Killing rites, p.3
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       Killing Rites, p.3

         Part #4 of The Black Suns Daughter series by M. L. N. Hanover
Page 3


  “Great,” I said, clapping my hands on my knees. “Where do we start?”

  “I would consult with Xavier, please. For a moment. ”

  When I did reacting 217;t hop up immediately, Father Chapin looked embarrassed, and I had the sense it was more for me than himself. This is my problem hunched at the back of my throat. Anything you can say to Ex, you can say to me.

  “Just for a minute, Jayné,” Ex said.

  “Sure,” I said. “No problem. ”

  I walked out of the den, heading for the kitchen. But at the last minute, I turned right instead. Down the hall, and out into the December night. After the warmth of the ranch house, the air was like a sharp slap. To the southwest, the lights of Santa Fe were glowing against a sparse covering of cloud. The stars overhead were brilliant and crowded in the sky. A meteor passed over, a thin silver-white light, gone as soon as I saw it. I stepped out to a stretch of rough wooden fence that divided the scrub and stones near the house from the scrub and stones slightly farther away from it, sat on the top plank, crossed my arms, and waited.

  It had been a little over two months since I’d killed an innocent man. I’d had a good reason—saving-the-world-from-madness-and-war-level good—and he’d known what we were going to do. He’d gone into darkness of his own free will. But I was the one who’d put him in the box, driven in the nails, and buried him and the thing living in his body while they screamed and begged. Me. Little old Jayné Heller. My palms were almost healed. There wouldn’t even be much of a scar. According to my lawyer, the police weren’t investigating. It was a missing persons case, and it probably would be forever. Once upon a time, there was a man named David, and then one day, for no particular reason, there wasn’t.

  I hugged myself closer, the cold pressing into my skin. I’d bought an overcoat when we were in London—soft black wool that went down to my ankles—and I thought about going in to get it.

  The days since then hadn’t been the best of my life. I wasn’t sleeping enough. I had weird spikes of anxiety and fear that felt like I’d accidentally gunned the gas with the car in neutral. I didn’t know if it was the aftermath of my very bad day in Chicago or more evidence for my new theory of why I kept winning fights I should have lost.

  From the moment I’d told Ex my suspicion that I had a rider in me, I felt like I’d fallen into a wheel-chair that he was pushing. He’d arranged for the ritual tests in Hamburg that we’d tried with spectacularly inconclusive results. He’d orchestrated the trip back to the States—plane tickets, car, hotels. He even drove on the way up from Albuquerque International Sunport to Santa Fe.

  He’d brokered the meeting with Father Chapin and his cabal of Vatican-approved exorcists. He’d made them sound like the ninja SWAT team of God. And maybe they were, but right now, sitting on my fence, I felt more alone than I had since I’d left college. I heard the front door open and close on the other side of the ranch house, then a car door. An engine came to life. Tires punished the gravel. I watched the headlights curve over the landscape of piñons and cactus without ever seeing the car itself. I figured it was safe to go in, but I didn’t. A few minutes later, the door behind me opened. I heard Ex’s footsteps coming out toward me, and I smelled the hot chocolate before I saw it. He had a cup for each of us, complete with half-melted marshmallows.

  The news was going to be bad,hen.

  He leaned against the fence, looking out toward the smudge of light that was Santa Fe.

  “He’s in the middle of something right now,” Ex said. “There’s an Akkadian wind demon that’s been possessing people all through the northern part of the state and up into Colorado. They’ve tracked it through almost three dozen cases. Father Chapin says they’ve got a rite coming up that’s going to stop it for good. ”

  “Okay,” I said.

  “They’ve been chasing this thing for months. ”

  He sounded defensive. I waited. I’d known Ex long enough to tell when he was working himself up to something. I let the silence push for me while I sipped the hot chocolate. It was good, but he always put a little too much cinnamon in it.

  “There’s some work we can do, though,” Ex said. “So that we’re ready when he’s done with that. Hit the ground running. ”

  “This is the part I’m not going to like, right?”

  “Yeah,” Ex said. “It is. ”

  I popped what was left of the marshmallow into my mouth and talked around it.

  “Lay it on me, Preacher Man. ”

  “There’s someone in Taos he’d like you to talk with. ”

  “Another priest?”

  “A psychiatrist. ”

  I laughed. The amusement didn’t reach down as far as my gut.

