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Authors: Diana Pharaoh Francis

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Trace of Magic

BOOK: Trace of Magic
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Table of Contents

Praise for
Trace of Magic

“Best book of the year! Best new character of the year! Best new series all year! I. Loved. This. Book. You gotta read it.”


Faith Hunter,
New York Times
bestselling author of the
Jane Yellowrock
series


Trace of Magic
caught me up fast and pulled me in tight for a fun, action-and-sass adventure full of deadly magic and dangerous romance. Diana Pharaoh Francis delivers a downright terrific read.”


Devon Monk, nationally bestselling author of
Hell Bent

“A vividly written world of magic and kick-ass action.”


D.B. Reynolds, author of the Vampires in America
series

“Wonderfully fun read! The perfect mix of magic, sleuthing, action, and romance—with a likeable, wise-cracking heroine in a dangerous, well-developed world. I couldn’t put it down.”


Barb Hendee, co-author of the
Noble Dead Saga

Other Bell Bridge Book Titles by
Diana Pharaoh Francis

The Crosspointe Chronicles (fantasy)

The Cipher

The Black Ship

The Turning Tide
(coming soon)

The Hollow Crown
(coming soon)

The Diamond City Magic Novels
Trace of Magic

Book 2 of The Diamond City Magic Novels
(
Coming soon
)

Trace of Magic

Book 1 of The Diamond City Magic Novels

by

Diana Pharaoh Francis

Bell Bridge Books

Copyright

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), events or locations is entirely coincidental.

Bell Bridge Books
PO BOX 300921
Memphis, TN 38130
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-61194-495-2
Print ISBN: 978-1-61194-514-0

Bell Bridge Books is an Imprint of BelleBooks, Inc.

Copyright © 2014 by Diana Pharaoh Francis
The Cipher
(excerpt) Copyright © 2007 by Diana Pharaoh Francis

Printed and bound in the United States of America.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.

We at BelleBooks enjoy hearing from readers.
Visit our websites
BelleBooks.com
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10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Cover design: Debra Dixon
Interior design: Hank Smith
Photo/Art credits:
Background (manipulated) © Unholyvault |
Dreamstime.com
Woman (manipulated) © Avgustino |
Dreamstime.com

:Mmth:01:

Dedication

For Tony, for all you do, especially making me laugh

Chapter 1

EVERYBODY LEAVES a magical trail of sorts, like an indelible ribbon unrolling behind them. It isn’t actually on this plane, but in a sort of other dimension that only tracers like me can see.

It fades pretty quick for most tracers, disappearing in a matter of hours or maybe a week or two if they are really strong. It never fades for me. I can even see dead trace. It can be tricky to follow, and doing it can leave you vulnerable to the spirit world. I try not to follow dead trace if I can help it. Altogether, those talents make me a unicorn, the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny, and the Loch Ness Monster all rolled into one. In a word, I am unique. A very special snowflake.

I grimaced. It makes for an interesting life, in the Chinese curse sense of the word. I spend most of my time figuring out ways to hide out and stay below the radar of every Tyet faction, crew, and boss. I make a living tracking cheating spouses, missing employees (they usually took money with them), missing persons in general, and the occasional thief or housebreaker. It isn’t a lot of money, but then I don’t need much.

On the side, anonymously, I track down stolen kids. Nine out of ten times, some sadist in the Tyet is responsible. About half the time I find the kids alive. If I didn’t look for them, the odds would be about perfect that they’d be found dead. I’m that good. I wish I was better.

I swallowed, my teeth grinding together, thinking of little Philip Johns. He’d never seen his first birthday. His kidnappers had suffocated him with a plastic bag before tossing him into a dumpster. So help me, Nancy Jane Squires was not going to die. Not on my watch.

Nancy Jane and her mother went missing on the second day of January. It was a Tuesday and Nancy Jane’s birthday. She was seven. From the moment I heard about it, I knew it was one of my cases—the ones that either I solved or the victims died. Sometimes they died anyway.

Patti had texted me with the news. She’s my best friend and part owner of the Diamond City Diner, where I hold my office hours, such as they are. She didn’t say much, just:
Another one. Check the news
. I got the message at eight in the morning as I was on my way to pick up groceries. I never go near my house with my phone on in case I’m being tracked. I had powered it up when I got to the central metro station this morning. By then, Nancy Jane and her mom had been missing more than twelve hours.

I didn’t have a lot of time. This kidnapping stunk of yet another damned Tyet tug-of-war, which meant Nancy Jane and her mother were entirely dispensable. The only good news was they hadn’t been killed on site; that meant the kidnappers hadn’t just wanted to make a bloody statement. They wanted something and needed the girl and her mother alive to get it.

It wasn’t hard to find coverage. The story was plastered all over the place along with an Amber Alert. There weren’t a lot of details. The two had been taken outside a shoe store in Midtown about six thirty the night before. It was out on the south side, where Tyet turf wars seemed to explode every other day. There weren’t any witnesses or video. The kidnappers had used nulls to shut down the magic in the area and vanish all trace.

