal of rubber on pavement, the siren dying away. Doors opened on either side of the car and two uniformed officers got out, both holding shotguns, both using their doors for cover.
“Drop your weapon!” one of them shouted.
I placed my Glock on the pavement where Darby couldn’t reach it.
“Now lie down and put your hands on the back of your head.”
“Your word against mine, PI,” Darby said as I followed their instructions.
I couldn’t see his face, but I knew he was grinning.
“Not quite, asshole. I didn’t fire any shots. You did, and the lab can confirm that. And that’s your car filled to the ceiling with stolen goods.”
“Quiet, both of you.”
By now the cops stood over us, their shotguns no doubt aimed at our heads.
“What’s going on here?”
“My name is Jay Fearsson,” I said, before Darby could answer. “I’m a private investigator, and I used to be on the job. My license is in my wallet. I was hired by the owner of Custom Electronics to find the employee who’s been stealing from them since February. That would be the moron lying next to me: Mark Darby. I caught him in the act, and he fired three shots at me. Missed all three times. His weapon is on the ground, a few feet to the left of him. And that’s his Subaru pulled up to the loading dock.”