  “It’s not about you,” Ex said. “It’s standard. It didn’t used to be, but … well, it is now. People come to him and say that they’re hearing voices or that demons are trying to control them or … anything really. What he does won’t help people who are mentally ill, so it makes sense to have someone do that kind of triage. And he doesn’t know you. All he sees is your history. ”

  “And what does my history look like?”

  Ex’s sigh plumed out white in the freezing air.

  “It looks like someone with a very controlled, fairly sheltered childhood who’s been through a lot of changes in a very short time. Just falling into that kind of money can put lottery winners into therapy. Then there’s everything else. It wouldn’t be strange for someone who has been through all the things you have to be …”

  “Mentally ill?”

  “Shell-shocked. ”

  “Great. ”

  We were quiet for what felt like a long time. The moon was new, a starless spot in the star-strewn sky. The breeze was no more than a breath, cold and dry. For as long as I could remember, I’d had dreams of being in a desert not entirely unlike this one. I wondered now if they’d really been my dreams. Maybe they belonged to something else that was living in my skin. Or maybe that was really mine, and everything else in my lif mentas the falsehood. I thought I was a woman, but maybe that was a mistake.

  I bit my lip, pulling myself back from that train of thought.

  “You know I’m not going to do it, right?” I said.

  “Yeah, I figured. ”

  “So do we have a Plan B?”

  “Sort of,” Ex said.

  “What’s it look like?”

  “Step one: Make a Plan B. ”

  “Let’s get inside,” I said. “I’m freezing. ”

  He took my hand, steadying me as I got down. He kept hold of my fingers for a few seconds longer than he needed to, and I let him. My plan to tour all the properties Uncle Eric had left in my name and catalog everything I could find had gone off the rails when I’d been called to Chicago. In the aftermath, we hadn’t gotten back to it. But of places I’d actually seen, the New Mexico ranch house was one of my favorites. It sat alone on fifty acres of undeveloped wilderness, a single gravel road the only way in or out. It had power from the grid and utilities from the city, but there was also a generator and a well. The walls were white stucco that caught the desert sunlight, glowing yellow at dawn, pink and red and gold in the five o’clock winter dusk. And there was a patio that looked out to the west, catching the gaudy, improbable sunsets that had been different every day I’d remembered to look. I couldn’t imagine myself living there. It was too isolated. But I could see curling up there to lick my wounds for a few weeks. A few months. Years, maybe.

  I went to the kitchen and poured out the hot chocolate now well on its way to tepid. Ex went to the front room and stirred the fire with a black iron poker. The floors were red brick with thick Navajo rugs over them. My cell phone rested on the couch next to the leather backpack I used as a purse. It said I had one new message. The number was Chogyi Jake’s, and I told myself I’d call him back later. After dinner, maybe. A demon-ridden mob had beaten him a good thre
e-quarters of the way to death in Chicago. All his news would be about recuperating, which I didn’t want to know. All mine would be about my quest for a first-class exorcist, which I didn’t want to tell him. It didn’t leave a lot in the middle.

  “I could be wrong, you know,” I said, sitting on the couch. “Maybe there’s another explanation. The whole thing about having a rider on board could be crap I made up, and I’m scaring myself for no reason. ”

  “I’m not willing to take that chance,” Ex said. “It fits the data too well. If we can’t figure out what’s going on and Father Chapin won’t help us, then I’ll find someone else. I’m not giving up on him yet, though. He’ll be in a better position after he’s done with this thing with the wind demon. If I can just get him to look at you himself, try a few cantrips and pulls to see what’s there to see, he’ll change his mind. ”

  “You’re sure of that?”

  “I’m not. ”

  “I thought this guy was your Yoda. ”

  “He taught me most of what I know about riders. The occult. I trained with most of the men he’s working with now. I was going to be one of them. ”

  “So what happened?”

  Ex shrugged. The fire muttered to itself. When it was clear he wasn’t going to say anything more, I stopped waiting.

  Chapter 3

  My bedroom was lavish. King-size bed, wide picture window looking out toward the mountains on the horizon. The master bathroom had a Jacuzzi tub with a separate walk-in shower big enough for two. On the other hand, the pillows smelled like dust, and the water was rusty for the first couple of minutes. And there were other things. The television set up for watching movies from bed dated from before the switch to digital. The only input that worked was a black VCR with a half dozen cassettes dating from the late eighties. I’d watched about the first half of The Big Blue while we waited for Father Chapin’s arrival, and while Jean Reno had been pretty cute before he got old, I couldn’t quite bring myself to start it back up.
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