Basically, they’d disappeared into thin air.

I missed my train as I checked the underground rumor sites, and certain social networks. It’s amazing how many Tyet crews post online, either bragging about jobs, setting them up, or threatening people.

In the last decade or so, Diamond City had reverted to something of an Old West/mafia war zone. Way back when diamonds were first discovered here, there’d been a huge rush followed by massive territory wars. Eventually the Tyet had emerged—basically a united consortium of very bad people who ran the diamond trade and the town. Our most lauded town hero, Zachary Kensington, had brokered that pact somehow, bringing order from chaos. But then something happened about ten years ago and all hell broke loose. A lot of it had to do with a changing idea of what the Tyet could or should do and various factions wanting more money, more power, more, more, more. A drug trade had entered the scene as well—Sparkle Dust, or SD.

It was made from minerals found only in the Diamond City Caldera, minerals infused with the magic of their violent birth. It lent normal people small random magic talents for a short time, plus made users feel twenty feet tall and orgasmically good. Supposedly if you already had talent, you could do extra special spells while on it. I’d never tried. It wasn’t worth it. Sparkle Dust was seriously addictive and sold for a pretty penny. For makers and dealers, they could make almost as much as diamond miners. For addicts, it turned them into wraiths. Literally.

The point is that ten years ago, the shit hit the fan, and now there were dozens and dozens of Tyet crews trying to grab a piece of the pie, while the bigger syndicates made and broke alliances trying to control the entire pie. The old Chicago and New York mob families used to have the one unbreakable rule: don’t go after the women and children. The Diamond City Tyet factions have one too: don’t fuck up the diamonds and drug trade. Everything else is on the table, including seven-year-old girls and their mothers.

I hate the Tyet more than I can begin to say. They killed my mother, and if they knew what I could do, they’d hunt me down and repeat the favor on me or take me captive. I’d rather be a corpse than a slave, and I’d rather be free than either. The rest of my family thinks I should get the hell out of the city and go live on the other side of the world. Maybe I will. Before I do, I’m going to find out who killed my mom and what happened to my dad. Then I’m going to make someone pay. After that—I could see myself living in Tahiti. Maybe Venice or Barcelona, or better yet, the Greek coast.

Until then, I planned to do all I could to very quietly make their lives hell. Like finding a way to spike their plans for Nancy Jane and her mom.

I scrolled through the posts I’d pulled up on my phone. Nobody online was claiming responsibility for the Squires kidnapping. Most were pointing fingers at each other, calling names and condemning such heinous acts. Blah-blah-blah. It was nothing more than pots calling the kettles black and made me want to drop them all down the deepest mine shaft I could find.

My next stop was the police feeds. Most cops were dirty. At least, it was safer to assume they were. I hadn’t found one yet who wasn’t, though I liked to think they existed. There was one I trusted more than the others—Detective-Asshole Clay Price. He was a jerk. Arrogant, prickly, and impatient, he worked for Gregg Touray, who was one of the top Tyet bosses in the city. Everybody knew Price was one of Touray’s cop enforcers. He made sure things went Touray’s way when the police were called into a situation, and he passed on whatever information he got. The only reason I trusted him more than other cops is that most of the time, he also actually tended to do his job. He also didn’t like it when innocents got pulled into a Tyet fight, especially kids.

This case wasn’t in his jurisdiction—he worked out of the Downtown—but I was sure he’d have his hand in it. I almost always saw notes from him in these kidnap files.

Accessing case notes on my own was next to impossible. Luckily, I had a tinker friend who was an elite hacker and had given me the keys to the cop feeds in exchange for a top-end null. I didn’t hand those out very often—I was supposed to be a crap tracer with minimal talent. Sean was in the same boat as I was. He wasn’t going to let my secret out, not if he expected me to protect his.

Price had only written a few lines. Nancy Jane’s mother was Tess Squires. The girl’s father, Abe, was a low-level tinker working as a mechanic at the Lazarus mine. No one had seen or heard from him since before the kidnapping. The cops had set up checkpoints at every Diamond City exit and at the airport. Price also noted the family’s address.

I backed out of the system and shut off my phone before I triggered an alarm. I had a place to start. I fished in the inside pocket of my jacket and pulled out a red glass marble. It was a null, one that targeted my own trace rather than voiding the magic around me. I’d activated one on leaving the house, but as planned, it depleted by the time I reached the metro station.

The only time trace vanished for me was when it was nulled. Depending on who made the null and what they told it to do, the trace would reappear after a while. Good nulls, the kind I made, kept a person from leaving any trace at all for as long as the null lasted. They cost a lot more than the others. I had a feeling that Nancy Jane’s kidnappers had gone the cheap route at the shoe store and that their trace would reappear. I was hoping so, anyway.

