Today’s First Chapter is from Stormcaller, book two in the Portals series by my friend P L Blair.
Tlaloc, worshipped by the ancient Aztecs as a god of rains, storms and disease, has come to Corpus Christi, Texas, with an ultimatum: He will be worshiped as in times past, including Human sacrifice, or he will destroy the Texas coastline with a hurricane. It’s up to Police Detective Kat Morales, her Elven partner Tevis and the rest of an elite team headed by the Wizard Arvandus to stop Tlaloc before he makes good on his threat. The adventures that began for Kat and Tevis in Shadow Path continue as they race
against time, and between worlds, to defeat the Stormcaller.
Kat pounded for the third time on the door to room 47 of the Drop Inn Motel. Cute name, the kind that got giggles or groans, sometimes both, from the Winter Texans that had once been its major source of clientele. The Drop Inn hadn’t been a viable tourist spot for decades.
But she and Tevis hadn’t come here looking for tourists.
“Tomas Alvarez!” she called for the third time. “Police! Open the door or we’ll bust it open!”
Silence — for the third time. Kat glanced at her partner. The Elf — a couple of inches taller than her five feet six — returned her gaze with piercingly blue eyes and, just perceptibly, he inclined his head. He’d drawn his service revolver.
So had Kat. She braced to kick the door open TV-cop style. She’d never tried it before. It might work.
Then on impulse, she tried the knob instead. It turned easily, and the door swung open.
Too late she realized she stood in the line of fire from anyone in the room. Damn! Harley would chew on her for that!
But she heard no gunfire, felt no burn of a bullet slamming into her. She saw a basic motel-room design, bathroom just inside the door to the left, to the right a recessed cubby for hanging clothes, the hangers empty. The room had one bed, and Tomas Alvarez sat tailor-fashion in the middle of it, a Mexican-American Buddha, except he was skinnier. Black hair badly in need of a cut fell past his shoulders and over his face, and a mustache that looked like a fuzzy black caterpillar lodged under his nose.
He grinned and spread his arms wide as if he sought to embrace the world. “Welcome, amigos. Welcome!” His slurred speech and off-kilter grin told Kat all she needed to know. Whatever Tomas Alvarez had been eating, drinking — or smoking — recently had been a ticket on the Highsville Express.
“Tomas Garcia Alvarez.” Tevis stepped past Kat, his short-cropped blond hair, his gray slacks and paler gray shirt a favorable contrast to Alvarez’ overgrown black locks, torn jeans and a muscle shirt long past its prime. The Elf leveled his gun in proper police procedure. “You are under arrest for the deaths of four people. You have the right to remain silent —”
“Skip the Miranda.” Alvarez lowered his arms. He looked closer to sober than he had a moment earlier. “I know it better than you do, Elf.”
Kat had no doubt that he did. Tomas Alvarez had a rap sheet that could’ve stretched from Corpus to Victoria, armed robbery, aggravated assault, dealing drugs, illegal gambling, plus a few things the police had heard about but hadn’t yet been able to pin on him, such as being the heavy muscle for the Mexican mob. All that, and he hadn’t hit his fortieth birthday yet. Tomas would be just hitting his stride, except he’d made a mistake.
Four of them, two days ago.
Alvarez shifted his gaze to Kat, blinked. “You should be giving me a medal.”
“If that is your way of saying you killed those people,” Tevis said as Kat holstered her gun and stepped toward the bed, pulling a set of cuffs from her belt, “you should not say anything more.”
“Get up.” Kat emphasized the order with a flick of the hand holding the cuffs. “Slow and easy.”
Alvarez complied, making no effort to resist as Kat slipped the cuffs first around one wrist, then the other. He could’ve made life very difficult. He stood close to six feet, and though he might not have weighed much more than Tevis —the jeans and filthy shirt hung on his nearly skeletal frame — Kat could feel muscles like steel cables in his arms. He would, like Tevis, be considerably stronger than he looked. She turned Alvarez, pushed him back against the bed so the backs of his knees struck the edge of the mattress. He plopped into a sit.
“I have him.” The Elf’s voice, flavored with an accent not quite Scottish, remained neutral. His gun hadn’t shifted from Alvarez’ head.
