Low Midnight Page 13

In her current experience, as a spirit who actually had passed on and returned, most people were less inclined to willingly speak with the dead than such beliefs would suggest. She’d tried for a century before finding someone able to listen to her—Cormac. Speaking with the dead in reality was not a safe parlor-bound activity, as the old Spiritualists insisted. No, in all the stories that had a seed of truth to them speaking with the dead required hardship and sacrifice, journeys to the underworld and copious amounts of blood.

Since meeting Cormac and coming back to life, she learned that the movement still existed in one form or another. She learned about the Cottingley Fairies and the great rivalry between Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle over the photographs. The skeptical Mr. Houdini, Amelia decided, was a man she’d have very much liked to speak to, another reason to curse her early death that prevented such a meeting. But Sir Arthur believed utterly. Amelia thought the creator of the great Sherlock Holmes really should have known better. However, the First World War and accompanying horrific loss of life had inspired a renewal of interest in Spiritualism. Sir Arthur had lost a son in the war. Amelia supposed she could forgive him for succumbing to an emotional response.

Amelia had started on her path because she desperately wanted to see fairies, exactly the kind of fairies that those little girls made cutout pictures of and posed in their garden. That alone should have raised doubts—the pictures were just what a late Edwardian little girl would imagine a fairy should look like, based on all the storybooks, paintings, and drawings surrounding her. Reality never matched expectations so precisely, in Amelia’s experience. A hundred years ago, photography was still new enough that no one could believe that two young girls could falsify pictures. Photographs were the great truth-tellers, the artificial eye; they could not lie as paintings could. Except they could, and they had been made to lie from the very beginning. What would Sir Arthur make of the current era of computerized photo manipulation? How could one ever find the truth?

One simply had to keep looking, keep asking questions, and take nothing for granted.

*   *   *

THE DRIVE back to Denver seemed to take forever.

Do you know, Frida and Judi—I think they’re together. As in a couple.

That had occurred to Cormac. He figured it was none of his business.

I had a spinster aunt, one of my mother’s sisters, who lived with another spinster friend of hers. The family always spoke of how lovely it was that they got along so well and could live together with such economy without troubling their respective families. But there was much the family didn’t say about them as well, and I wondered.

He got a hint of the memory as she rambled, an image of two dowdy middle-aged women standing arm in arm as if holding each other up, dressedall in black like they were shadows. They’d babysit sometimes, and Amelia remembered them teaching her croquet, when Amelia was young enough to wear her hair in pigtails tied up with big satin bows.

It seemed an alien world to Cormac, and he had nothing to say. But he suspected that, yes, there had been more to the women’s relationship. The thought amused him, the two hiding behind propriety so stiff and formal that no one even questioned.

You know, he thought to Amelia, nobody says spinster anymore.

Well, yes, certainly. Etymologically, the word was doomed, considering so few of the women called spinsters actually spun wool anymore. So what do people call unmarried adult women now?

Um. Women, he said.


He turned over the story Judi and Frida had told him. The old mystery intrigued him in spite of himself, but the magic was less interesting than the personalities involved. The egos. That’s all it was in the end, clashing egos, and he was having trouble putting himself in that situation. There was a point where the only thing you were defending was your pride. He saw this kind of fight in prison all the time. Guys might call it fighting for dominance, to be top of the pecking order or to show some other asshole his place. But really, it was pride and not wanting to feel like anybody got the better of you.

Cormac figured out that he could walk away from those fights and his pride would survive just fine. He took care of his own pride, that wasn’t anybody else’s call. The petty fights and gang affiliations went on around him, and he didn’t give a fuck. Everybody knew it, too. He bashed just enough heads to convince everyone to leave him alone. And they did.

But Kuzniak and Crane—two monumental egos, and what exactly had happened there at the end?

As of now, Cormac officially had too many mysteries to deal with. Too many questions needing answers. Hard to know where to start.

One book at a time. One call, one journey, one piece of the puzzle.

She was right. He started with the answer he could get right now, tucking his hands-free over his ear and making a call.

Kitty answered. “Hi. How’d it go?”

“How’d what go?”

“You said you were going to Manitou; I assume you’re calling to tell me how it went. You find anything out?”

It hadn’t occurred to him to call out of the blue to tell her how the meeting went. Mostly because he still didn’t know how it was going to turn out. “No, not exactly. But I have a favor to ask.” One in what was turning into a long chain of favors.

“Oh yeah?” What did it mean, that she actually sounded pleased at the prospect?

“Amy Scanlon’s aunt wants to meet you. She wants to talk to the last person to see Amy alive.”

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