Black To Dust

Quentin Black Mystery #7

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“It’s good,” he pronounced. “We need one like you. You need a ghost to fight a dead man.”

 

Black finds himself out in the New Mexico desert, where an old war buddy of his needs his help with a rash of murders plaguing his small reservation town.

 

At first it appears to be a pretty cut and dried case of supernatural infestation.

 

When it turns out that infestation is being orchestrated by a banished and fanatical shaman, however, things start to get weird fast.

 

Black, who only went out there to forget his marriage problems and distract himself with some good, honest work, soon finds himself face to face with his worst fears from his past.

He needs Miri out there to help him, but when he finally convinces her to come, things only spiral even faster out of control, drawing them into an ancient supernatural force that might tear them apart forever.

*

BLACK TO DUST is book seven in the QUENTIN BLACK MYSTERY series, a paranormal mystery series starring brilliant but dangerous psychic detective, Quentin Black, and his partner, forensic psychologist Miri Fox. It’s also a spinoff of the BRIDGE & SWORD SERIES.

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Chapter 1: DRY HEAT

“I DON’T KNOW where the fuck I am right now,” he confessed, looking up and down the endless-seeming stretch of dirt road. “You sure Dex got the grid coordinates right? Because there is nothing––and I do mean nothing, sweetheart––within a hundred clicks of here.”

 

Black heard the woman on the other end of the line, Angel, his wife’s best friend, exhale in exasperation.

 

“Jesus, Black. You have every damned gadget under the sun at your disposal.” Her lightly-accented-with-a-touch-of-Louisiana voice turned into a grumble. “What are you even calling me from? A military-grade sat-phone? Now you’re gonna tell me you’re lost?” 

Humor reached her words, as if involuntarily.

 

“Why’re you bitching about it to me, anyway?” she added, still grumbling. “Don’t you have satellites re-positioned for you on a whim, whenever you call your pals in the Pentagon? Call someone who gives a shit, Black.”

 

He grunted, wiping sweat off his neck and face with the shoulder part of his T-shirt. He squinted down the long, red-rock desert highway, looking for any sign of another car. All he saw were the blurry, rippled lines of a mirage caused by heat bleeding off the pavement.

 

He’d been out here long enough now, he felt like he was breathing more red dust than oxygen. Every inhale seemed to coat his lungs, to stick in his throat.

 

“I’m not sure the planet Mars is visible from GPS satellites, Ang,” he said, looking up and down the car-less stretch. “Just ask Dex for me, all right? Or hell, call Nick. He’s the one who set up this shit-show. Isn’t it his friend from Albuquerque F.B.I. who’s supposed to be meeting me out here? Or one of the reservation cops?”

“Both,” she said. “He used to be Albuquerque F.B.I. Nick says he moved to B.I.A., or maybe Navajo Nation police… one of those two. He’s working with the special crimes unit.”

Black nodded. He knew “B.I.A.” stood for Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Generally the B.I.A. worked on reservations that didn’t have their own police force. The Navajo Nation was huge though, and had their own cops. The whole thing was a big clusterfuck of jurisdictions though, whenever a native reservation was involved, so B.I.A., F.B.I., local and state police forces outside the reservation and sometimes even the military got involved, depending on the crime and where it occurred.

Still gazing up and down the road, he frowned, wiping his forehead with an arm.

“I already tried to reach the yokel fucks over here, in Tohatchi and Naschitti,” he grumbled. “They had no idea what I was talking about. They said to call the Navajo Nation police. If I’m in the wrong place, or this whole thing is off, I want to go back to the resort and jump in the pool before it gets dark.”

“Be sure and call them that, Black,” Angel grunted. “Yokel fucks. They’ll love that.”

“You know me, babe. Everyone loves me.”

Angel snorted a real laugh that time, and he smiled in spite of himself.

“And what’s with all the whining?” he said. “I pay you, don’t I? Didn’t I give you and Cowboy an all-expenses paid vacation to magical New Mexico? Am I interrupting your ‘me-time,’ or something?”

