Low Midnight Page 12

“You left this story off the walking tour,” Cormac said.

Judi ignored him and made the mystery at the heart of her story plain. “To this day, no one knows what killed him, only that it was magical. Mr. Bennett, Frida and I want to know what Milo Kuzniak did to kill Augustus Crane. Was it something in the land? Some spell or artifact? Crane might not have been Merlin, but he knew what he was doing, and still Kuzniak was able to not just defend himself, but kill Crane on top of it. No one’s been able to figure it out.”

Over a hundred years, and the incident was still a mystery—what made them think he could track it down? Ah—because he had a hundred-year-old magician along for the ride. Maybe he was better equipped than most. Call it magical archaeology.

He asked, “What happened to Kuzniak? Did anyone go after him for killing Crane?”

Judi shrugged. “He left town and disappeared. No one could prove that he’d done anything to kill Crane, but Crane’s friends in town knew he must have done something and weren’t at all happy. Lynch mobs still happened in those days, and ultimately his mining claim wasn’t worth sticking around for. He died of a heart attack in Glenwood Springs about ten years later. Unrelated, near as anyone can figure.”

Frida scowled, as if she could dismiss the whole thing, but she remained tense and stayed close to Judi. She said, “This area’s full of ghost stories and tall tales. Some of Crane’s friends were more than a little crazy—table-rapping Spiritualists. Crane may have just dropped dead of a heart attack, and they came up with this wacky story to make his death seem strange and mysterious. Do wizard duels like that even happen outside of books?”

“They do, once in a while.” He’d been in a couple himself. He’d almost rather face off with six-shooters at high noon.

Judi said, “This would all just be a historical curiosity, but we’re pretty sure someone’s been poking around Kuzniak’s old claim site. I leave the story off the tour for a reason—I don’t want someone thinking they can learn what happened to Crane and maybe use that power themselves. You say you want what’s in Amy’s book to keep anyone else from getting hurt, and I believe you, Mr. Bennett.”

“Call me Cormac,” he said, because it seemed like the right thing to say. He didn’t feel much like “Mr.” anything.

“All right, Cormac. We’d like to learn what Kuzniak did in that duel, and what killed Crane, before someone else does. To keep anyone else from getting hurt, like you said. As someone who believes in fate, I can’t help but think you came along for a reason.”

“Yeah,” he said, quirking a wry smile. “To ask about Amy Scanlon.”

“You see? We can help each other.”

He felt like he’d been tricked by a couple of grandmas, but couldn’t figure out where the gotcha was. And really, he could just turn around and walk out.

They are setting us to investigating a murder that’s over a hundred years old. Can we even do this?

We can try, he answered. What’s one more mystery to take on, on top of all the others?

I’m not sure I trust them.

Then that puts us all on even ground.

Judi and Frida waited for his answer.

“I’d like to think it over. See if there’s even enough to go on to track this down,” he said, turning to leave. “I’ll get out of your hair until then—”

“Wait—you never said how Amy passed away. Is there anything else you can tell me about what happened to her?” Judi leaned in, on the verge of reaching out to him.

He said, “No. I’m sorry. I wasn’t there, it was my friend who was with her. I’m mostly doing all this for my friend.”

The aunt said, “Is it possible—could I talk to this friend? I’d just like to know as much as I can. It’s been over a year since I heard from Amy, and I just … I’d like to know.”

He understood the request. What he didn’t want was to drag Kitty back through that trauma—there was a reason he’d insisted he could do this on his own. He knew if he asked her to talk to Judi, Kitty would say yes. Best to let her make that decision, he supposed.

You could counter-bargain. Tell her Kitty will talk to her if she’ll decode the book for us.

Cormac mentally shook his head. That wouldn’t be right, when the woman was just looking for some closure.

“I’ll see if she wants to talk,” he said. “She may not want to.”

“All right. Thank you.”

He nodded at them and left the shop.

Chapter 5

AMELIA WAS familiar with the Spiritualist movement, which rose to prominence in the second half of the nineteenth century. More than familiar with it, she’d dabbled in it herself in her quest to learn everything she could about the occult, its practitioners, and the methods they used. The core idea of Spiritualism: through the guidance of a medium performing certain rituals, one might be able to communicate with spirits who have passed on. Primarily, people hoped to speak to loved ones and be assured of their comfort on “the other side.” But others hoped to learn arcane secrets, to speak with great magicians and sages of the past, to gain power. Mostly, the only power these mediums displayed was the ability to dupe their clients and acquire their money.

Even when she was alive, she’d begun to hate the Spiritualists because, in general, they made her job harder. She couldn’t simply follow stories of magic and ghosts and otherworldly monsters. No, she had to make judgments, don an air of skepticism, and investigate before she truly began investigating. Was this person making claims really a psychic communicating with dead spirits, or a charlatan cracking her toes under the table? It was all a supreme waste of time.

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