Home > Mist and Magic (Death Before Dragons #0.5)(6)

Mist and Magic (Death Before Dragons #0.5)(6)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

Fortunately, Willard was only going to a photocopier. She made copies of the notes and walked back into her office, pausing to look more closely at the cub.

“Not long,” I said. “But there was a dead ogre on the dock, outside of his boat, and this little tiger inside. Since one of those smugglers was also an ogre, I thought they might be responsible.” I still thought they might have been responsible.

“Do you always make assumptions based on race?”

“They’re a species, not a race, and I make suspicions based on their proximity to the crime scene.” I snatched the originals from her grip, annoyed at her insinuation, and annoyed that I wasn’t making sense. Make suspicions? What did that even mean?

If I was honest with myself, I would agree that the previous night had not gone according to plan, and I could see why Willard would judge me for killing smugglers. Usually, when I took on jobs, it was to assassinate proven killers, magical beings who were not only hiding on Earth but preying on humans. Preying on beluga sturgeon didn’t typically merit an assassination.

But I didn’t want to be honest. I wanted to get out of here and find Michael.

“If you change your mind and want to be helpful, I’m sure Hobbs had my number.” I headed for the door.

“Does that cat get any bigger?”

I paused. She was still looking at the cub, who was now swatting the back of my head with a paw, thankfully a paw with claws retracted.

“Bigger?”

“You said it’s magical, right?”

“Yeah, I zap her with my sword, invoke the power of Grayskull, and she turns into a battle cat.”

Willard snorted. “There are magical beings who can shift forms. Surely, you’ve encountered werewolves.”

“Yes, but they don’t go from mini wolves to giant wolves.” I frowned at her. “Why do you ask?”

“There have been maulings up in Bellingham that have left three people dead. Six others have disappeared. I sent an agent up to investigate last week, and he stopped communicating with me two days ago.” Willard tilted her head, still focused on the cub instead of me. “Nobody has seen the culprit, but the dead looked to have been killed by the claws of a giant feline.”

If she’d been Hobbs and I hadn’t been on my own mission, I would have offered to go up and find out what was going on. That was the kind of thing he’d paid me to do. But unless it was somehow tied in with this cub and Michael, I wasn’t interested. Besides, it was obvious Willard would gnaw off her favorite limb before hiring me.

“This is the ogre language.” Willard held up the note I’d taken out of the ogre’s pocket.

“I know. I just can’t read it.”

“And this—” she held up the copy of the other one, “—is dragon.”

“The dragon language? There haven’t been any dragons on Earth for a thousand years.” As far as I knew.

“Someone brought some of their words here. I also don’t know what it says, but I recognize it. We’ve got translation dictionaries here. Lieutenant Reynolds is teaching himself the various magical languages. I’ll have him look at these.”

“And share the translations with me?”

She hesitated and glanced at the picture of Michael she’d pulled up with his file. “It’ll depend on what they say.”

I gritted my teeth. They were my notes, damn it. I had a right to know what they contained.

“See yourself out. I have a missing agent to find.”

“A lot of people have gone missing lately,” I observed.

“So it seems.”

“You’re going up to Bellingham?”

“If the creek don’t rise.”

It took me a moment to realize that was a Southern saying rather than a comment on the Skagit River or some other waterway between here and Bellingham.

“I could go with you to help if you want.” I didn’t want to, but if I helped her, maybe she would be more likely to share the results of the translations. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any other leads at the moment. Besides, if I did some pro bono work for this new commander, maybe she would think of me for assignments later.

“I can handle it,” Willard said tightly. “After looking over your record and your methods for obtaining results, I will officially say that this interview is over, and the army will not continue to employ you.”

“I didn’t come for an interview.”

“You had one anyway.”

“I wish you’d told me. I would have worn my dress jeans and brought my formal tiger.”

Willard walked out of the office again. “See yourself out,” she repeated over her shoulder.

“I suppose I shouldn’t take you out of your pack and let you eat the furniture,” I murmured to the cub.

“Merow.”

“I still don’t know what that means.”

She swatted my braid.