Thinking about his own words, he grunted, imagining the two of them lounging by the same pool he’d just been fantasizing about.

“…Or is Cowboy giving you shit because I’m monopolizing you for five whole fucking minutes?” he said. “Unending apologies if my attempts to keep from dying of dehydration in the middle of nowhere are cutting into your poolside experience with your new boyfriend.”

He could practically see the woman on the other end roll her eyes.

“Maybe I’m just tired of being your Miri-replacement, Black,” she grunted.

Black tensed. “What?”

She went on as if she hadn’t heard him.

“…It’s not like we don’t all know why you’re calling me every twenty minutes since she left. Just because you’re too much of a damned chicken to call your own wife, I should have to suffer? Call her, Black. Just call her. Or did she change her number on you again?”

 

Black’s jaw tightened the longer she talked.

 

By the time she finished, his back teeth hurt.

 

He fought to swallow it, to keep his emotions in check, to at least to keep them from reaching his voice, but the anger in his light only worsened. In the end, all he did was let the silence stretch a few beats longer than was comfortable.

“She’s on vacation,” he said. “A real one. I don’t want to bother her.”

 

Angel let out an expressive sigh.

“Bother her, Black,” she advised. “Seriously. You’re being ridiculous.” 

“Seriously, Ang… Fuck off.”

Seemingly unfazed, she exhaled.

 

“Call her, you big baby. Better yet, get on a plane and go to her. Stop driving the rest of us crazy because you both act like oversexed teenagers with trauma issues when it comes to each other.” Her voice frowning, she added, “Look, I know she’s mad at you. I know you have shit to work out. I know what happened in New York was hard––”

 

“Angel. I’m not going to talk about this. It’s none of your goddamned––”

 

“––but hard or not, you’re both being freaking stupid at this point,” she said, exhaling pointedly. “Miri as much as you. But it’s obvious you can’t handle being separated from her, or not talking to her, so you should just call her. Weird wild goose chases out in the desert aren’t going to fix this, Black.”

 

Again, he could almost see her on a sun lounger by the pool, wearing a turquoise bikini, a frosted margarita glass in her hand under her designer shades.

A pool he owned, come to think of it.

“…Cowboy thinks so, too,” she added.

Black heard a voice protest in the background, along with a disbelieving laugh.

“Hey! Don’t bring me into this, darlin’…”

Angel went on as if Cowboy hadn’t spoken.

“Just call her,” she said. “Seriously. This ‘time apart’ thing isn’t working, or helping. Her going off angry and you waiting here, pretending you’re cool with it while you take solo jobs in the middle of god knows where, refusing any backup… none of it is helping. You’re a damned celebrity now, Black. What if someone recognizes you out there?”

Looking around at the empty landscape, the lack of even a single car or truck, Black grunted. “Yeah, strangely, that’s not a big concern right now.”

“Well, it should be,” she retorted. “You must know you’re driving your staff friggin’ crazy, at least. You and Miri both are driving yourselves and each other and all the rest of us bananas.”

For a moment, he only stared unseeingly out over the red rock of the desert.

Then, without knowing he meant to, he found himself answering her.

 

“She made it pretty clear she didn’t want me along, Angel. When I offered the trip, I meant for both of us to go. She made it clear that wasn’t going to work for her…”

 

Trailing, he bit his tongue when he realized Angel had suckered him into talking about this.

 

He was talking about this, and he didn’t fucking want to. Not with her. Not with Dex or Nick. Not with anyone but Miri herself, and not until she wanted to.

 

Wiping his forehead in the heat, he clicked at Angel under his breath.

 

“Look. I just wanted someone to know where to look for the body, in case I don’t show up back in town. If I’m not back in Santa Fe in two days, you might want to send someone. In the meantime, enjoy a margarita for me. Cowboy, too. On my fucking dime.”

Before she could answer, he clicked the hang-up button on his phone, still muttering in annoyance under his breath.

