Web of Lies (Elemental Assassin #2) - Page 22

For whatever reason, the miners hadn't dug out this side of the mountain yet, which meant the ridge was still covered with rocks and gnarled vegetation. It was a steep, slippery slope, made more so by the drizzle, and we moved with care, using the rope to help us walk our way down the embankment. We moved as quickly as we could, but it still took us almost twenty minutes to reach the bottom.

We crouched behind an outcropping of rock and peered into the flat area that stretched out before us. The empty, dug-out feel of the mountain reminded me of the Ashland Rock Quarry not too far from here. The place where Alexis James had met her death two months ago.

Donovan looked through the binoculars again. "It seems like everyone's gone home already," he murmured.

"I don't even think there are any guards around."

"Why would there be?" I asked. "Nobody around here's going to be dumb enough to steal from Tobias Dawson. Especially not since he's such good friends with Mab Monroe. Besides, even if somebody did steal something, he'd look a little conspicuous driving a bulldozer down into the city, now wouldn't he?"

Caine snorted at the image, but he didn't argue with my logic.

"Come on," I said. "Let's get this over with."

We eased out from behind the rocks and walked forward.

The metal equipment cast out all sorts of dark, twisted shadows, made even murkier by the drizzle and thick clouds overhead. A couple of tall, parking lot-style lights next to the mine entrance burned like skinny yellow lanterns. The lights made it easy enough to navigate our way through the equipment maze. But the rain couldn't quite drown out the smell of exhaust and gasoline that hung in the air like smog.

The stone's murmurs grew louder and sharper the farther I walked into the basin, until the vibrations rang in my ears like a never-ending death wail. I gritted my teeth and blocked out the noise. There was nothing I could do to help the stone. I just didn't have that kind of power.

Only time could do that now - if the mountain could ever truly recover from being so viciously brutalized.

It took us about ten minutes of walking before we were within sight of the mine office, a small building made out of sheet metal and fiberglass, covered up with whitewashed wooden boards. A couple of security lights glowed over the front door. I peered into the darkness, but I didn't see any guards patrolling around the building.

If Tobias Dawson did have a night shift, they'd probably be farther up around the curve in the basin, stationed at the front entrance to the mined mountain. Not back here in the bottleneck where access was already restricted.

Still, I palmed one of my silverstone knives, just in case.

We crouched behind a bulldozer that was the closest one to the mining office. Nothing moved in the dark night. The drizzle had picked up and turned into a steady rain. A few damp tendrils had come undone from my ponytail. The rain had turned my chocolate locks an even darker brown, and I used the cold moisture to slick them back into place.

"Come on," I whispered to the detective. "Let's do this."

I crept forward. After a moment, I heard Donovan's boots squish in a puddle behind me. I smiled. Just like old times. If a mere two months ago could be considered old times.

I eased over to the front door of the mining office. A sign on the side read Dawson Mining Company. Once again, the first two is in Mining had been transformed into Tobias Dawson's rune - a lit stick of dynamite.

I wore the same kind of gardening gloves Donovan Caine did, so I had no qualms about reaching forward and trying the doorknob. Locked. Not a problem. I pulled off one of my gloves and reached for my Ice magic.

The cold, silver light flickered over my palm, and a few seconds later, I had two long, slender Ice picks. Donovan watched me work with a mixture of curiosity and resignation.

Less than a minute later, the lock slid home, and the door opened.

I threw the picks in a nearby puddle so they'd melt, pulled my glove back on, and eased into the building.

Donovan followed me and closed the door behind him. I stood still for a moment, letting my eyes adjust to the lack of light. With the darkness and clouds outside, the interior of the building was almost pitch-black, as if it were already midnight instead of creeping up on seven o'clock.

Once I was sure no guards were coming to interrupt us, I pulled a small flashlight out of my jacket pocket and flicked it on. Beside me, Donovan did the same.

We stood in a waiting room. Some chairs, a table, out-of-date magazines. A desk in the middle probably belonged to a secretary. Behind it, a corridor led farther back into the building. That's where I headed, with the detective behind me.

