Low Midnight Page 54

They were waiting for him, and they didn’t even have to ask, just looked at him with these expectant, questioning gazes. Puppy dog eyes? Hm.

“What was that all about?” Kitty finally asked when he didn’t say anything.

“Just a call. Not important,” he said.

“You were out there a long time,” Kitty said. She might have batted her eyelashes.

“Yeah?” He found some beer left in his mug and drank it down.

Kitty added, “Is she nice?”

He rolled his eyes. “I should get going. I’ve still got some work to do. Let you guys have your fun in peace.”

“You’ll let us know if anything comes up?” Ben said.

“Always do.”

“Not likely,” he said, his smile friendly enough, but the dig was there as well. The words held a lot of shared history. A lot of not talking.

“If it’s important, I’ll let you know,” he amended and waved himself out.

Chapter 22

HE’D JUST unlocked the apartment’s front door when Amelia demanded, The laptop. Turn on the laptop. My God, why do these things take so long, we should have just left it on.…

He took his time getting inside, closing the door behind him, setting the dead bolt, turning on the lights, heading to the kitchenette for a glass of water—


Then, he turned on the computer.

New e-mail was waiting for them.

“A new take on the alchemical prize. Interesting. I have studied and practiced magic for many years, and everyone seems to think they have a way to make gold out of something else. The closest I’ve come to what you’re suggesting—mining gold magically, pulling it out of the ground without use of chemicals or equipment—are various earthmoving spells. Spells to move stone, rituals to cause earthquakes. One could build a mine using such magical techniques. But any gold ore would still need to be physically mined. Unless you’ve discovered evidence to the contrary?”

Amelia couldn’t wait to start typing a reply. Her urgency felt like a throbbing running down his arms to his fingers.

“You never had a pen pal, did you?” he said.

I had correspondences all my life, with some of the most diligent arcane scholars of my day. All the letters I collected—I’ve lost them all, along with my other artifacts and treasures. But I would have to wait weeks for replies to my letters. Days at the very least. This—this is nearly instantaneous. You have no idea the technologies you take for granted.

“No doubt.” He thought about his cell phone and how it meant he could never really disappear. Not unless he just left it behind and drove off into the sunset. He’d thought about doing that.

He let Amelia type. “No, I have no evidence, only rambling notes and speculation. I’ve started experimenting, but I’m not hopeful. You’ve confirmed my fears. The idea was simply so intriguing Icould not pass over it without giving it at least some thought.”

She sent the message, stared at the screen, and he imagined her rubbing her hands together in anticipation. Their correspondent might reply immediately. Or they could be waiting all night. Cormac thought he might as well go to sleep—if Amelia would let him.

But they didn’t have to wait that long. The program pinged incoming e-mail; their correspondent was online.

He’d written: “The path of magic is never clear cut. I commend your curiosity and your dedication. Have you learned anything new about breaking Amy Scanlon’s code?”

“Several leads. Nothing definite, I’m afraid. My guess is she used a personal, shifting code, something that only had meaning to her. If we knew the key, we could find the pattern. But I didn’t know her personally and I couldn’t guess what she might have used.”

Again, a quick response: “Does she have any family, any close friends still living?”

They hesitated in their response. So far, they hadn’t exchanged details. No names but Amy’s, no locations. Only generalizations, abstractions. Cormac was leery about giving too much away. They had little enough as it was. “That’s one of the leads I’m following. Nothing definite, yet.”

“What do you hope to find in this book of shadows when you are able to read it?”

“Your confidence that I will is heartening. I have some questions that need answering; her book of shadows seems likely to contain such answers.”

“What kind of questions?”

Cormac suddenly had the feeling of being interrogated and drew his hands back from the keyboard.

Amelia argued, If Kitty is right, and knowing about Kumarbis means this person is a vampire, he might have some insight into the Long Game. We could ask—

“I don’t want to show our hand,” Cormac said. “I don’t want to give away who we are. We start talking about the Long Game, who knows what’ll come up. This is about the book for now. That’s it.”

Your paranoia has served you well in the past. I suppose I can’t argue with you now.

That was probably giving him more credit than he deserved. Now, how to be cagey without entirely shutting down the line of communication? This was the kind of thing Kitty was good at.

“Historical magic,” Amelia typed, using Cormac’s hands. The answer was both true and disingenuous. “Spells that might have been lost to time. My understanding is that Amy Scanlon was interested in the past. For example—you yourself mentioned the possibility of creating earthquakes by magical means; have you actually done this, or seen it done? Or is it only in stories? Mere rumor.” According to Kitty, Amy must have had some kind of earthmoving spell to be able to cause the cave-in at the mine there at the end. Maybe it was in the book’s coded sections.

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