Low Midnight Page 30

“What, so they were bank robbers? Smugglers? Drug dealers?”

“All of the above? Yeah. So, that’s what I think Layne and Nolan are into. Last few years, what with the economy tanking and the last election, the movement’s been making a comeback, getting popular again. Guys like that’ll use the whole thing as a cover and a recruiting ground.”

“Can we go home now?” she said. She had a sour look on her face. She’d been gripping the door handle for the last five miles as the Jeep bounced over barely-there roads.

“Just half an hour.”

“What does Amelia say about all this?”

“She says it can’t hurt to look.”

“No, I mean about the militia stuff. Your family.”

He turned inward a moment and got nothing articulate. Just the quiet watchfulness she had when he was immersed in modernity.

“Says it’s not her world,” he answered and left it at that.

“Someday I’m going to talk you both into letting me interview her on the show.”

I believe that would be a bad idea. Cormac agreed, and if Kitty hadn’t talked them into it by now, she never would.

“There it is,” he said, steering the Jeep around a curve and to a turnout. The place would be just around the next hill.

As he left the Jeep, he put his hand in his pocket, keeping hold of a bit of sage and the lighter, more to steady himself than any thought that he’d be able to use it. If they ran into trouble, there’d be guns, and Amelia didn’t know any spells to protect against that. They’d either have to run for it or talk their way out of it.

One step at a time.

Kitty moved ahead, her nose tipped into the air, flaring. When she glanced back at him, she looked worried. “I don’t like this.”

He steered her on, over a rise and into a dip between hills, not quite big enough to be a valley. Treeless, gravelly earth sloped downward to a weather-worn, unpainted shed. He didn’t see anyone, but Kitty was right, something was off here. Like a roomful of people holding their breath.

Back in the day, the shed hid the entrance to the abandoned mine tunnel where the weapons stockpile was kept. Now, the whole thing looked deserted. That was probably the idea.

“Cormac, something’s wrong here,” Kitty said. She’d gone into full danger stance, her shoulders bunched up and her back hunched, like hackles rising. Her arms hung at her sides, her fingers curled into claws. She stopped, knees bent, like she expected to have to run.

“What do you smell?”

“That’s just it, it’s not a smell, it’s a feeling, it’s just wrong. Dead, rotten, evil—Cormac, I remember this, from back in Walsenberg—” Her shocked eyes and the edge of panic in her voice triggered his own memories.

“Skinwalker,” he said. “Shit.”

Right pocket, arrowhead charm.

He took out the arrowhead, tied to a simple leather cord, and pulled it down around his neck. It said something, that he didn’t remember half the stuff Amelia had had him keep in his pockets. The Navajo arrowhead was a simple enough charm, but promised sure protection against skinwalkers: shape-shifters, but not lycanthropes. It was a very dark kind of magic. A skinwalker was a specific type of Navajo magician, required to perform human sacrifice in exchange for their powers. The last skinwalker Cormac encountered was a woman. Killing her, even in defense, had sent him to prison. Something about “excessive force…”

So, Nolan didn’t have a werewolf working with him. He had one of these bastards.

He was about to tell Kitty to get back in the Jeep when the wolf came at her, crashing through the pine trees at the edge of the clearing and charging. Her, not him—maybe it could tell what she was and identified her as the bigger threat. Or maybe the arrowhead charm actually worked. Whatever it was, the wolf slammed into her, jaw open and angled for her neck. She didn’t have time to run.

He’d never missed the presence of a gun in his hand more than he did now. But right now, even if he had a gun, he wouldn’t have been able to shoot because they were tangled up together—no way to get a clear target on the other wolf, the skinwalker.

Kitty looked thin and willowy and blond and breakable, but she’d been in scrapes before and was stronger than she seemed. Curling her own lips to show teeth, she let the wolf knock her over, then kept rolling to get herself on top. She went for eyes and groin, tearing with bent fingers that were suddenly looking longer, sharper than human.

The thing was dark, hulking, snarling, and its eyes glowed an otherworldly, gemlike red. It didn’t have any of the grace or power of a natural wolf, or even an oversized lycanthropic variety. It was a bundle of hate and wrongness, biting and slashing. Kitty was holding her own, mostly because her supernatural speed and agility allowed her to duck and dodge. She was strong enough to knock the other wolf back once or twice, to get in a few hits. But she couldn’t do much else, not as a human.

Cormac ran to the back of the Jeep and to the emergency kit he kept there. Digging around, he found the pair of roadside flares stashed in it. Ran back to the fight.

The beast slashed and snapped at Kitty; a flash of red sprayed—that was Kitty’s blood. She was using her arms to block, and they were taking damage. Both were snarling, growling. He couldn’t tell which noises were coming from whom.

Holding the flares in one hand, he lit them with his lighter. Even in daylight they glowed red and threw off sparks. Holding them aloft, he stalked toward the fight, making himself as big and threatening as he could, hoping to scare off the attacker. He swung his arms, making arcs of smoke and fire.

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