He didn’t want to be annoyed.

He didn’t want to be thinking about this at all, and now he couldn’t help it.

The whole point of the trip out here was to not think about Miri. He only agreed to take the meeting in person because it was the middle of fucking nowhere, because no one out here really knew or cared who he was, because he wouldn’t have constant fucking reminders of his wife everywhere he turned, including in the semi-accusing faces of his staff.

 

Most of them had no idea why Miri left, or why she was so angry about New York.

Most of them knew nothing specific, since Black was positive Miri hadn’t told them.

 

Even so, from the looks on their faces, from the glimpses he got of their minds, they all assumed it was his fault. He’d caught more than one of them assuming he’d been unfaithful to her. Given how Miri interpreted what he’d done during that several months of operations and infiltration both before and while they were in New York City, the realization infuriated him.

Coming out here was supposed to be a break from all that.

It was also the exact opposite of everything he’d been doing lately, whether in New York or San Francisco. People out here likely wouldn’t recognize him, whatever Angel said, not unless they were late night talk show junkies, or really into playing the stock market.

More to the point, most people out here wouldn’t give a shit, even if they did recognize him. They wouldn’t care that his face had been in the papers for the past few weeks for being a rich New York douchebag. They definitely wouldn’t know anything about the fact that vampires tried to kill him, his wife, and a hell of a lot of other people in New York.

 

The Colonel was supposed to bury all of that.

 

Even the terrorism problems ended once Brick was taken into custody. The news still spun speculations here and there, mostly aimed at China, but the loudest voices screaming about imminent attacks had grown more subdued of late, too.

 

None of what really happened was supposed to hit any of the local, New York papers, much less the national or international ones.

Even so, the Colonel told Black he should probably keep a low profile for a while.

Black was doing that. This was about as low-profile as he could get while still being inside the continental United States.

He did miss his wife.

He missed his wife a fuck of a lot.

Realizing Angel might be right, that he might have been calling her more often because of it, didn’t exactly help his mood. But he really couldn’t call Miri right now.

Miri made that really damned clear.

She told him she needed space. She specifically told him not to call.

She said no phone calls, no cute presents, no jewelry, no drunk-dialed voicemail apologies, no singing telegrams, no flowers, no surprise visits, no going into her dreams or trying to talk to her via the Barrier, the psychic space seers shared… no grand gestures whatsoever.

She didn’t leave him a lot of wiggle room.

She didn’t leave him any damned wiggle room, not without him having to be a prick and go against her explicitly-stated wishes, which he was trying his damnedest not to do.

 

She said she’d talk to him again when she was ready to talk to him again.

 

She said when that day came, she would call him.

 

That had been over seven weeks ago.

 

So far, he hadn’t heard a word. He wouldn’t even know where she was, if his security team hadn’t been filling him in.

He wasn’t about to tell Angel that, though.

 

He didn’t want to admit to Angel how much he missed his wife, not when Miri hadn’t yet given him a real answer on when she expected to be coming home.

 

That was assuming she expected to be coming home at all––at least to him.

 

Exhaling in frustration and now a surge of anger he couldn’t quite push back, he rested his hands on his hips, gazing out over the desert.

 

The land stretching to the horizon on both sides was even more empty than the road. The only living thing he saw was a giant bird, black in the sky, winging in a lazy circle over something he couldn’t see on the desert floor.

 

Great. A vulture.

 

That was fucking reassuring.

 

He wiped his face with his T-shirt again, wishing he’d brought a hat, or a bandanna at least. Hell, a baseball cap would’ve been something. As it was, he felt like an ant under a magnifying glass, even though he grew up in weather hotter than this.

 

He’d spent most of his childhood in Southern Thailand.

 

Thailand heat was wet, though. It was close-to-the-equator heat.

 

Something about this ultra-dry land and sun was different. In some ways, it was less uncomfortable than the humidity he remembered growing up, but it also made him feel like his life was in danger if he stayed out here too long––like the air and sun conspired to leach every drop of water from his body.

