Low Midnight Page 25

You are ridiculously confident.

Smug, that’s the word you’re looking for.

“Roy, settle down,” Layne ordered before smiling over at Cormac. The sidekicks lowered their weapons and relaxed, but only a notch. Kuzniak quickly shoved the book in a pocket. They kept eyeing Layne and each other, looking for clues about how to act. Cormac’s arrival had disrupted the hierarchy. “Hey, you made it.”

“Nice place,” Cormac answered. “Family farm?”

“Someone else’s family,” Layne replied. “I got it cheap in a foreclosure a couple years ago.”

Which was Layne all over, really.

“What do you need a place in the middle of nowhere for?” Cormac asked.

“Oh, this and that. Got my fingers in a lot of pies these days.”

Cormac could imagine: drugs, guns, protection rackets, moonshining, scamming, general malfeasance. It’s what the guy did in the bad old days, though on a much smaller scale. The barn would make a great warehouse for pot or guns. Might even have a meth lab tucked away.

He wondered if Mollie was around, and if she knew what her brother was up to. He took a look around—he remembered a couple of cars from the parking lot of the bar, but that didn’t mean any of them were hers. He wasn’t going to ask Layne about her.

“You want to take a turn? Get in some practice?” Layne craned his head, obviously looking for the holster Cormac wasn’t wearing.

“No, I’m fine,” Cormac said. There was a pause, everyone looking at him like they were waiting for an explanation. Cormac didn’t give it. He nodded at Milo. “So how’d this work? Did Layne come to you because he knew something was up there, or did you go to him because you needed a backer?”

As he was sizing Milo up, Milo was sizing up him, standing apart, his gaze dark, focused—a little nerve wracking. A mousy guy like him probably worked on that stare, going for intimidation. Or he might have spent way too much time looking into other worlds. Wasn’t any way to tell how much of a magician he really was until he did something. The guy didn’t carry a gun, and that said something.

Cormac didn’t have to work for his dark stare, not anymore. If his stare had turned otherworldly over the last few years, it probably didn’t look too much different than the stone-cold stare he’d cultivated before doing time. No one would notice the difference.

“Oh, I’ve known Milo for a while now. He helps me with a lot of things,” Layne said. “You know anything about protection spells? Charms? Sounds crazy, I know. I thought it did, ’til I saw it work.”

A wizard on retainer? Was that what the criminal underworld was coming to? “Oh, I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff in my day. I’m willing to give just about anything the benefit of thedoubt,” Cormac said.

“I figure it can’t hurt to cover all my bases.”

Cormac turned inward a moment, thoughtful: What do you think? Is this guy for real?

These aren’t my people, Cormac. This isn’t my world. I have no idea.

“I want to show you something.” Layne walked off and gestured Cormac to follow him, around to the back side of the barn. Kuzniak and one of the heavies followed. So they didn’t trust him, either. That was fine.

Layne pretended not to notice. “I’ve been having some problems. Usual kind of crap, jokers trying to edge in on my business, scare me off, whatever. Like last night, a couple of punks came through on ATVs and shot up the barn, trying to set it on fire.” He pointed.

Tire tracks tore up the grass, showing how a couple of vehicles had roared in and swept around before heading back out again. Farther on, Cormac could see part of the barbed wire fence knocked over and broken. The side of the barn had scorch marks on it, streaks of soot, scars from a fire that had been quickly put out. Someone might have thrown a Molotov cocktail at the thing and had it fizzle out. The ancient, dry wood of the barn should have lit like a torch the minute flames hit it. The surrounding grass had only smoldered.

Magical protections on the property, something to quench fire or repel attack. That, or the barn had been sprayed with fire retardant. Cormac looked at Milo, who was obviously waiting for a reaction. The man quirked a smile as Cormac glanced away. Like he thought he’d won something.

Cormac ventured, “Looks like they’re mostly trying to annoy you. They wanted to do damage, they’d come out here with more than a couple of bottles of gas.” Cormac had to wonder what Layne had done to his would-be rivals, first.

“This is more than just a couple of kids playing tricks. This is harassment, and I know Nolan’s paying them so I spend time cleaning up this shit instead of going after him.”

Cormac recognized the name. Another one of the guys from the movement ten or fifteen years ago, getting back into it apparently. “Jess Nolan? You’ve got some gang war going on with him?”

Layne rubbed his chin and some of the bravado fell away. “Listen. I could really use your help with this. I’m holding my own, and Milo’s a miracle worker. But Nolan’s operation is tough—”

“Tougher than your Clanton Gang here?” Layne gave him a confused look, and Cormac shook his head, dismissing the reference.

“This is serious. They killed one of my guys last month—Roy’s brother. He wasn’t shot—he was torn up. I think he’s got a werewolf working for them. Big guy, really tough. I shot him, I know I did, but the guy walked away like I didn’t even touch him.”

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