5

After grabbing a burger from a fast-food place, I drove to Shoreview Park next to Shoreline Community College and pulled in by the tennis courts. Unbeknownst to the students, staff, and legions of dog walkers, a clan of ogres lived in the woods between Boeing Creek and the Forest Loop Trail. Over the years, they’d burrowed out a cave, and one of their shamans had applied magical illusions to the area to keep mundane humans—and their mundane canines—from finding it. Now and then, dogs disappeared from the area, and the infrequently spotted coyote got blamed, but I knew better. Ogres thought dogs were legitimate snacks.

I grabbed both of my weapons as I climbed out of the Jeep, knowing I wouldn’t be welcome. The reason I knew of the cave was because I’d had to drag a murderer out from the clan’s midst a few years earlier. He’d been hauling off college kids and making stews with their choice body parts. The rest of the clan had claimed they hadn’t known the source of the mystery meat, and Hobbs had only hired me to deal with the murderer himself, so that was all I’d done, but I’d had to fight off several of the others to get him and escape with my life.

Going back there was crazy, but I didn’t know if Willard’s agents would share the translations with me, and I needed someone who read ogrish. This was the only ogre hideout I knew about.

Earlier, I’d driven along the shoreline all the way from Lake Washington to Ballard, hoping to spot a suspicious barge out on the water—or sense the trolls from the night before—but that hadn’t resulted in anything. I couldn’t help but feel that I’d wasted most of the day.

In addition to my weapons, I grabbed a bag from Beast & Cleaver. It was full of cold cuts and ropes of sausage. My bribe for the ogres. I had some cash, too, but rumor had it, nine-foot-tall meat-eaters highly valued cold cuts and sausage.

It amazed me that the cub hadn’t tried to devour the whole bag on the ride over. She’d sniffed it with interest but otherwise left it alone.

Raindrops spattered onto my head as I opened the passenger-side door. I caught the cub in the middle of gnawing on the seatbelt again.

“How come you chew on things, kid, but you don’t eat anything?”

She looked at me and nibbled unrepentantly. I’d stopped her several times, but she’d still managed to get halfway through the belt. If I hadn’t already offered her several kinds of food that day, I would have assumed she was hungry. But she’d turned her nose up at everything from the caviar to smoked salmon to cans of cat food to pieces of my burger.

“I should have left you in Willard’s office. Just think what you’d do to computer cables.”

The cub hopped down before I could stuff her in the backpack and ran across the parking lot.

Swearing, I grabbed the pack and hurried after her. Even if I wasn’t convinced she needed me to take care of her, she was my only clue besides those notes, notes that might not say anything useful.

I chased her through puddles to the nearest patch of grass. Maybe she had to pee. I hadn’t seen her drink yet, despite my attempts to give her water, so I had no idea how her magical metabolism worked, but maybe I was about to find out.

Instead of squatting, she flung herself on her back and rolled around, legs up in the air, paws twitching. A robin hunting for worms in a puddle flew off in an alarmed flutter. Another one watched the cub warily from the fallen leaves scattered under the bare branches of a tree.

“If you had an itch, you could have let me know.” I stopped when it became apparent she wouldn’t run farther. “I have dexterous hands.”

She stood up, noticed the robin, and started stalking it, tail swishing behind her. The bird flew into the branches of the tree. The cub roared—sort of. It was on the thin and reedy side. The robin was unimpressed.

“I need to chat with some ogres. Are you coming, or do I need to put you in the bag?”

She turned, looked up at me, and roared again.

I walked away, curious if she would follow me. She did, but she took her time, sniffing every blade of grass and tramping through the puddles along the way. When I got far enough ahead that I thought I would have to go back to her, she sprinted to catch up and take the lead.

“An independent type, huh?” Given the reception I would likely get from the ogres, I wasn’t sure I should take her along, but I worried that more than my seatbelts would be destroyed if I left her in the Jeep for an hour. She could demolish the entire interior in that time.

A blue jay squawked at us from a tree. The cub stopped again to roar at it. That only elicited more squawking.

“I’m sure your roar will drive fear into the hearts of your enemies someday,” I said, “but you’re not there yet.”

The rain had picked up, and there were few walkers in the park, but someone yelled for me to put my dog on a leash. I waved, smiled, and ignored him. His face turned red, and he took out his phone and stalked off, no doubt to report me to the leash-enforcement authorities.

“What a sad world we live in that people can’t recognize a magical tiger when they see one,” I said, following my silver guide who through luck took the correct trail.

   
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