Powers by James A. Burton

Book: Powers by James A. Burton Read Free Book Online
Authors: James A. Burton
Tags: Fantasy, Novel
something exotic like Fatima or Mumtaz. He revised his estimate of how long ago her family had left those Afghan hills.
    Know your enemy—sage advice from a hundred sages. He couldn’t find a listing for her in the telephone directory, not even another el Hajj. Several el-Haj names, Hajji, al-Hajj, but the paper and his memory agreed on her chosen spelling. Nothing in the city directory, either. Well, he couldn’t blame her for an unlisted phone, not in her position.
    He thought about calling up the central police station and asking to speak to her or leave a message, but that didn’t seem like a good idea. Maybe it had something to do with how she wanted to kill him.
    That done, he made a quick check of an old city map, one with an “aerial” view faked with sketched-in buildings as they’d been in the 1880s, points of interest named. The synagogue was there, of course, it had been there since Methuselah was a puppy. He tried to match up the other fires with buildings in the picture, and no connections jumped out at him. At the time of the map, they’d been stores, hotels, a livery stable, a warehouse. The neighborhood had been upscale then, a couple of private clubs made the roster and a couple of banks long gone. He couldn’t see any pattern except proximity, and that they’d all been abandoned for years, “current owner unknown.”
    He shrugged and headed back out, passing the gray-haired librarian now at the circulation desk, who nodded to him with a repeat of that quizzical smile.
    The research had gained him little. At least he had a fine spring morning, blue sky, trees bright green in first leaf, birds singing, and a warm breeze from the south to bring a touch of brine-smell upriver from the bay. He walked, as always.
    The synagogue’s neighborhood didn’t look any prettier by daylight: empty weed-grown lots where buildings once stood, now turning into dumps. The survivors looked like smallpox cases, pocked with boarded up or broken windows and a couple of places where he could see daylight through openings where no daylight should shine—evidence of collapsing roofs or walls. He walked past several of the previous crime scenes on the way, all empty lots, whatever burned-out shells the fires left had been leveled and the cellar holes filled in. No clues, no lingering smell of elementals beyond the slight residue of charred building on adjacent walls. He couldn’t see why anyone would care if the whole neighborhood vanished in smoke. Save the cost of demolition.
    People lived there, though. People who didn’t look him in the eye but who studied his back or glanced sideways as he passed or who watched from windows until they made sure he wasn’t stopping at their doors. He didn’t know if they filed him under “Predator” or “Prey” or “Cop”—some label that made them keep their distance, anyway. Which, given the general atmosphere, suited him just fine.
    The synagogue sat where he’d left it, a lot more detail visible in sunlight. It had been a smallish low plain building—there had never been a lot of Jews in town and most synagogues he’d seen tended to plain architecture. Traces of yellow paint still clung to the clapboards. He didn’t know if that was whim or a good price on bulk paint or a reference to the pale yellow stone of Jerusalem and the Temple.
    Except for a small dome over the entry, now a blackened skeleton, the roof had gone—walls reached up to end in blackened ragged stubs, empty fire-gnawed windows down both sides with less wall at each until the last ones in the rear barely had sills. Even he could see that the fire had started at the rear, around the pulpit or whatever Jews called that space. That screamed “suspicious origin”—not that many fire sources for a pulpit, outside of God’s lightning striking down the preacher.
    The place had been old. He saw timber posts and charred beams lying in the sodden ash on the floor, axe-hewn timbers and boards with the

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