Kat nodded, stepped back, pulled a pair of latex gloves from a pocket of her slacks.
Alvarez met her eyes again, and his lips pulled back from very white teeth, a predator’s grin. “Hurricane Cassandra.”
“What about Cassandra?” Tevis sounded suddenly wary. Looked wary.
“She’s supposed to hit Corpus Christi this time tomorrow. Category Four storm. Wipe this place off the map.”
“Yeah.” Kat crossed the short space between the bed and the four-drawer dresser that seemed to be standard issue for just about every motel room she’d ever seen. Might as well start with the obvious. “So,” she did not look at Alvarez as she spoke, “why aren’t you doing something sensible, like packing up to get the hell out of Dodge, instead of killing people and cutting their hearts out?” She opened the top left drawer.
“The storm will not come.”
Kat did look up at that, met Alvarez’ eyes in the mirror above the dresser. “So you’re a weather man now.”
His lips parted, revealing teeth that looked very white against the black woolly-worm mustache. His eyes, so dark they looked black, glittered, and he licked his lips. “I am a priest of Tlaloc.”
Tevis stiffened. “Tlaloc.” His voice held an edge.
Alvarez shifted his grin to Kat’s partner. “You’ve heard his name.”
“I have.” After his initial reaction, Tevis reverted to his neutral tone, emotions concealed behind the mask that his face had become.
“He has given me a new name. Jaguar.” Alvarez pronounced it “Jag-u-ar.”
“You have seen Tlaloc.” Tevis kept his voice very neutral.
Kat returned her attention to her search. Behind her, as she slid open the top lefthand dresser drawer, Alvarez said, “I found him three days ago.”
“Found him,” Tevis echoed. Kat checked the drawer’s contents — maps of Corpus Christi and the surrounding areas (Rockport, Aransas Pass, Ingleside …) Regional telephone book. Pamphlets and handouts from area restaurants. She closed the drawer and opened the one beside it. Tevis asked, “Found him where?”
“On the beach.”
Kat could visualize Alvarez shrugging. The drawer was empty. She knelt to check out the remaining two.
“He was sitting at one of those picnic tables,” Alvarez said. “I knew who he was as soon as I saw him.”
“How?” Tevis asked.
Kat opened the bottom left drawer: Empty.
“I just … knew. He was dressed like a biker — you know. Leather pants. Leather jacket. That kind of thing. But I knew those were just borrowed clothes. I’ve seen pictures of Tlaloc — drawings. You know. I could see him the way he was supposed to be dressed.”
“How?” Tevis’ voice held a flintlike quality. “How did you know how he was supposed to be dressed?”
Kat opened the fourth drawer. Bottom right. It yielded underwear. If it belonged to Tomas, it indicated he was a tighty whitey kind of guy. She found several muscle shirts, a couple of them marginally cleaner than the one he wore, no socks, and one garment that felt like a muscle shirt or a tee, rolled around something that felt hard. She unrolled it carefully.
Behind her, Simon said, “I don’t know. I just … I could see it, that’s all.”
The tee opened in Kat’s hand, and a long, black, bladelike something dropped into her hand. She remembered what Herrera had told her and Tevis last night, after the medical examiner had finished autopsy on the last body they’d found. They’d be looking for a weapon like a knife, he’d said, but it wouldn’t be a knife. There’d been a raggedness with the victims’ wounds inconsistent with the cleaner edges a knife would’ve left. Kat pulled a blood test kit from her shirt pocket, Q-Tip and solution. She made the test, watched the cotton on the end of the Q-Tip turn red. No surprise.
“Tevis.” She held out the murder weapon so her partner could see it. “Positive,” she said when his eyes met hers.
He grimaced. “Obsidian.”
“The weapons of my ancestors.” Alvarez sounded … Kat mentally searched for a word. Proud. Pleased. Arrogant. “Tlalac says the blood of the last of his ancient priests flows in my veins. He says that is the reason I recognized him when I saw him on the beach.”