I’d find out soon enough, but first I wanted to check out the Squire’s house and get a clear trace signature for each. I also wanted to see who else had been there recently, particularly the missing father.

I caught the train—half subway/half train really—to the south side of the Downtown shelf. Diamond City is built inside an ancient volcanic caldera in the middle of Colorado, fifty miles south of Gunnison. The crater is more than a hundred miles across and cut in half by the Buffalo River. The river drops in a series of falls on one side, then widens into a big lake near the middle of the caldera before draining out through a network of lava tubes on the other side. The west side is empty lowland meadows that like to flood every spring. Mines make the entire basin and opposite side of the caldera look like it has been bombed, though there have been a few projects to restore the vegetation and prevent erosion and landslides.

Diamond City clings like barnacles to a series of wide basalt shelves on the east side of the river, starting on a broad table of rock at the bottom and rising in steps to the rim of the caldera. The lower part of town houses people who can’t afford the rents higher up. Most of them are either living off the diamond dole, or they’re too new in town to qualify for it. In the summer, the mosquitoes are nasty down in the Bottoms, and in the winter, the ice and snow turns the place into a cold hell.

Right above the Bottoms is the ledge known as Downtown. It’s the city’s widest shelf. It covers a good fifty or sixty square miles all told, with the business district in the heart of it and dozens of little neighborhoods, shopping malls, and industrial parks spreading out from there. There is also a healthy share of smaller diamond mines, though many of those have been closed or are getting so regulated they can’t hardly dig anymore. I live on the north side of Downtown in an old Tyet hideout created more than a century ago and long forgotten by most people.

The next ledge holds Midtown, where people with any money at all live. The neighborhoods on the north side are ritzier than on the south side. They get more sun and are farther from the falls and the noise of the mines. It’s prettier up there, with a lot of parks and trees, a couple of art colonies, and an assortment of glitzy shops and restaurants. The upper rim of the city is Uptown, where you have to have a few million dollars just to buy a dog house. Up there are hundred-acre estates and even a few castles.

I don’t like enclosed spaces, and riding the train underground made me sweat fire-hose style. By the time I reached my stop, my tee shirt was clinging to my back and sides, and my deodorant had probably exhausted itself. I put my jacket back on and pulled up the hood. The wind cut right through me. The temperatures were hanging right around five degrees. We hadn’t had snow since November, and that had all melted off within a few weeks.

I didn’t mind. Winter lasted far too long this high in the Rocky Mountains, and I was never eager for it to arrive. Once the snow started falling, it would pile to the eaves of the houses, and to get in and out, people would have to use their second-and third-floor doors that now exited onto empty air.

I hunched against the wind and fell into a long, ground-eating walk. Traffic was heavy with bicycles zooming past on the sidewalk. The scent of hot bread lured me into a bakery, where I grabbed a cup of hot chocolate and a breakfast sandwich to eat as I went.

The Squires’s place was in a fourplex pinched between the back of a laundry mat and a little Mexican taqueria. Cop cars lined the road, the lights flashing. Orange-and-white sawhorses kept the road clear of traffic. Clusters of people stood on the sidewalk, rubbernecking and gossiping. I sidled up close to one group.

“What’s going on?”

People love to talk about disasters. It’s human nature. A grizzled man with a yellowing beard and a Vietnam vet baseball cap eyed me.

“What’s it to ya?”

People love to talk about disasters, except when those disasters come at the hands of the Tyet. Then they get nervous and closemouthed.

I shrugged. “Nothing. Just wondering how long they’re going to have the street blocked.”

One of his companions, a younger guy with a barely there mustache and a receding hairline, pulled a cigarette from his mouth. “Why? Need to get your car through?”

He laughed as if he’d said something funny. The other men in the little group joined him, then abruptly quieted.

I smiled. “My mom’s getting a new bed today from Barrows.” I named a furniture store down in the Downtown where the prices were reasonable and a lot of working people shopped. “I’m hoping if we tear apart her old bed, she’ll have the new one in time to sleep tonight. She lives a little ways farther by Eaglesdale Church.”

I make a habit of knowing what’s where in Diamond City. At least in Downtown and Midtown. I’ll pick an area and walk it until I remember street names and landmarks. It helps in my line of work. I stay out of Uptown. I look suspicious there, like I’m casing the houses.

Yellow-beard softened. A fictitious mom in need tended to have that sort of effect.

“There’s a route up Calloway, if the truck keeps going past Horton Mines and turns up Mason Lane. It dead-ends into Calloway, and that will take ’em right back to Glasspell.”

We were standing on Glasspell Avenue.

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll call and make sure they know not to come this way.” I yawned and started up the street toward the Squires’s residence. “You gentlemen take care.”

They forgot me before I’d gone three steps. I kept to the other side of the street from the fourplex, keeping my head down and trudging like I had a long way to go, peering sideways at it from under my hood.

BOOK: Trace of Magic
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ads

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