Home > Seawitch (Greywalker #7)(16)

Seawitch (Greywalker #7)(16)
Author: Kat Richardson

Solis’s house sat on a moderate lot near the middle of the block on a street that wasn’t quite in trendy, yuppified Madrona and hadn’t quite bootstrapped itself out of gritty, poor, crime-ridden Central District. With its old foursquare houses straight out of a Sears catalog from the first quarter of the twentieth century, the neighborhood was mostly in the process of gentrifying. A couple of the neighbors hadn’t gotten that memo and their homes were still paint-peeling, weed-yarded hovels from which the sounds of TV and gangsta rap blared forth while packs of angry-looking young black or Hispanic men sat on the stoops and wandered in and out of the open doors, drinking beer, smoking, and conversing loudly. One of them hoisted a sarcastic salute at Solis as we drove past.

As he parked and got out of his car, Solis gave the boy and his seedy residence a narrow glare but he didn’t say or do anything more. Carrying the bell in a small canvas duffel I’d had in the back of my truck, I followed him up a short flight of concrete steps to his own neat, fenced yard and onto the raised wooden porch of the big, square two-story house. We opened the door on an old-fashioned foyer and an uproar.

A boy about ten years old raced from one doorway to another, hollering like a pig outracing a butcher. Solis reached out and caught the boy by the shoulder, turning him around with a firm curl of his arm. An irritated frizzle of orange sparks erupted around him in the Grey. The boy came to an abrupt halt, his eyes flashing wide and his own glimmering golden aura falling to a narrow band around his form as he stared at Solis and caught his breath with hastily compressed lips, smothering his shouts instantly.

Solis looked down and lifted one eyebrow, then shook his head, flinging a few sparks into the ghostlight while wearing an expression of severe disappointment. The little boy seemed to shrink, his shoulders slumping as he glanced at the floor. Solis relented, scooping the boy into a hug, followed by a whisper in his ear and a swift kiss on the cheek. Then he put the boy down again and asked him a question in Spanish. The boy pointed back toward the doorway he’d come from, his energy rising to a more normal range as he whispered something too low to make out and patted at what looked like a scorch mark on his sleeve. Solis nodded as if satisfied, examined and then kissed the reddened skin exposed by the burned sleeve, and shooed the boy away. The kid scampered off with a relieved smile up the staircase to our right.

A more distant ruckus continued farther back in the building. Solis glowered a second, his energy corona sparking orange and red. Then he reined in his temper with a visible effort and waved me on. We went under an arch and down a narrow passageway toward the noise, passing a large closet and a small bathroom tucked in under the staircase. Then we walked through a dining room with built-in cabinets that were partially refinished, making a low half wall between the dining room and a large, disarrayed living room on the left. We continued ahead through a scarred swinging door that was painted yellow on one side and white on the other.

We emerged in the yellow kitchen, where a petite woman in her thirties—his wife, I assumed—was trying to tear herself away from a flaming pan to go to the rescue of three very young children being herded into the rear utility room by a tiny, elderly woman in a white house dress and an aura so chaotic it looked like a furiously animated scribble of olive and red drawn by a deranged child. The children seemed to be objecting to the older woman’s harrying while Mrs. Solis—her own energy a harried orange shade flashing with tiny lightning bolts—snatched up a lid and slammed it over her pan, smothering the flames. Then she turned to intervene in the child herding, to which she seemed to object, judging by the way she flung her hands in the air and tried to separate the kids from their shepherd, muttering in Spanish as she did.

Solis cleared his throat and started, “¿Ximena? ¿Qué está—?”

Ximena Solis whipped around with a gasp, bringing her hands to her mouth, and I assumed some of the words she’d used weren’t appropriate around children or police detectives. A cloud of dismay seemed to envelop her. “Rey!” she squeaked, then launched a stream of flustered Spanish accompanied by a flurry of hand waving and gesticulating at the older woman. She broke off suddenly to bound over and wrench one of the children from the older woman’s grasp and push him toward Solis before she turned back to try to rescue another, scolding and pleading by turns, if I guessed the tone correctly.