“Good for you.” Kat rewrapped the blade in the tee, stuffed both into an oversized Ziploc bag that she pulled from a pants pocket. She’d finish processing when she got the blade back to the lab. She replaced the underwear and the rest of the garments in the drawer, closed it, straightened. She ignored the urge to go wash her hands. She had a feeling she’d just found everything it was important to find in this room, but it wouldn’t hurt to search the rest of the place. She caught Tevis’ gaze. “Who is Tlaloc?”
“Tlaloc,” it was Alvarez who answered, “is the lord of the rains. He is the bringer of storms. The lord of the winds.”
“The weather god of the ancient Aztecs,” Tevis injected drily. “Or so he made himself to be. They appeased him with sacrifices of blood and human hearts.”
“Charming.” Kat headed toward the bathroom.
“Tlaloc has returned.” Alvarez’ voice followed her. “He has been away for many generations of Human kind, but now he has returned, to reclaim the lands he once ruled.”
“Tlaloc never ruled these lands,” Tevis said. “The Aztec realms lay to the south.”
“Tlaloc will rule where he wishes to rule. He will rule here because I am here. And the people of these lands will give him what he desires — blood and the hearts of all those who are his enemies. Not all at once,” with a leer in Kat’s direction. “But over time, at the time of sacrifice, the feast days.”
“What if we don’t give him what he wants?” Kat asked.
Alvarez scowled at her. “Tlaloc does not ask. He takes. And if he does not get what he desires, he will send the storm and destroy this place.”
Kat looked at Tevis, who turned his head to meet her gaze. She didn’t ask the question aloud, but he obviously knew.
He inclined his head. “If it is,” slight emphasis on the word, “Tlaloc, he can. He would. But,” focusing on Alvarez, “how do we know it is the real Tlaloc?”
“I told you.” Alvarez shrugged. “The storm will not come.”
“Sometime soon, Tlaloc will send it away. That is his sign that he truly is who he says he is. After that …” He shrugged. “Tlaloc himself will tell you.”
“Tlaloc is a powerful god,” Tevis said. “Why does he ask our permission when he could simply take what he wants?”
“Because he wants sacrifices. He wants prayers with the offerings to him. He wants a temple built to him, one with many steps — one step for each day of the year — and priests to serve him under my leadership.”
“He wants to be treated like a god again,” Tevis murmured. He shook his head. “Kathryn, are you finished with your search?”
“Give me a few minutes.” She hurried into the bathroom, ran checks for fingerprints, swabbed surfaces for blood. She found fingerprints — no surprise there, either. How many people had stayed in this room through the years? Some undoubtedly would belong to Alvarez, along with a lot of unknowns, but she’d send them all to the lab anyway. She found blood residue in the sink. That would be where Alvarez had cleaned the weapon. There were no drawers, no cabinets. Everything else tested out clean.
She hadn’t really expected otherwise. She turned toward the door, stepped out into the main room, nodded at her partner.
The Elf motioned for Alvarez to stand up. “Time to go, Tomas.”
“Jaguar,” he said as he came to his feet.
Tevis grimaced, then motioned Alvarez toward the door.
Kat had parked a few doors down from Alvarez’ room. Even though she and Tevis had come in her own unmarked Taurus, she hadn’t wanted to risk spooking their perp. She stayed watchful during the walk to the vehicle, all her senses on high alert. She noticed Tevis did likewise. But Tomas Alvarez might have been on a jaunt to the one of the bars a few blocks away, his features relaxed, his stride easy. It didn’t even seem to bother him having his hands cuffed behind his back. His lack of resistance didn’t make Kat feel any better.
At the car, Kat opened one of the back seat doors, and Tevis nudged their prisoner in. Not that Alvarez needed much prodding. He eased down onto the seat, leaned back — even flashed a white-toothed grin at Kat.
A predator’s expression. She scowled at him and closed the door.
Then she looked at her partner standing beside her. “So,” she asked, “what do you make of it?”
He shook his head. “Either his story is true — Tlaloc has indeed returned to this world — or else he is a psychotic killer with a vivid — I would almost say ‘unique’ — imagination.”
She sensed there was something more, something he hadn’t said. “And?” she prompted.
“And …” He sighed, and one shoulder just perceptibly rose, then fell, in a shrug. “Given the little that I do know of Tlaloc, I am hoping we are dealing with the psychotic.”
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