Low Midnight Page 46

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AMELIA WAS very quiet on the drive back. She didn’t bring up ghosts, scrying, or speaking with the dead. About getting their hands on Kuzniak’s book, or what the hell they were going to do about solving Crane’s murder for Judi and Frida. Made for a peaceful couple of hours, really. And a good night’s sleep afterward. He almost poked at her, to make sure she was still there. But he didn’t have to; she was always there, lurking.

Morning gave him a clean perspective, on everything. Layne was an ass, and he was fucking around with things he didn’t understand. Treating magic like a fancy new automatic rifle he could buy under the table and show off to make himself a big man. A rifle just shot people up, but magic could raise the dead, summon demons. Destroy the world, if Kitty’s paranoia was right. Milo Kuzniak was only one casualty. Maybe not even the first. Mollie was staying in that house, too, and he didn’t want her caught up in this if Layne lit a fuse he couldn’t put out.

Cormac didn’t care about the mysteries quite so much, but he was going to make sure Layne’s ambitions didn’t go any further than they were right now. Put the bastard back in his place.

I thought a good night’s sleep might help, Amelia said innocently. If I may ask—what exactly are you planning to do?

“We’re going to get Milo Kuzniak’s book.”

Chapter 18

CORMAC WASN’T going to risk the trouble he might bring down on himself by carrying a gun, but he had other options. He made sure to put an extra gas can in the Jeep and threw a bottle of lighter fluid and extra flares in his road kit. Rope, bungee cord, duct tape, paper towels, empty soda bottles, a filled canteen. A regular catalog of useful items.

I have spells, Amelia said. Charms. They won’t turn you invisible, but they’ll turn attention from you. They’ll quiet your steps. Protect you from magical shields—

He sensed that she was disturbed by some of what he was collecting. They weren’t magical, which meant she didn’t know what to do with them.

“No. We’re doing this the old-fashioned way. My old-fashioned, not yours.”

Oh, dear.

He got some sense of satisfaction when a tidbit came up on the regional news—he hadn’t expected it to rate major coverage, so he was happy to see anything about it at all. The headline read: “Two Area Men Arrested, Arsenal Confiscated.” Nolan and Eddie were being held in the county jail pending a hearing in federal court, likely on charges of misuse of federal land and illegal weapons possession. Nothing serious, but it would definitely keep the pair out of everyone’s hair for a while. Eddie couldn’t even do anything about it while he was in jail—without his animal skins, he was powerless.

This also meant they hadn’t had anything to do with Kuzniak’s death, confirming Cormac’s suspicion.

He headed back to Layne’s compound. Felt good, doing this on his own terms. Doing something decisive.

Well afterdark, still a mile away from the compound, he left the road, gathered up a choice selection of equipment, and took a path through the woods, stepping carefully, using his small flashlight to watch the undergrowth for obstacles. When he reached Layne’s compound, he took care to carefully push down the barbed wire with gloved hands, so he could cross the fence. Hidden in the trees, he watched the house for whatever guard or patrol Layne had set up, if any.

For the most part, the place was still. No movement at the barn or the surrounding acreage. A couple of lights on in the house, but again no movement. A few of Layne’s crew must have been staying here, based on the cars in the drive. He decided Mollie probably wasn’t here—he hadn’t seen her last time. He had to assume there was some kind of alarm system—regular, not magical. He wondered if it just covered the house, or the driveway as well. Layne didn’t have an active guard, nobody walking patrol or anything. Even after Kuzniak getting killed, the remote location must have made Layne feel safe. Any of Kuzniak’s protection spells would have died with him. Physical charms he might have placed might still be working.

He needed a distraction to get the guys out of the house. A big one. Without using any magic. He was leery enough of starting something that would rage out of control in these dry forests that he wanted to avoid setting the trees on fire. But one of the cars, out on the open gravel driveway? Yeah, that would work. He picked the one farthest away from both the edge of the woods and the house.

Straightforward. Inelegant.

Described him pretty well, he thought.

He’d already duct-taped the bottle of lighter fluid to the half-full gas can, then taped a road flare to both of them. Redneck detonator. Keeping low to the ground, he crept out to the driveway, slid the bundle under the SUV parked at the end of the row of cars, and lit the flare. Then he got the hell away, heading to the back side of the barn for shelter while keeping an eye on the house’s front door.

Red sparks from the flare lit up the undercarriage in a weird glow, like the car was about to take off on a rocket engine. There was a hiss right before an air-breaking whump thundered, causing him instinctively to duck and turn away. He looked back up in time to see a wall of flame pour upward from the undercarriage, roaring as it engulfed the vehicle. A wave of heat washed past him, a hundred feet away. The SUV was on fire, crackling loud enough to fill the homestead.

As he hoped would happen, four or five guys poured out of the front of the house, shouting. Layne was there, staying back on the porch, hands to his head, shouting furious, panicked instructions. A couple of guys carrying semiautomatic pistols fanned out into the woods. Almost like they’d expected an attack. A couple of others went for the outdoor spigot and garden hoses to take care of the fire. No call to the fire department, Cormac was pretty sure, just like there’d been no call to the cops. He didn’t want to draw any official attention to himself.

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