The older woman picked up the smallest of the two remaining children—a little girl in a slightly grubby striped dress—and plopped her, shoes and all, into the wash sink. A splash of soapy water erupted along with a shriek and a spike of acid-yellow outrage from the girl.

Ximena, tiny red lightning bolts leaping from her, shoved the last free-range kid toward her husband and turned back around, planting her hands on her h*ps for a moment before throwing them into the air again in exasperation and letting out her own cry of indignation. “¡Mama! ¡No hagas eso!” She tried to reach past the older woman, who, though short, angular, and possibly addled, was apparently no weakling, and shouldered the younger woman away with insouciant ease. The other looked ready to explode.

Solis eased between them and pushed the two women apart. He kept his gaze on the older one, but he was clearly speaking to his wife when he said in carefully clipped syllables, “Ximena. Vuelve a la cocina.”

The moment she had flounced away to remove the other children from the kitchen, Solis reached past the old woman and her belligerent shoulders to pluck the now-wailing little girl out of the sink. For a moment, the sparking energy in both the adults’ auras seemed to hiss and coruscate as if on the teetering edge of flaring into furious white heat that would consume everything near it in a flash fire of destruction.

Solis set the girl on the floor and snatched a bath towel off a stack on the clothes dryer nearby to wrap her in, and the moment’s potential faltered, sending a shiver into the Grey.

The woman let out a screech of her own and turned around to berate Solis, bony little claw fists propped on her h*ps and her beaky face thrust forward like a furious crow, her energy blowing outward into a harsh, violent tangle of red spikes. Her posture was so much the full-bore version of Ximena’s aborted stance that I knew the woman had to be her mother. She cawed at her son-in-law in a glass-shattering voice, dropping Spanish words I knew nice old ladies didn’t use in polite Colombian company.

Solis whipped a fisted hand up between them, pointing his index finger at her in a warning gesture as his aura flushed a deep, vibrating red. Unlike his mother-in-law’s, his energy seemed to pull inward, intensifying and burning in a tightly controlled band around him. His expression was stern enough to give a charging rhino pause. “Mi casa, mis reglas,” he snapped.

The old lady shut her mouth with a snap, her tangled strands and spikes sucking inward but not really dissipating, and glowered at him before she also spun around and marched out of the room.

“Bruja vieja y vil,” Solis muttered, rolled his eyes, and stooped to pick up the sodden child. The hard red energy around him drained away, leaving a slightly too-bright residue that gave off occasional low sparks and glimmers of white and orange. He turned and saw me and I could tell he’d momentarily forgotten my presence in his house. His sparks died away.

He cleared his throat. “Have a seat in the kitchen. I will take Claudia Elena upstairs but I won’t be gone long.”

I wasn’t sure if that was an apology in advance, a warning, or what. I shrugged. “All right.”

Solis offered a small smile and walked past me. I followed him into the kitchen, where I could just glimpse two children’s faces peering into the room from the hallway beyond until they saw their father coming and disappeared from sight. I took a seat at the oversized work island in the middle, putting the bag full of bell down on the floor beside me. Ximena Solis stood at the stove, her back to me. She was mumbling and working with jerky, angry motions, occasionally tossing her head in dismissive fury. She turned suddenly with the scorched pan in her hand and let out a fearful yelp as she saw me, jumping in shock and barely keeping hold of the pan and its burned, goopy contents. She started to question me in Spanish, then stopped, made an exasperated face while shaking her head, and restarted in English.

“Who the hell are you?” she demanded, tossing the burned pan into the sink with a clatter and a look of disgust. Her English was more heavily accented than Solis’s, but she spoke more casually—as if she were more comfortable with the language than her husband and didn’t give a damn how she sounded.

“I’m Harper Blaine,” I replied. “I’m working with Sergeant Solis for a few days.”

Her eyebrows pinched together as she looked a bit askance at me. “Harper Blaine? Really? You don’t look spooky to me.”

I let out a short laugh. “Is that how your husband describes me—spooky?”

