Low Midnight Page 48

His original intent was that Layne wouldn’t have any idea who’d done it and would even blame Nolan or some other faction. He didn’t much care what war those guys got into. But Mollie—maybe she’d stay quiet. He didn’t have any idea what their relationship was, if she was part of his operation, or if she just happened to be at the house at exactly the wrong time.

If she told Layne he’d broken into the house, he’d deal with it. But the worst case—she’d call the cops on him.

She wouldn’t. Layne wouldn’t let her. That would attract too much attention.

He really should have asked for her phone number back at the bar.

Chapter 19

AT THE apartment, Amelia referenced the books she had on hand, a small library she’d accumulated since they left prison and her own book of shadows that she was reconstructing from memory and recording in a hardcover-sized sketchbook. The handwriting varied between Cormac’s crooked, unpracticed scrawl and a precise nineteenth-century cursive that he’d have expected to see on an old manuscript. They were both writing this book. It would confuse the hell out of anyone who tried to read it later.

It felt like homework to Cormac—he’d barely finished high school, mostly because Ben hauled him through their senior year by force of will. But Amelia was very excited by the whole thing.

Most of this I’ve seen before in one form or another, she announced in summary. He seems to come from a Teutonic magical tradition, though he’s cribbed quite a lot from the English—John Dee, Francis Bacon—as well. Some from the Malleus Maleficarum, and not the useful bits, alas. He’s had teachers but doesn’t name them, which makes a true tradition hard to identify. The second half of the thing is the most interesting. Do you know what I think? He flipped through pages, reviewing some sections, looking at the book as a whole rather than in parts. I think he may have copied much of this from the elder Kuzniak. I wonder if that’s what put him on the path of learning about magic in the first place—finding his ancestor’s magical history and wanting to know more.

“So this is the jackpot—this ought to tell us how the first Kuzniak killed Crane.”

I’m not sure, she murmured with a distracted air.

Cormac’s eyes needed a break, even if Amelia didn’t. He got a beer from the fridge and sat back to think.

I don’t need to think, I need to read.

“Well, I need to think.”

She kept talking, thinking out loud. If she’d had a body, she’d be pacing back and forth in front of him, her long skirt brushing the floor, her hands gesturing absently. He could almost see it. If they went to his imaginary meadow, he would.

There are several items I’ve not encountered before. The alchemical spell meant to draw gold out of the earth—the stories were rightabout that, the first Kuzniak did seem to be pursuing some kind of magical gold mining, though I can’t say we’ve seen any evidence that such a method would actually work. It’s the old alchemist riddle, turning lead into gold. Such a nice idea, but can you imagine? It would hardly be worth it because if you could transform base metal into gold, even with a great deal of difficulty, you’d risk debasing the value of gold to such an extent the process wouldn’t be worthwhile after all—you’d transform lead into gold and in so doing make gold just as valueless as lead.

“You’re rambling,” Cormac stated.

Ah yes. Anyhow, I’d be curious to review his findings and perhaps experiment, see if such a thing could be accomplished.

Now that would be interesting. They wouldn’t have to produce enough to debase gold. Just enough to keep from having to find another job, right?

I’ve just had a thought—what if this is really the magic Judi and Frida are looking for, and they’re not interested at all in how Kuzniak killed Crane?

And the two old ladies weren’t about to try to go after Kuzniak and Layne and that pack of thugs. But Cormac shows up on their doorstep, and suddenly they have a way in. “And they’d trust that we would just hand something like that over?”

Perhaps not. Oh, and look at this—he mentions another curious item—an amulet with protective properties. Something he must have inherited from his great-grandfather, along with scraps of other magical knowledge. It’s noteworthy because he says he isn’t sure how it works. Obviously I can’t tell anything about it because it isn’t here. He must have stored it somewhere else. We should have examined him more thoroughly—

“Rifled through the pockets of a dead man, you mean?”

That’s putting it rather crudely.

“It’s all odds and ends. I thought we were trying to solve a hundred-year-old murder.”

Well, now we’re also trying to mine for gold—

His phone rang from inside the pocket of his jacket where he’d left it. Setting the beer aside, hauling himself to where he’d hung the jacket over a chair, he retrieved the phone, checked caller ID—Anderson Layne. He supposed that was only a matter of time.

You probably shouldn’t answer—

He clicked the answer button. “Yeah?”

“You must think you’re pretty tough, don’t you?” The guy was trying hard to sound casual, amused, but the edge to his voice revealed anger. Maybe even fear. So Mollie told Layne. Cormac couldn’t get too upset at her—she didn’t owe him anything. Or maybe Layne just figured it out.

“Kuzniak’s protection spells didn’t outlast him, did they?” he replied conversationally.

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