Low Midnight Page 38

“I hardly care about the book anymore, I want to know how Milo Kuzniak killed Augustus Crane.”

“So you can have that spell for yourself?”

She gave a curt nod. “Yes. And you do, too. How many times today did you wish for a gun that you didn’t have? You won’t need a gun to defend yourself if you have the right magic.”

“I did just fine.”

“What about the next time?”

“There isn’t going to be a next time, that’s the whole point.”

“Cormac, don’t you dare—”

He opened his eyes and sat up. The ice pack was dripping cold water everywhere, soaking his pillow. He went over to the kitchenette, tossed it in the sink, and stretched. Ignored Amelia poking at him, trying to change his mind.

He just wanted to get some sleep. He pulled off his T-shirt and jeans, stretched some of the ache out of his muscles, and collapsed back on the futon.

Chapter 15

LIFE WITH Cormac—as his would-be conscience, or perhaps rather a contrary imp riding on his shoulder—was certainly interesting. During that episode with the skinwalker she had thought they were about to find themselves in a real Old West shootout, a meeting between rogues like something out of the dime novels of her childhood. She had been thrilled by the whole thing. She feared Cormac was a bit annoyed by her.

She was very aware that she’d fallen victim—more than a hundred years ago—to the romantic allure of the American West. The daring tales, the exotic peoples, cowboys and Indians and all the rest. Adventure stories took place either in deepest Africa, or in the American West. She even saw Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in London when she was a girl and had thought it very loud, with all the guns firing and horses stampeding and hundreds of participants yelling and whooping. She had absolutely adored watching Annie Oakley shoot. The woman could do absolutely anything, and so, Amelia decided, could she.

Of course, she would eventually travel to the American West to see it all for herself. What she hadn’t quite realized—but would have, had she thought about it without the emotional dreams of adventure—was that the Wild West of Buffalo Bill’s show had long ago vanished, and had never really existed at all in that stylized form. The Indians now lived impoverished, their native dignity all but vanished after the wars that forced them to the reservations. Real cowboys were coarse rather than heroic. Those so-called frontier towns all had train stations, churches, universities, well-stocked shops, fine ladies in corsets and men in smart hats and ties, and rows of fancy houses, just like any other town in any other civilized part of the world.

Her own adventure in the American West had ended very badly, as it happened. She should have known.

Before then, when she finally met a real Indian face-to-face in the genuine Old West, the encounter was not what she expected. He was an old man sitting in a chair outside of a photography studio in ColoradoSprings. He wore a much-washed button-up shirt, dungarees, and had wrapped a battered Indian-woven blanket around his shoulders against a chill in the air. His only gestures toward a legendary appearance were his long hair, ebony streaked with gray, kept in two braids over his shoulders, and a beaded headband with a feather tied to it. A sign in the window of the studio announced that one could pay ten cents to have one’s picture taken with a real Indian. Amelia declined, but spoke with the man for a few moments.

“Sir, do you speak English?” she said clearly to him. “Might I have a word with you?”

“You might need more than one,” he answered, without a smile. His accent was American, which surprised her, and she realized that in truth she hadn’t known what to expect at all.

“I’m from England,” she said. “I’m interested in learning all I can about this region. What tribe are you from, sir? Where do you come from?”

He might have smiled, by the way the furrows in his face shifted. He nodded, indicating the street behind her. “I’m from here.”

“You were born here in the city?” she responded, confused.

“Wasn’t a city then.”

“Where is your tribe now? I would like to meet a medicine man—if you could perhaps introduce me to someone who might be able to teach me—”

“Ma’am,” he said curtly. “He’s dead. Everybody’s dead. There’s no one left. I can’t help you.” He looked away and tugged the blanket more tightly around his shoulders.

She straightened, taken aback. What she had taken for sadness in the drawn look in his face, the shadows in his eyes, she now saw was anger. A futile anger that had been buried for a long time.

Before she could make another attempt to question him, a smartly dressed couple came to the shop, eager to have their picture taken with a real Indian. His services required, he went into the shop at the photographer’s command, and Amelia was left staring at the rough chair where he’d been sitting, wondering why she felt queasy.

She did more research, asking and reading, learning what Indian tribes had been located in the area before the city was founded. There were many, Cheyenne and Arapaho, with other tribes passing through—Ute, Kiowa, Comanche. She had no idea there were so many different tribes. She’d only known about the Sioux of the plains, featured so vividly in the Wild West Show, and the Pueblo of the southwest, with their fascinating clay-built dwellings. So much to learn, and she only had the barest scraps of knowledge to go on: stories of strange magic, medicine men who transformed into animals and entered other worlds, hints of mystical healing. They would tell her that if she had not been raised in their tribes, grown up with their knowledge, then she couldn’t possibly gain access to it now. But she would convince them, she had to convince them.

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