Low Midnight Page 16

Nodding, Judi accepted the card.

Then the meeting was over, and he and Kitty were back outside, walking on the sidewalk in the sunlight.

“Well,” Kitty said. “Goodwill won, I think.”

“So. You think she can help? Or is she stringing me along?”

Mouth pursed, she thought a moment. “They just … Judi at least has a memory of Amy that doesn’t match up with the Amy I knew. That has to be hard. They want to be careful, I think. Neither one of them made my hackles twitch, if that helps. Well, that cat did. Yeesh. Don’t trust that cat, okay?”

It was as good a vote of confidence as he was likely to get.

Chapter 7

FROM WHAT little the two women had given him, Cormac had a surprising amount of information to go on: the names of the people involved, newspaper articles about the event, the location where the so-called wizards’ duel had taken place. And Amelia’s memories.

I never met Augustus Crane, but I heard about him. She’s right, Manitou Springs was filled with ghost hunters and Spiritualists back then. Hobbyists, mostly. Well-to-do folk looking for a thrill, trying to be daring. Crane was a bit more serious—he was a mentor to many who still mourned his loss when I arrived in the area. Some claimed his ghost haunted the bit of land where he’d died. People would speak of Crane’s rival without ever mentioning his name. This must be Milo Kuzniak. For my part, the brand of magic practiced by him and his followers was too public and full of artifice for me to pay much mind. Too many frauds manipulating the gullible. I had other interests.

Amelia had never been interested in showing off; she was interested in power. She didn’t care what others thought of her. She wanted to know how magic worked. All of it.

One of the old newspaper archives included a photo of Crane; he looked exactly the way Cormac imagined a late nineteenth-century upper-class gentleman and dabbler in magic would look like, standing tall in front of a gazebo, dressed in a crisp pale suit and striped tie, clean shaven, hat on his head, pocket watch visible. He had a smug assurance about him, and didn’t smile. The caption in the newspaper clipping said this had been taken at a garden party held by one of the local families.

There were no pictures of Milo Kuzniak. He seemed to have been most interested in getting rich. Made him an easy guy to figure out.

Cormac decided to start the hunt where Milo Kuzniak made his old mining claim, the same place he’d faced off with and killed Augustus Crane.

A day of digging in records and checking topographic maps confirmed the location.

Map and GPS reader in hand, he parked his Jeep in a turnoff on one of the dirt roads leading into the hills from Highway 24. The vehicle looked way more at home here than it did in any parking lot. It had ten years of mud caking the wheel wells; sun had faded the brown to tan. The windshield had a dozen star-shaped dingsin it, the sides had a couple of noticeable dents and a few angry scratches in the paint. One set of scratches, three horizontal lines running across the hard top then down the side, came from a werewolf that had jumped on and slid off. Battle scars. The Jeep suited him.

He started walking. Winter was winding down; it had been a couple of weeks since the last snow, which had mostly melted away. A few drifts and pockets of packed snow remained in the shadows of rocks, in dirt-rimmed depressions. A cold breeze blew, and he was happy to wear his jacket.

East of here, red sandstone slabs tipped vertical, creating windblown formations like the ones found in Garden of the Gods. The further west you got, the further into the mountains, granite replaced sandstone. Scrub oak and pine forests grew scattered over a dry landscape, cut through with gullies and rock outcroppings. Early prospectors found flakes and nuggets of gold and silver just washing out of these hills. Now, the remaining gold ore lay in veins thousands of feet underground and mining was an industrial operation. Out by Cripple Creek, mining companies were taking off entire mountaintops to get to the gold.

There were easier ways to make a living.

Amazingly, this particular area was still wild. A dozen miles or so northwest of the town, it had been incorporated into the Pike National Forest and left alone, too rocky and inaccessible to easily develop. Cormac suspected this was part of what had drawn Milo here. There hadn’t been any roads up here a hundred years ago, and there weren’t any now. Someone would have needed a burro and a lot of patience to get anything more than themselves to the sloping, precarious claim.

The hillside was steep; Cormac braced on trees and boulders as he made his way up, and each step sent a rain of loose dirt and pebbles sliding down. A path did wind its way through here, a paler strip along in the ground. Hikers and hunters might have frequented the spot. Kids looking for a place to get drunk and make out. This might have been the same burro trail Milo had followed on his way to his claim, worn into the rock.

The trail leveled off to a small plateau, maybe fifty yards across, bound by a narrow ridge on one side, sloping down into the next valley on the other. He checked the GPS and confirmed, this was it. The pines here were small, gnarled by the wind, which must have blown pretty much constantly. A handful of birds, chickadees it sounded like, flitted in a stand of scrub oak. Blowing grit rattled against his sunglasses.

Surely anything he might have left here will be long gone, Amelia observed.

Cormac took a slow walk around the site anyway, tipping up rocks with his boots, checking under trees for anything out of place. Didn’t even find a broken beer bottle or weather-faded can, which meant nobody came up here much. At least, nobody stopped for long if they did. He wondered if bringing a metal detector up here would uncover anything.

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