The corridor ended at a closed door with a brass nameplate that read Tobias Dawson. Just whom I was looking for. I tried the knob. Locked, so I had to form two more Ice picks to open it. After I'd picked the lock, I turned the knob and held my breath, waiting. But no alarm sounded. Evidently, Dawson just secured his office as a precaution - or to keep his staff from snooping around while he was away. I stepped inside the room. The detective followed me.

I paused for a few seconds, taking in the view. Tobias Dawson's office had just as much personality as the dwarf himself did because everything had a Western motif.

The desk consisted of several old-fashioned wooden barrels with a sheet of glass stretched over the top of them.

The art on the walls featured bucking broncos and Native American designs, perhaps Navajo, from the looks of them. One of the lamps on Dawson's desk was shaped like a miniature cowboy boot. Another one resembled a curling lasso. I looked up. The dwarf even had a longhorn mounted over the door to the office - its stuffed head and horns at least.

"Somebody really needs to move to Texas," I murmured.

"Forget that," Donovan said. "What are we looking for?"

"Anything that might tell us why Tobias Dawson wants the Foxes' land so badly." I moved off to the right. "So see what you can find in his desk and in the filing cabinets."

Donovan did as I asked. But before he started pulling open drawers, the detective stared at me. "And what are you going to do?"

"See if he has a safe stashed in here somewhere."

Donovan shook his head, but he sat down in Dawson's oversize chair and went to work, methodically opening, scanning, and closing all the files on the glass desk.

I went around the room and checked behind all the framed photographs, looking for a wall safe. Nothing. I ran my gloved hands over the cheap wood paneling, tapping it in several places. Again, nothing.

I curled and uncurled my hands into loose fists, thinking.

Since Tobias Dawson was friends and business partners with Mab Monroe, I imagined there were quite a few documents - legal and otherwise - he wouldn't want his underlings seeing. Locking his office wouldn't be secure enough. He'd need someplace to stash them. There had to be some sort of safe in here. A secret cubbyhole, hell, even a loose floorboard. And I needed to find it - fast.

We'd already been inside more than a minute. I wanted to be gone before the five-minute mark rolled around, if not before. Dawson might not have any obvious security here, but it was better not to take any unnecessary chances, especially since I was going to come back later and kill him.

Since I'd crapped out with the walls, I dropped to my hands and knees and scoured the floor, looking for lines cut into the thick rugs. Nothing. Not so much as a single fiber out of place.

"This is weird," Donovan murmured, shining his flashlight across several sheets of paper.

"What?" I asked, still crawling around on the floor.

"It looks like Dawson's hired several gemologists in the last few weeks from a variety of firms," the detective replied.

"There are receipts here made out to Jeweltones, Gems, Inc., and Grayson Enterprises, among others."

I frowned. "What would Dawson need with gemologists? He's mining coal, not precious stones."

"I don't know." Donovan pulled out his cell phone and snapped copies of the receipts to examine later.

By this time, I'd made a complete circuit of the office on my hands and knees, and I still hadn't found anything useful. Besides Dawson's obsession with the Old West, the only other thing interesting or noteworthy, at least to me, was the dwarf 's rock collection. Such collections weren't uncommon among Stone elementals. Even I'd had one as a kid, before my family had been murdered.

A tall, wide glass case against the back wall of the office housed the collection. Three shelves full of rocks perched above a large block of black granite shot through with silverstone. Some of the stones were worthless. Polished quartz you could find just about anywhere. Odd bits of fool's gold. Others had some serious value. A sapphire almost as big as an egg. A teardrop-shaped ruby. A lovely square-cut emerald. I could hear the stones, of course.

The soft, pretty murmur of the quartz. The sly whisper of the fool's gold. The flashy elegance of the gemstones.

My eyes dropped to the bottom shelf, and I focused on the slab of granite. It was nothing compared to the gemstones, but still, I wondered why Dawson would even have it in his collection to start with. The others rocks varied in value, but they were all uniquely shaped or interesting in some way. The granite was just a slab of granite. Black and rather boxlike in its appearance. I knelt down and peered at the stone even closer. Hmm.

