Low Midnight Page 56

Then where is it now?

“Good question. If there was some kind of spell attached to it, it would have survived Kuzniak’s death, wouldn’t it?”

That’s the whole point of amulets and charms, to lock the magic in place so you can give it to someone else, so the magic will survive them. This thing might be very much older than Kuzniak. Either of them.

“And what’s it do?”

It kills people, I’d wager.

He frowned. “Great. Want to bet that Layne has it now?” And did he know what he had…?

Cormac, I want to talk. Face-to-face.

Sighing, he propped himself against the wall, leaned his head back, closed his eyes. Put himself in the meadow, and found Amelia by his side. He almost expected to see a copy of the book in her hand—if she’d really memorized it, she’d be able to do that, manifest a copy in their imaginations. But it was just her, and she was alight with urgency.

“We can solve this, work out exactly what happened. Put yourself in Kuzniak’s place,” Amelia said.

“Older or younger?”

“Younger. The great-grandson. If we know what happened to him, we’ll know what happened to Augustus Crane, and we can go back to Judi and be done with this whole sorry business.”

Right. He could make some guesses. Milo Kuzniak the younger probably had a similar background and upbringing to Cormac’s. Native Colorado, a rural family with deep roots in the region. Ranchers or farmers, or maybe even mining or some other local industry. Maybe a connection to the militia and sovereignty movements, which would be how he hooked up with Layne. This guy would even have had a connection to the supernatural, same as Cormac’s family. Only instead of being hunters, they were magicians. Maybe not seriously—it might have just been stories, at least until Kuzniak got ahold of his great-grandfather’s book. Family might have kept it as an heirloom, or maybe it had been stuck in some trunk in an attic, but Kuzniak would have latched onto it and seen it as something more. That would have started him down the path—with some people, it didn’t take much. He’d have studied what little his great-grandfather knew, added his own discoveries. And then gone to work for the people he knew in his own neck of the woods.

Maybe pacing wasn’t such a bad idea. He stood, to wake himself up, to get his brain working. “The cross tucked in the book. Would he have known what it was?”

“He might not have known what was, or what it did. The book never mentions it, apart from discussing amulets in general.”

“But he’d have known it did something and kept it with him. Could it have killed him?”

She seemed to fold into her own world when she was thinking hard, tugging at her ear and staring off into space, pacing through the grass and absently swishingher skirt out of the way when it snagged on something. He imagined this was exactly how she looked when she was alive, in a Victorian parlor or on the streets of some ornate European city.

She said, “He might never have taken it out of the book. But it wasn’t with the book when he died, was it? You searched him—it wasn’t in any of his other pockets, was it? Could he have hidden it about his person? Then where is it now? Did it remain with him? Is it wherever Layne put the body?”

That didn’t feel right to Cormac. Layne would have searched the body before getting rid of it, even if it was just to pull loose change out of the guy’s pockets.

He spoke slowly, arranging his thoughts while he did. “What if … maybe he didn’t know what exactly it did, but he used it to give himself some kind of credibility. Said it was powerful, bragged about it to Layne.”

“And then gave it to Layne as a sign of goodwill? Or Layne took it, as a pledge of loyalty? He wanted magic but didn’t trust Kuzniak.” She stopped, turned to face him, her eyes wide.

Cormac added, “Kuzniak tries to get it back—and sure enough, Layne’s got all the power now and kills him instead. Whatever it is, whatever it does—it killed him.” Even sounded like a wizards’ duel—a rivalry turned into a fight for power, and bang, it’s done. “He freaks out, calls us—then figured out what happened. And now he thinks he’s got all the magic. And he wants to meet with me. He won’t even need bullets.”

“I’m desperate to get my hands on that thing,” Amelia said.

Her eyes were wide, gleaming, and she reached for him—he was standing right there, and she took hold of his hands, clutching them in excitement, and he squeezed back before even thinking. For a moment, they both went still, uncertain. He didn’t pull away; neither did she. It was like they were both waiting for the other to make a move. And so they remained still, frozen in contact. As close as they had been for the last few years, living mind to mind, inseparable, he couldn’t remember feeling this close to her. He could feel the pressure in her hands, warmth in her skin, which shouldn’t have been possible because she didn’t exist, not really. She was dead—but that didn’t matter here. He took a step in, brushed his thumb along her chin and yes, it felt like skin, impossibly soft. Reflexively, she tipped her chin back, looking up at him. It would take so little effort to lean into her, to bring his lips to hers.

Doing this all alone would have been so much less interesting than doing this with her.

She blinked suddenly, like waking up from a trance, and turned away, letting go of him to resume her pacing along the edge of the meadow. “What are we going to do?”

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