Low Midnight Page 49

“I’m starting to think you’re the one who killed Kuzniak, if you wanted his book that bad.”

That didn’t make any sense. “You want to know who killed him, look at your own gang. You’re the ones messing with all this magic without knowing what the hell you’re doing. What did Kuzniak tell you, that he knew how to suck gold out of those rocks? You think just because vampires are real, something like that’ll work?”

The pause lasted long enough Cormac wondered what kind of nerve he hit with that one. What was it statistics said, most murders were committed by someone the victim knew? Crimes of passion? Maybe Kuzniak had been killed by his own magic backfiring.…

Intriguing, Amelia observed. But not so simple. Why would such a thing happen? How?

Layne was feigning calm. “Why don’t we talk about this, Bennett? Come back down, we’ll have a civilized conversation.”

“Not likely.”

“Then I’ll meet you somewhere. Pick a spot. Anywhere.”

“Not interested.”

“Bennett, just a minute now, don’t think you can just walk away—”

He hung up and tossed the phone on the nightstand.

Amelia waited a long time before asking, Should we be worried?

Oh, probably, he thought. Not that he was going to lose sleep over it. “Let’s find out if Kuzniak really knew how to dig for gold.”

*   *   *

FIRST, THEY needed to find a spot that was likely to have gold. Fortunately, a number of gold mines, both defunct and still operating, were within reasonable distance. Cormac picked a spot near Cripple Creek, which had been an active gold mining area for over a century, and wasn’t in such a remote mountain location that he’d have trouble getting there in the middle of winter.

Kuzniak wasn’t polite enough to provide a finished, fully working spell in his book. Magicians rarely did—they wrote in code, like Amy Scanlon did; they left bits out so the book would be useless without them, leaving others to piece the clues together. And maybe blow themselves up in the process. This meant Amelia had to reconstruct his research, adding her own knowledge to come up with something that seemed reasonable. As reasonable as any of this was. The elements of the spell she constructed didn’t surprise Cormac—the major elements of most European-derived magic tended to be the same; the details changed depending on what you were trying to do. They’d done this enough over the last couple of years, it was familiar. He could even work some of these spells himself, without her help. He’d rather not, though. Magic still felt like cheating.

She wanted to work the spell at midnight, of course. Gathering the right materials took a few days. He would never get used to walking into the fancy cooking stores for the various hard-to-get herbs she needed. Made him feel like a buffalo in a church. Findingunscented candles was another challenge he never thought he’d have to face. Colors were fine, colors could be useful as elements in various spells. But since meeting Amelia, he’d spent way too much time standing in front of walls of candles labeled with names like “Cranberry Spice” and “Warm Honey.” Christian bookstores and other religious supply shops became their go-to spots to find simple, unadorned, non-scented votive candles. Another deep irony, he observed. If only those kind, wide-eyed women at the cash registers knew what those candles were being used for.

Following Amelia’s instructions on what to pack, he loaded up the Jeep and headed out at dusk.

The nocturnal lifestyle he’d been leading lately felt familiar, even comforting. This was what he’d done for years: stay in for most of the day and earn his living at night. Driving south, watching the sun set over the mountains—he’d done this all before. Times like this, he felt like he was in the right place, that he fit. He was calm.

He hiked for a time, double-checked the GPS and cross-referenced with some historical maps he’d researched. In this creek valley, a dozen claims had been staked and four of them had turned into working gold mines. One of those had produced right up into the 1970s. They hadn’t been abandoned because they were paid out. Rather, the effort to get what ore remained—and transport it, process it, refine it, and so on—was no longer cost effective. There ought to be gold here still, and if it could be gotten with magic, they’d get it.

Here. This is a good spot. Amelia stopped him in a flattened clearing, south-facing and clear of snow. The moonlight was faint, and he used a flashlight to see by. He set down her pack of gear and waited for her instructions.

She had what she called a cauldron. It was really a small cast-iron pot, a highly portable fire pit maybe eight inches across. His dad might have used something like this to cook supper Dutch-oven style over a fire. It was a convenient way to create light and heat for rituals. Charcoal briquettes lined the bottom of it for fuel. He set this up, lit the charcoal, got it burning. She set up another little dish with a few ingredients and supplies, including a gold band he’d picked up at a pawn shop.

Like seeks like, she explained. You must start with some gold in order to call gold to you.

It made a weird kind of sense. The rest of the spell she’d found in Kuzniak’s notebook she wasn’t so sure about.

All right. To begin, we must strip. Divest yourself of your clothing, please.

Times like this he wished she was standing in front of him so he could glare at her. “You know it’s the middle of winter. It’s fucking cold out here.”

I assure you, there’s a very good reason for it. A ritual like this must begin with a cleansing, to shed any negative energies and ill feeling.

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