Sanaa and Grace spend the night at Betsy McQueen’s cabin before heading back into Fresno. Grace was worried that the authorties might have closed additional routes into the city, but they were still able to enter freely from the north. This section of Fresno still seems relatively calm. There is a noticeable police presence which does a lot more to concern Grace than it does to allay her fears.
Their first stop is a small chemical storage facility. Fresno has now been without power for a week and has begun sending human remains to sites where the bodies can be preserved without the use of refrigeration. Is that legal? Probably not normally, but once you declare a state of emergency you can pretty much do whatever you want. In the last 72 hours, 39 bodies of unidentified people were sent to the facility by the city medical examiner’s office.
The question Grace and Sanaa have, did Eterno and his friends at the farm know that bodies would be stored here and that’s why they put their ritual thread there? Why else would you want to work magic in a chemical storage facility? But if they knew beforehand and this was the plan, how did they know? The implications behind that are troubling. And confusing.
Neither Sanaa or Grace would have had much of a chance of smooth talking their way past the security guard watching over the facility if he had an iota of interest in his job but fortunately for them he doesn’t. Not even a little. Grace barely got their lie out of her mouth about being from the city before he waved them on in. Undoing the spell in there was just as easy.
Sneaking into the Fresno Chaffee Zoo was a little harder but all it took was climbing a fence and avoiding the very sparse staff wandering the grounds. You have to be a pretty dedicated zookeeper to be hanging around there at this point. Grace and Sanaa have a question here too – Why would you need or want to make a sloth bear habitat part of your evil magic ritual? Maybe it has something to do with the prices they charge at the concession stand nearby more than the sloth bears. 17 bucks for a rubbery hamburger is kind of evil.
After that, things get a little more complicated. Sanaa (or Sanaa’s mentor spirit, if you prefer) leads them to a homeless camp at the San Joaquin Valley Railroad near Brawley and Belmont that some people call Coyoteville.
Sanaa and Grace skirt the edges of the shanties and tents, Sanaa searching for the right spot to undo the dark magic spell and Grace getting increasingly annoyed at Sanaa’s (or her mentor spirit’s, if you prefer) vague methods.
Now, remember Andrew Gale? Sure you do, he’s the guy who killed people for the Chechen mafia (or God, if you believe him) that escaped mysteriously from Salinas Valley State Prison a week ago and promptly massacred four young people in the funky hipster arty town of Carmel, California.
Andrew Gale is a tall thinnish fellow with a dried-up high desert look about him, dead eyes, and a thick old-timey beard. He also has a weird patch of skin around his right temple where he was burned badly. Which is the kind of thing that can happen to anyone but it’s more likely to happen to you when you kill people for an organized crime outfit as a job.
Andrew Gale has a steak knife in his hand. It’s a Winco KB-30W 5″ Jumbo Stainless Steel Steak Knife with Wood Handle and Pointed Tip. You can buy them in 12 packs at any restaurant supply store. This one was bought by a man named Arthur Stock. That purchase prompted a fight with his wife Sharn because why would you spend 17 dollars on a steak knife when we never have steak at home?
Six months later, Arthur would use the same knife to stab Sharn in her sleep 17 times, not because of that argument, but because he was being catfished by a bored kid in Price, Utah pretending to be a porn star named Jasmine. Arthur had been convinced that all he had to do was murder his wife, and he and Jasmine could be together. To do stuff. Weird stuff. Although with 17 stabs, you can pretty much assume that he and Sharn had other issues besides his desire to do weird stuff with Jasmine.
Post-murder Arthur smuggled the knife into Yosemite Ranch and after a nice ribeye with creamy peppercorn sauce and two sides (crisp Brussel sprouts and creamed spinach), he left the knife on the table. Arthur thought this was pretty clever. And I guess he was right because the police never recovered the murder weapon. That didn’t prevent him from going down for 20 to life though, so it wasn’t super clever. He’s in the same prison Andrew Gale escaped from.
The bussers and wait staff at the Yosemite Ranch used to occasionally think it was strange that there was a knife of a different brand in the mix but no one cared that much. Why would they? They made a game of it, whoever worked the section with the table with the “non-union knife” would get an extra share of tips. That game came to an end when the knife was stolen by 16-year old Edmund Dorrance, whose parents had taken him to Yosemite Ranch for getting an A on a big test. Edmund isn’t a very good student, so getting an A on a big test was a big deal.