 

He glanced back at the Jeep he’d rented to drive out here.

 

He hadn’t botched the coordinates. He knew he hadn’t––neither had Dex.

 

Even apart from the instruments, he could feel it. He was in the right place.

 

So where was this asshole?

 

He scanned the red-rock horizon a second time, then stared down the road itself. There was nothing, anywhere his eyes focused.

 

Nick set this meet up.

 

He’d recently returned to the Northern Precinct of the San Francisco Police Department, following his six month sabbatical working for Black in New York. Nick told him the guy had worked for the F.B.I. out here, mostly in homicide, mostly on Native American lands, but recently he’d switched to either the B.I.A. or Navajo Nation to be closer to family.

 

Nick seemed to think the guy was trustworthy, if wound a bit tight.

 

Nick also said the guy claimed to know an “old friend” of Black’s, someone who lived on the rez and was somehow involved with his investigation. The detective hadn’t given Nick the name of this old friend, which was odd. Instead, he wanted Black to came out to the rez in person before he got into details of the case.

 

Normally Black would have blown it off.

 

Given how weird, cagey and dodgy the whole thing was, he at least would have had his people find out exactly who was behind it and what they wanted.

 

In this case, however, he decided to just wing it.

 

And yeah, Angel was right. His security team hadn’t been thrilled when he announced he’d be coming out here alone.

 

Angel was right about something else.

Miri probably had a lot to do with him doing it anyway.

 

Contrary to Angel and his security team’s suspicions, however, Black wasn’t being suicidal, or even overly reckless. He figured he knew who the “old friend” was that Nick’s war buddy said was involved somehow in his case.

 

It had to be one of the guys he’d gotten out of that federal penitentiary in Louisiana.

 

Easton, Frank, Dog, Devin, and Joseph all hailed from this part of the world. All of them grew up on reservations, although Black wasn’t sure which ones precisely.

 

While he’d been stuck in that hell-hole in Louisiana, he’d aligned himself with the “chiefs,” mostly in an attempt to stay alive, and also because, through Miri, he thought he might actually be able to pull it off––unlike trying to pretend he was Mexican or black, both of which likely would’ve just gotten him put in the prison infirmary.

 

Given that his options were to try and use his wife’s parentage or align with a bunch of psychopathic white supremacists, the choice had been an easy one.

 

Of course, he still managed to get his ass kicked by white supremacists.

 

That wasn’t the chiefs’ fault though.

Black still had trouble thinking about Louisiana without grimacing. The whole thing––waking up in that fucking prison, being sight-collared, getting beat up by racist knuckle-draggers, being stuck in a human-run lab where they experimented on him––none of it had been scrubbed from his mind, not even by taking down the vampires responsible.

Taking them down helped, though.

 

It helped a fuck of a lot.

 

It would have helped a lot more if he hadn’t managed to completely alienate his wife in the process.

 

Even with everything that happened in order to get him out of that prison, he hadn’t forgotten his friends left on the inside. After that whole nightmare went down with the vampires, both in the prison and in that lab, and after Black finally got his freedom again, he pulled some strings and got his friends out of that shit-hole, too.

 

He hadn’t heard from them since, but he hadn’t expected to.

 

They were free.

 

Also, he didn’t exactly broadcast that he was the reason for their newfound freedom, so they likely didn’t know.

 

Black was fine with that. They didn’t owe him a damned thing.

 

He’d pretty much had his hands full in the time since, anyway.

 

Still scanning the horizon on four sides, he stopped around the ten o’clock position from the Jeep’s windshield. He did a double-take when he realized someone was finally visible on the horizon, heading in his direction.

 

Not in a car, though. They weren’t on foot, either.

 

They were riding a fucking horse.

 

“Fantastic,” he muttered.

 

He considered pulling out his rifle with the big scope, just to freak the guy out.

