Low Midnight Page 18

Nothing that’s faster than they can fire on us.

“Cormac Bennett?”

When the man lowered the rifle from his shoulder, Cormac recognized him. “Anderson Layne,” he answered, without enthusiasm.

He hadn’t seen the man in more than a decade. Guy must have been in his forties now, his buzz cut more gray than brown, but he had the same glare and the same gnarled set to his limbs, big knuckles gripping the rifle, broad shoulders showing through his heavy tan hunting jacket. He was someone who worked out compulsively, a big guy who knew his strength, but was trying not to notice he was getting older.

Cormac cursed to himself. Out of all the places and times he could have run into Anderson Layne, it had to be here, and now. On the other hand, Layne seemed happy to see him. Maybe Cormac should have expected this. Knowing these guys was either going to make this easier or harder.

Laughing, Layne tucked the rifle under his arm, which was only mildly comforting.

“Jesus, how long’s it been? How you doing?” He strode forward, hand outstretched to shake, and Cormac walked up to meet him. “You guys remember Cormac? Douglas Bennett’s kid? Who’d have figured it, running into you out here?”

Layne had been part of the bunch headed up by David O’Farrell, Ben’s father. Militia and sovereignty activists playing at being freedom fighters, mostly using it as an excuse to collect automatic weapons and blow shit up. Cormac had been mixed up with them in his late teens—they had access to guns, and they had connections. Everybody seemed to know his father, and Cormac had gotten his first few jobs through those contacts. When Ben went away to college, then law school, Cormac drifted away from his increasingly unbalanced uncle. Ben had seen the writing on the wall and tried to get his father to give up the movement. David O’Farrell didn’t take the warning, declaring instead that his son had been suckered by the government and was a fool for following the rules. On the other hand, Cormac did take the warning, because Ben wasn’t stupid, and he turned out to be right. When his uncle had been arrested on a catalog of conspiracy charges, the group had scattered. Cormac hadn’t seen them in over a decade, and he didn’t miss them at all. He shook Layne’s hand anyway.

The other two might have been part of that bunch, back in the day. Cormac hadn’t known everyone, or hadn’t bothered remembering everyone. They were closer to his age than Layne’s. Layne’s protégés, just as Layne had been David’s. And the beat went on.

Cormac nodded at them and said, “Been awhile.”

“So,” Layne said, questioningly, studiously. “What are you doing out here?”

“Oh, taking a walk, checking things out. Heard some ghost stories about the spot, wanted to see for myself.”

“You want to see ghosts, shouldn’t you be out here atmidnight?”

“Depends on the ghost. What about you? Coming up here to shoot cans or something?”

Layne’s smile might have gotten stiffer at that. “Where are you these days, still up in Greeley? You have time to go get a drink? I think we might be able to help each other.”

He very much didn’t want to go drink with Anderson Layne. Just seeing the guy standing there felt like fishhooks from his old life biting into him, trying to drag him off. But Layne being here might mean he knew something. This was the next signpost on the trail. In the end, he was still standing between Cormac and the way out, holding a gun.

Cormac agreed to the drink.

*   *   *

THEY RECONVENED in a run-down biker bar off Highway 24 just outside of Woodland Park. Cormac gathered that it was a regular haunt of Layne’s and his bunch. The bartender, a tall, skinny white guy with a beard and tattoos peeking out from under his shirt collar, waved when they came in and greeted Layne by name. After coming in from the bright afternoon, Cormac paused a moment to take off his sunglasses and let his vision adjust to the darker interior, lit by a few overhead lights and sun coming in through a tinted front window. The place was cheap, cheap-looking, fully by intention, with a concrete floor and stale, beer-tinged air. Wood paneling on the walls was decorated with lots of neon beer ads and posters for old promotions, like last season’s Broncos football schedule. A Confederate flag hung on the back wall as some sort of test—if it offended you, you probably shouldn’t be here. He ducked his head to hide a smile at the predictability of it all.

Layne brazened in like he owned the place and couldn’t be at all subtle. He hauled himself onto a barstool and announced, “Hey, Dan! Guess who I found? It’s Cormac Bennett—you know, Douglas Bennett’s kid. The vampire hunter! You’re still into that weird shit, aren’t you?”

About as subtle as dynamite. Bartender Dan stretched out his hand for Cormac to shake, which he did as he joined Layne at the bar.

“It’s not as exciting as it sounds,” Cormac said. “Not like in the movies.”

“And I’m sure you’re just being modest,” Layne insisted. “You know, you might not believe this, but I was just thinking of calling you. I might have a job for you.”

Dan put bottles in front of them, and Cormac sipped. People kept offering him jobs—why didn’t he feel lucky? “Yeah?” Curt, noncommittal.

“How much have you heard about that spot on the plateau?”

Cormac decided to hold out some bait, do some fishing. “Back a hundred or so years ago, a prospector staked a claim up there and ran into trouble. Stories say he killed someone. Stories don’t say whether he ever found any gold.”

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