There was a lock on the glass case, but I took care of that with a well-crafted Ice pick. Behind me, Donovan kept sorting through papers. I opened the door on the case. The stones' various murmurs washed over me, but I forced the melodies aside and focused on the granite. Its vibration was low and muted in comparison to the other rocks, but I rather suspected that was the point. Still, it only took me a second to attune myself to the stone. And I realized its vibrations sounded... hollow. As though the stone was only a thin layer covering something else - like a secret chamber.

"I think I've found Dawson's safe - so to speak," I murmured to Caine.

He looked up from the papers. "Can you open it?"

Picking a door lock was one thing. I had a tougher time getting into a traditional metal safe without Finn's help - or some explosives. But Tobias Dawson didn't have a traditional safe. His was made of stone - my element, my specialty. Still, we'd been inside more than three minutes now. No time to be subtle.

So I pulled off my glove, put my hand on the granite, and listened to its vibrations. Slow, steady, solid, just like the rock itself. There was also a sense it was guarding something, protecting something important, valuable.

Tobias Dawson's secrets, whatever they might be.

I drew in a breath and focused my magic on the granite.

Peering at the rock, into the rock. And I realized the stone was only a couple inches deep. Any thicker than that, and Dawson wouldn't have been able to put much of anything inside. Also, the silverstone I'd noticed earlier formed a wide, circular shape in the middle of the granite, roughly marking the size of the hollow space inside.

The dwarf probably had the metal triggered to his magic, so that no one could open it but him. Since silverstone could absorb magic, anyone who tried to force their way inside like that would probably spin their wheels for quite a while.

But I was a Stone elemental, just like the dwarf. I didn't have to go through the silverstone - only around it. I held my bare index finger in front of the granite and reached for my magic. A silver light sparked on the tip of my finger like it was a tiny blowtorch. I leaned forward and pressed my finger against the granite, forcing my magic into the stone, deeper and deeper until I broke through the rock shell to the hollow space inside. Once I made the initial break, it was easy enough to drag my finger around the perimeter of the block, forming a square shape much bigger than the circle of silverstone at the heart of the granite.

Less than a minute later, I made the last cut in the stone. The rock creaked, and I used my magic to form a small groove in one side so I could hook my finger inside and pull it out. The granite was heavier than I'd expected, and it took me a moment to lug it out of the case and set it on the floor.

Donovan looked up at the sound of my grunts and did a double-take. "How the hell did you do that?"

I flashed him a smile. "I have many talents, detective."

I turned my back on him and stared inside the safe. It was an even smaller space than I'd expected, and it was curiously empty, except for a few sheets of paper.

"Here." I plucked out the papers and handing them to Donovan. "Photograph these."

The detective spread the documents on the desk and used his cell phone to snap off some pictures. I reached back into the safe, wondering what other secrets it held.

My fingers closed around a small plastic vial, which I pulled out. I played my flashlight over the container. Black foam filled the inside of the vial, cradling a diamond.

The gemstone was small, not much bigger than one of my fingernails, and rough around the edges, but it still sparkled with an inner crimson fire. Definitely a high-quality stone. One that would polish up quite nicely.

But its sound - oh, its sound. That's what held my attention.

The diamond practically sang with its own purity.

The gemstone's inherent vibration was beautiful, breathtaking, enchanting, even. Like a Bach composition played by the master himself. I could have sat there listening to the diamond's clear, pure song for hours.

Too bad an alarm blared out and cut into its lilting melody.

Chapter Nineteen

For a moment I froze, crouched there on the floor, the diamond vial in my hand. The alarm continued to blare like a police siren wailing in my head. Donovan Caine kept sorting through the papers, as if he couldn't hear the unending, violent shrieking. He'd have to be deaf not to hear it.

I frowned and stared at the granite safe. The stone's low murmur had transformed into a sharp, piercing alarm. A rune flashed to life on the front of the safe, on the slab I'd cut out of the rest of the block. A tight, spiral curl burned a cold gray in the middle of the black granite like some sort of all-seeing eye. A spiral curl - the rune for protection.

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