 

Of course, if the B.I.A. detective sent one of Black’s so-called friends instead of coming himself, that might be Easton out there, on that fucking horse––or Frank. Knowing the two of them, either or both might be packing heat. If they saw the glint of a rifle scope, joking or not, they might shoot back at him, just to be on the safe side.

 

Prison had a tendency to make people jumpy.

 

Wiping his forehead, he muttered to himself as he walked back to the Jeep.

 

He leaned through the open window to the front seat, which was already coated in a fine layer of red dust, just like his hair, his clothes, and everything else out here. Rummaging around in the canvas military bag he’d left between two bucket seats, he grabbed his binoculars and straightened up out of the window, grabbing a sun-heated bottle of water on his way up.

 

Leaning his back against the car door, in part to disguise the glint of glass by confusing it with the car windows, he looked out over the desert again, using the high-powered binoculars between swallows of too-warm water.

 

Yep. A horse. He hadn’t imagined it.

 

Worse, the guy was leading a second horse, a taller, gray and white appaloosa mare with a dark gray mane and tail. Since the second horse was already wearing a saddle, along with a bridle and two saddle bags, it was pretty clear it wasn’t just there to be a pack animal.

 

Black swung the glasses back to the smaller bay with the white blaze on its face. He adjusted the binocs more specifically on its rider.

 

It didn’t look like Easton.

 

Or Frank. Or Dog.

After a few more seconds of squinting, he decided he definitely didn’t know the guy, not from that Louisiana prison or anywhere else.

He must be Nick’s friend, the cop.

He looked roughly the right age, early to mid-forties, so a few years older than Nick. He had that sun-baked look, like he spent a lot of time outside, but he was more tan than burnt, even if it was a reddish tan.

Good-looking guy. He fit as a local tribal, from his clothes and the shoulder-length black hair he wore in a half-ponytail. Athletic build, but in that wiry, practical way, not the city, gym-rat version Black generally saw on the coasts.

He wore a long-sleeved button-down shirt and blue jeans, along with cowboy boots.

Cursing a little under his breath as he lowered the binoculars, Black could only stand there and wait, taking more swallows of tepid water as he did.

 

It took a long-feeling stretch of time for that distance to close.

 

The guy rode right up to him without speaking, or even raising a hand in greeting. The only sound came from horse hooves hitting the packed, red dirt.

 

The rider brought the horses close enough that all three of them, the two horses and the rider, blocked the sun. The fact that they could block the sun only served to remind Black that it was already getting late in the day.

 

That punishing desert heat would evaporate soon, leaving the land cold once the sun passed the edge of the horizon.

 

That was another difference between here and Thailand.

It generally didn’t get cold at night in Thailand.

 

It also meant this little camping trip would likely happen in pitch darkness.

 

“I’m not riding a fucking horse,” Black said, before the guy in the dark blue jeans could speak.

 

The man only stared at him, expressionless, pulling a hat off his saddlebag, a wide-brimmed black cowboy hat that was dusty too, but had an elaborate silver and turquoise band under the peak. Black watched him pull the ponytail casually out of his shoulder-length hair, putting the black cowboy hat on over it.

 

His long-sleeved button-down flannel shirt made Black hot just by looking at it.

 

He scowled at the man’s silence, the deliberateness of his movements.

 

“No horses,” he repeated. “…Forget it, Tonto. This thing can handle your scrub brush and sand just fine.”

 

He motioned vaguely behind him at the Jeep.

 

If the man was offended by Black’s words, no indication showed on his face.

 

In fact, if Black wasn’t losing his marbles out here, the guy was actually smiling.

 

Normally, Black liked a guy who could give as good as he got, but something about this man’s smile rubbed Black the wrong way.

 

He knew he was being a dick.

 

Some of it might have been irritation with the conversation he’d gotten into with Angel, but most of it was probably because he’d been thinking about his wife. In general, he had a tendency to jab at people he knew he might be working with, in part just to see how they reacted.

 

With humans, ethnic and “race” crap was a cheap shot, but it was easy.

