Low Midnight Page 23

“What I really want to know—why’s a guy like Anderson Layne suddenly interested in hunting monsters? I know he knew my dad, but it’s not like they were best friends. They moved in the same circles back in the day but it’s not like they were drinking buddies. He hung out more with my uncle. He said it himself, he thought it was all bunk until the publicity started a few years ago.”

“It’s quite obvious, isn’t it? He’s interested in hunting monsters because he has a monster he needs to kill.”

Layne had been jumpy, up on that hillside. If he’d found some random stranger poking around, he’d have had no problem threatening them, including firing off a round or two, to scare them off. He was guarding that patch from someone. Something more than a fellow lowlife thug, then? Vampire or lycanthrope? Well, that was just what Cormac needed in the mix, wasn’t it?

He ran a hand over his hair, grimacing at the distant hills. “Yeah, figured.”

“Whatever Anderson Layne’s situation is—surely between the two of us we can manage it. Especially for the sake of learning what Kuzniak knows.”

“What Kuzniak knows—about how his great-grandfather killed Crane, or about how to get gold out of those rocks?”

She offered a thin smile. “Yes?”

If you were going to spend your time thinking out loud, this was the way to do it. Cormac knew how to track monsters. Working out more complicated problems like this—it helped to have an extra perspective. And it felt so real. He could see her chest, the fabric of her blouse moving in and out as she breathed. She was dead, she didn’t need to breathe.…

They stopped, facing each other by the running water of the creek. She said, “If there was ever gold on that claim, it’s still there because no one has any indication that Kuzniak ever got it out. Kuzniak must have passed on his knowledge to his descendants.”

Cormac continued the thought. “He never even dug, there’s no sign on that plateau of there ever being a mine—”

“Because he was a magician. He had some magical ability. Was he trying to find a way to bring the gold out of the ground magically?”

Her expression turned bemused, wondering—mirroring his own slack face, he was sure. “You’d think if that was possible someone would have done it by now. Lots of people would have done it by now, and gotten stupidly rich at it.”

“There really aren’t that many magicians in the world, and not that much magic, despite your proximity to so much of it,” Amelia said. “Such a thing wouldn’t go unnoticed, and most magicians I’ve known preferred anonymity over wealth.”

“But a guy like Anderson Layne—”

“If there’s a way to use magic to pull gold from the ground, he does seem like someone who would be interested, yes.”

He wiped his hand over his chin, thinking. “So doeshe? Have a way to pull gold from the ground?”

“We’ll have to keep playing along if we want to find out. Are you all right with that?” Her eyes were crinkled against the sun—another odd detail that set him off balance, like it was too much detail for him to just be thinking it up. It made him imagine she was more than a ghost, a spirit in his mind. They weren’t here, this wasn’t real. But it sure felt like it.

“Yeah, it’s just the next step on the path.”

“Ben won’t be happy with you if he knows you’re in contact with your old crowd.”

“Then he won’t have to know about it, will he?”

“That always goes so well,” she murmured. “And now, I would like you to tell me about Mollie Layne.” She didn’t manage the innocent smile she seemed to be trying for.

“Mollie Cramer, she said.”


“And what?”

“There’s history between you. I’m simply curious.”

It was none of her business, he thought, staring into the woods on the other side of the creek, thinking he might see deer there. She might have been living inside his head, but he deserved some kind of privacy.

“What you deserve and what we have here are two different things,” she said. Her voice had turned sad, her expression withdrawn. She looked away.

“It was a long time ago. Twenty years. We were just kids.”

“But you still find her attractive? If you had an opportunity…”

“Better if I don’t. Not while we’re working with Layne.” But he’d thought about it. What Amelia was politely not saying was how he hadn’t slept with anyone since before prison. Not that he’d ever had anything resembling a relationship, not like Ben and Kitty had. But he’d had plenty of opportunities. And now … seeing Mollie reminded him that it had been a long time.

“You’ll see her again, perhaps,” Amelia said. She was trying to be comforting, Cormac realized. Trying to be understanding.

But right this minute, he just wanted to be alone.

When he looked up again, Amelia was gone. Didn’t even need to walk anywhere, just vanished. He had the nerve-wracking sense that he’d done something wrong.

Time to get some sleep, then.

*   *   *

THE NEXT morning, one of the e-mails in the book of shadows account stood out from all the nutjobs. It caught his eye because it was articulate and full of an uncomfortable amount of detail.

“This is Amy Scanlon’s book, isn’t it? I assume she’s dead, or you wouldn’t have it. Do you know what she was, who she associated with? Have you deciphered the code yet?” Even in text, the tone seemed demanding rather than questioning, as if the sender already knew the answers to the questions.

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