“Espantoso,” she replied, nodding while keeping her eyes locked on mine, as if I might do something untoward at any moment. Then she shrugged. “But no one’s really that scary compared to my mother.”

I pointed in the direction the old woman had disappeared. “Was that her?”

Ximena rolled her eyes. “Oh yes. She is having one of her ‘bad days.’ She decided the children all needed to be scrubbed of their sins and she was going to do it with Tide and a wire brush.” She glanced around the kitchen in sudden anxiety and added, “I don’t know where Oscar Luis went. . . .”

“Is he about ten, has a burned shirtsleeve?”

She nodded. “Yes. Did you see him?”

“He met us in the foyer. Your husband calmed him down and sent him upstairs. He didn’t seem badly burned—just a little red on his arm.”

Ximena looked stricken, her aura going an unattractive green for a moment, and she seemed to buckle at the knees before she caught herself and stiffened her spine with the help of a loud, long inhale. “He stumbled against the stove trying to get away from Mama and he caught his sleeve on fire.”

She must have noticed my raised eyebrows; her face tightened and she shook her head. “It’s not what you think. We don’t abuse our kids. Once in a while Mama just goes crazy in the head and then things always get bad. She’s locked herself in her room now and she won’t come out until morning, probably.”

“Really.”

“Yes!”

“Do you think it’s safe for her to be upstairs with the kids at all?”

Ximena growled under her breath. “She isn’t upstairs. She has the bedroom down here.” She pointed to one of the doors leading off the kitchen. “I’m not stupid enough to let my lunatic mother sleep near my kids. I’m not sure I should let her sleep near the stove or the food, either, but she’s my mama and I can’t put her in a home. Rey is kind enough to let her stay.” She stopped suddenly and looked at the floor.

I glanced over my shoulder, thinking Solis must have returned, but he hadn’t. It was just us girls.

“Don’t you both worry?”

Mrs. Solis sniffed and said, “She’s not like this very often. When she’s all right she’s a lot of help and she loves the kids. But when she’s bad . . .” She glanced back up at me as if my understanding was a prize she coveted.

“She’s horrid?”

Ximena didn’t get the quote and just nodded. “She is . . . delicate. My parents were both artists. Papa died when I was very young and then Mama fled Colombia for the United States with me and my brother—”

“Fled?” I asked.

“Yes. Papa was killed in an accident and that was when Mama started to go a little crazy. She said he’d been murdered by the police in Cali—we lived in an artists’ colony in the foothills and she thought of Cali as a wicked and filthy city, so of course Papa couldn’t just die in a bus accident there; he had to have been assassinated over his art,” she explained with a touch of eye rolling and hand waving. “She was sure someone would come to our door one day and kill us all. She had family who had come here and they said they could get her a job and so we ran away in the night like criminals.”

“Did you believe it was true?”

She shut herself down with a shrug and glanced away. “Sometimes. I stopped when I was in high school, but”—her eyes swung back to mine from under her lowered brow and falling hair—“the first time I met Rey and he said his father was a policeman in Cali . . . for just a moment . . . I thought that maybe it wasn’t just one of my crazy mother’s crazy stories.”

“She thought I had come to kill her,” Solis added from the doorway behind me.

I turned my head toward him. “Ximena or her mother?”

“Ximena,” he replied. He walked across the room and snuggled one arm around his wife. “Didn’t you?”

Ximena nodded, biting her lip. “It’s so stupid of me, but . . . you know. . . .”

He kissed the top of her head, which forced him up on his toes since Ximena was only an inch or so shorter than Solis. “I know.” He whispered in her ear and kissed her cheek.

She made a shy smile at the floor.

“So,” Solis started, giving his wife a little squeeze. “Pizza?”

Ximena giggled and finally looked up at him. “I don’t want to feed a guest pizza!”

Solis shrugged. “As you like, mi reina. But Blaine is not a guest.” He raised his eyes to mine and a momentary desperation flashed in his glance and sent a shower of anxious olive sparks into the Grey. “Are you?”

“Nope,” I agreed. “Just here to make the sergeant’s life harder.”

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