 

Maybe he’d gotten out of practice at getting under people’s skin, living in a human city on the West Coast of the United States, where everyone got offended by fucking everything. Those few months in New York clearly weren’t enough to bring his sharper edges back, since he already felt guilty for lobbing racial bullshit at this poor bastard he didn’t even know, just to get a rise out of him.

 

Then again, maybe that was Miri’s influence, too.

 

If she was here, she’d already be scowling at him, and not because she was of native blood. More because she’d know he was full of shit.

 

And yeah, because he was being a dick.

 

“Sorry,” he said, when the other didn’t speak. “It’s hotter than the Sahara out here. And horses freak me out. I almost got killed by one, and––”

 

“I know what you are.”

 

Black frowned, staring up at him. “Excuse me?”

 

The man smiled wider, looking him over with dark brown eyes.

 

Those eyes had a hint of sharpness to them, but again, there was something else there, something Black didn’t like.

 

“It’s good,” the man pronounced, giving a single nod. “We need one like you. You need a ghost to fight a dead man.”

 

Black stared up at him, suddenly feeling a lot less friendly.

 

Of course, there was no possible way this guy knew what he was.

 

The chiefs in that Louisiana prison sure as fuck didn’t know what he was.

 

They didn’t even know he was “psychic,” as most humans insisted on calling it, including his wife. Joseph, their de facto leader, might have picked up there was something weird about Black, but he sure as hell didn’t have a clue what he was.

Remembering Joseph, Black frowned.

 

Was Joseph the “old friend” Nick mentioned, who called Black out here?

 

Maybe he should have had Dex and Kiko run the info on this gig after all, at least enough to find out who these jokers were. Looking at this tough-looking guy on his horse with his big cowboy hat, it struck Black that he’d made a lot of assumptions.

At the time, coming out here seemed like the answer to his insane restlessness with Miri gone, but maybe he should have bugged Nick for more information.

At the very least, he should have made sure no one out here wanted him dead.

Glancing up and down the horizon, he focused back on the stranger in the black cowboy hat with a frown. No way this guy knew what he was, but maybe it was time to figure out who’d called him out here, and why.

When Black reached out with his mind and living light, however, trying to read the man on the black horse, he got… nothing.

A blank wall.

Well, not a wall exactly––a wall implied resistance, and this was the opposite of that. It was more like he fell through the man’s mind, meeting nothing whatsoever to latch on to, nothing that his mind or light could interpret, or even see.

Black’s frown deepened.

It crossed his mind that the guy might be a vampire.

He had serious doubts about that as a real possibility, though. Vampire minds didn’t feel like what he’d just felt. Moreover, this guy had been riding, hatless, in some of the most punishing sun Black had ever encountered. Sunlight might not kill vampires, like the old myths dictated, but in Black’s experience, they tended to avoid it.

He tried to read the guy again, going deeper with his light.

That time, he got a feeling of presence, a flavor of the man and even of his horse. He got a few impressions really, but they were fleeting and more in the realm of feelings. He still didn’t hear or feel anything resembling concrete thoughts.

 

He definitely didn’t hit up against anything resembling a shield, nor did the man in the black cowboy hat do anything to push Black out of his mind. There was no sense of misdirection, or even awareness of what Black had done, or tried to do.

 

The joker simply kept his mind completely and utterly blank when he wasn’t using it.

 

The only human Black had met who could do that so well was Cowboy.

 

“Who are you?” Black said. “Do I know you?”

 

The man smiled, his dark eyes far-seeing, unmoved by Black’s harder stare, or by the faint flavor of paranoia in his question.

 

“You’re asking that now? Why not get on the horse first?”

 

Black scowled. “I’m not getting on the fucking horse. And I’d rather know who you are now. Before I follow you to God knows where.”

 

The man’s smile grew even more cryptic. “I’m Nick’s friend.”

 

“I gathered that much––”

 

“I think it’s best if your own friend, back at the rez, tells you the rest. Then it’s coming from a source you have more reason to trust. You might hear it easier.”