A few weeks after this theft, Edmund used the same knife to stab 17-year old Kacy Kriya right outside the doors of Edison High School. Edmund has never proffered a reason for why he did this. The police believe that Kacy’s boyfriend, York, was bullying Edmund and that may have been the motivation behind the attack. Post-stabbing Kacy was taken to Community Regional Medical Center and survived the assault.
In the confusion and rush to treat Kacy at the ER, the knife sticking out of her body was thrown away instead of being preserved for the police. One of the responding detectives was a real dick about it to the poor nurse that told him. She’s just the one that told him. She wasn’t even on duty when it happened. She cried in the bathroom for a while after he lit into her about it. Several officers searched the trash three times, but the knife never turned up.
That’s because it had already been picked up by a dude named Walter. Walter had taken his mother to Community Regional Medical Center for ophthalmologic surgery and on the way out after dropping her off, not only looked in a dumpster but decided that taking a bloody knife out of that dumpster was a great idea. That pretty much tells you what you need to know about what kind of dude Walter is.
Walter operates a grader for A & S Grading Services and dreams of quitting to become a general contractor. He built the house that he and his wife Nuna live in. It’s fine. Walter likes hurting people. Not his wife, he would never put a hand on Nuna, he’s afraid of her truth be told. No, what Walter does is he goes to bars and starts fights. It’s harder than you might think, most people don’t want to get into a fight. A hustler that some people call English Ed noticed Walter stomping people at a couple different bars and asked him if he wanted to turn his love of violence into a money-making endeavor. Walter figured why not?
Walter is English Ed’s collector and bodyguard and general muscle. Their patented scam is Ed telling someone that they owe him money and when that person points out reasonably that they never borrowed any money from him, Walter kicks the shit out of them until they pay up anyway. Why don’t they just rob these people straight up instead of going through that song and dance? You’d have to ask them. In the course of this “work”, Walter has stabbed three people and cut three others, nothing “serious”, just enough to let them know he wasn’t fucking around.
One night Walter was sitting in his car drinking in an empty lot, as he often does. Nuna thinks he drinks too much, so before he goes home and has a couple of beers there, he drinks a sixer in his car. She’s none the wiser. On this particular night while he was sitting there enjoying a few brews, a fellow named Pak smashes in the driver’s side window of Walter’s car with a rock. After doing this, Pak along with his friends Owen and Lu do their level best to drag Walter out of the car and stomp him on account of the fact that Pak’s girlfriend Makenzie gave Walter a blowjob for some meth. It wasn’t even good meth.
During this fracas, Walter decides that it’s steak knife time and Lu gets stabbed to the hilt in the thigh. Lu didn’t even want to be there, Owen is the one that likes being a tough guy and getting into shit, Lu was just in the car with him when Pak called for backup and got dragged along by peer pressure.
Lu manages to get back in Pak’s car and drives eleven blocks before he passes out and crashes into the front of Dishnet US. Did he pass out because he pulled the knife out of his leg after four blocks and dropped it out the window, which dramatically increased the blood loss he was experiencing? Perhaps.
The knife lay in the street for a few days until it was picked up by Carlos Gutierrez. Carlos is not a violent man, which might sound odd since he was an Army ranger for six years and afterwards tried to get careers off the ground in both pro boxing and MMA. But violent or not, when you’re living on the street it doesn’t hurt to have some protection. Carlos has neurological damage from a variety of sources, he has very poor eyesight (especially at night) and has joint and muscle damage far beyond his age.
I guess I should say “had” since shortly after committing a quadruple murder in Carmel, Andrew Gale strangled Carlos in his sleep and took over his shanty in Coyoteville in which to lay low. This transaction also allowed Andrew Gale to take into his possession the steak knife in question.
No one knows exactly how an inanimate object becomes magic without being made so intentionally by a magic wielder, but this little puppy is making good progress down that path. A couple more murders and there may be a spark there.
Anyway, this is the knife Andrew Gale has in his hand when he comes up behind Grace.
I always liked the idea of items being imbued with magic by specific use over a long time. Kind of like David Brin’s “Practice Effect,” but with fewer sci-fi trappings.
Also, I’m kind of hoping someone will plot all these magic sites on a map and realize it was a big pentagram all along.
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Fantastic. I’d like it TWICE if I could.
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