Low Midnight Page 10

Perhaps we should have invited Kitty along after all.

Well, too late now. They’d have to make this work somehow.

A faint patter sounded, then a thud as a cat jumped from behind the counter to the glass surface. It should have slid, but the animal braced, stopped, and elegantly arranged itself to a sitting position, looking like an Egyptian statue. The animal was hairless, probably bred that way, but that didn’t make it any less bizarre, with huge ears, knobby feet, and velvety wrinkly skin. The tail wrapped around its legs was a skinny stick. It had big green eyes and an accusing stare. Even the cat was suspicious.

Good God, what’s wrong with it? Amelia exclaimed.

It’s supposed to be that way, I think. He held his hand out to the creature. The cat’s nose wrinkled, but it didn’t offer to sniff, much less approach for petting. Just kept that glare focused on him.

“Esther is generally a good judge of character,” Judi said, emerging from the back room holding two mugs.

“That so?” He accepted one of the mugs.

“She sees it—you have two auras.” Frida said it as an accusation as she reappeared with a mug of her own.

“So I’ve been told.” Cormac sipped. It was a green tea with something else mixed in.

Ginger, Amelia offered. Lovely. Amelia appreciated the tea more than he did; since he didn’t really have an opinion about tea one way or another, he drank it. At least it was in a solid mug and not some dainty china cup.

“The two auras thing doesn’t surprise you?” Judi said. A prompt.

He was happy enough not having to mention Amy Scanlon right away. “No, not really. So what exactly does two auras look like?”

Frida pursed her lips, considered. Cormac tensed under the scrutiny, but held his ground. Sipped tea calmly. “It’s double vision, like you’re out of focus. Though I’m thinking part of that is just you, yeah? But there’s one strong layer, then another layer under that. A lot of red, a lot of blue, and they’re not merged at all like they should be—two auras instead of one with many colors. And it’s clouded, like you’re not too sure about things. Can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like it. You have an explanation?”

They must have had some idea of what he was going to say, the expectant way they were looking at him. “It’s Amelia Parker,” he said. “We met. She, ah, needed a ride. And here we are.”

The two women blinked back at him, speechless.

Rather blunt. You might have frightened even them.

His mustache crinkled in a wry smile, and he spread his hands as if to say, just so.

“I … see,” Judi said, nodding. “That’s how you know so much about the murder, then.”

The cat swished its naked tail and stalked along the counter to Frida’s waiting hand, arching herback as the woman stroked her.

He set the mug on the counter. “I’m not really here about the Harcourt murder or Amelia Parker,” he said. “Let me be straight with you. I’ve come to talk about Amy Scanlon.”

The silver-haired woman blanched and leaned against Frida. Brow creased with concern, Frida steadied her.

“She’s dead, isn’t she?” Judi said, and Cormac didn’t deny it. “We felt it, but we couldn’t guess how, or why. About a month ago, right? Late at night, I started sweating and shaking and couldn’t stop.”

“I’m sorry,” Cormac said.

“What happened? How? Did you know her, you must have known her.…”

“Hon, do you need to sit down?” Frida asked, both hands on Judi now.

“No, no, it’s all right,” she said, patting Frida’s arm. “What on Earth am I going to tell her parents? I kept telling them she’d come home when she was ready. She’s an explorer, nothing they could do or say would stop that, but I made them believe she’d come home some day.”

“You know what she was, then?” he asked. “You know what she was into?”

“I … I’m the one who initiated her.”

Cormac drew a set of folded sheets of paper from his jacket pocket. “Then maybe you can interpret this.”

He watched their reaction to the printed sheets from Amy’s book of shadows. Judi raised the pages, her gaze narrowed with interest. Frida—she took a step back, as if she didn’t want even a stray look at them.

He said, “A friend of mine, I guess you could say she inherited the book of shadows. We’ve been trying to break the code. Amy mentioned you in her diary. We thought maybe you could help.”

Frida glared at him. “Would you excuse us a moment?” She took hold of Judi’s arm and pulled her to the back room for another hushed conference. The cat looked after them, then licked its paw with great concentration.

Cormac listened closely, but they conducted their argument in whispers and he couldn’t make out what they said. Probably discussing whether this might be some kind of scam and if they could trust him. He wondered what his aura—auras—said about that.

But the question is—should they trust us? Honestly?

The two women emerged, Frida glowering and suspicious, Judi looking thoughtful. Side by side, they stood on one side of the counter and regarded him, as if he were a customer asking about T-shirt sizes.

“Mr. Bennett—you have all of Amy’s book of shadows, don’t you? The whole thing?”

“Yeah. I can get you a copy, if you can help with the code.” He didn’t mention that most of it was already online. Let them figure it out.

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