 

Black’s scowl hardened.

 

He tried to read the guy again and again got nothing. How did this guy know to keep his mind blank around him? Did Nick tell him something? That struck Black as exceedingly unlikely, no matter how much Nick trusted this joker.

 

Could the guy see him, maybe?

 

That struck Black as unlikely, too.

 

Sure, Black ran into humans who could see a bit from time to time. Usually they were old-school religious types, mostly from Asia, South America, or Africa. It wasn’t totally implausible that this tribe might have one or two who had a bit of the real deal, human-style psychic vision, especially if some of the old ways persisted out here. Black had already noticed humans were more psychic in this version of Earth than the one where he’d been born.

 

Of course, most were utterly oblivious to that fact.

 

More to the point, not a single one of them had enough juice to ID Black for what he was. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of them never knew he could see at all, much less that he could run circles around them in that area. They couldn’t touch his shields, or see past his decidedly non-New Age persona, or his unwillingness to go there with any of them.

Even if they could see some hint of his seer’s sight, they’d never know what he was. How would they? Humans had no context, no myths about someone like him.

But yeah, it was possible this guy had something.

 

“Are you at least going to tell me where I’m going?” he said to cowboy hat, still frowning. “And why I can’t just drive there? Like a normal fucking person?”

 

“We have an elder. He asked for you. I’m taking you to him.” The man’s lips tilted in a faint smile. “And it’s better if we don’t advertise you being out here. It’s a small community. They can be touchy about strangers. Your friend asked if you could ride out instead, at least until you make a decision about the job.”

 

“An elder?” Black grunted.

 

Joseph. Maybe Easton and Dog put him up to it.

 

“Elder, huh?” he repeated. “Asked for me? What’s his name?”

 

“Come with me,” the man responded, his voice reasonable. “Maybe you’ll know yourself, when you see him.”

Feeling his unfriendliness deepen, Black folded his arms, flexing them a bit as he straightened to his full height, taking his weight off the car door.

“Look. I drove all the way out here, and you’re late. If you’re going to jerk me around, I’ll just as happily drive back to Santa Fe. Spend the night getting a hot rock massage, drinking tequila, and eating green chili steak.”

 

The man with the black cowboy hat chuckled.

 

Clucking his tongue at the bay, he began to turn the animal around.

 

“Come with me, ghost,” he said. “The horse I brought is gentle. Your friend told me you don’t like them.”

 

“My ‘friend’ told you, huh?” Black grunted. “What a pal.”

 

Even so, he wondered which “friend” the guy meant that time.

 

Probably Nick. He’d told that asshole he didn’t like horses. Was this Nick’s idea of a joke? If so, Black was definitely going to have to return the favor… in spades.

 

Homicide Detective Nick Tanaka had opened a giant can of whup-ass if he thought he could start a game like that with him and not get hit back.

 

To the man on the horse, he only shook his head.

 

“I told you, I’m not getting on anything that’s alive. I’ll follow you in the Jeep. Or hell, tell me where we’re going and you can meet me there. Maybe I can park in a barn or something. Come in after dark, so no one sees me.” He glanced at the cooler in the back seat of his car. “I’ll even save you a beer, if you’re not a total dick.”

 

“No.”

 

Black looked up, scowling. “Are you deaf?”

 

“Are you?” the man countered, leaning over the pommel of his saddle. “This is Navajo land, friend, and this part of it is sacred. You can’t drive on it… Tonto. You might be a ghost, but your skin is white, so I wouldn’t suggest going alone in a rented rich man’s car, not unless you want to get shot. You can’t even walk in these parts, not without me or another tribal authority with you.”

Leaning back in his seat, he clucked at his horse, wheeling it the rest of the way around.

“…So get on the fucking horse and stop being such a baby,” he added.

Black scowled, staring at the dark gray appaloosa, watching it swish its tail.

 

Oh, he was so going to make Tanaka pay for this.

(End sample pages)

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