Low Midnight Page 5

Now Kitty had this book that promised to offer answers to all the riddles, just like that. Too bad the whole thing was in code.

Since they didn’t know how to break the book’s code, they decided to crowdsource it. Put it up online and see what happened. Worst case scenario, someone would break the code and find enough magical secrets to take over the world. Kitty thought the risk was worth it. Cormac had taken on the responsibility of keeping track of the e-mails associated with the Web site. The first three or four weeks, nothing happened.

But then serious messages started coming in. Only a few at first. Now, they arrived a dozen or so a week. A couple of online forums had picked up on the book of shadows, posted links, and started discussions. Cormac followed those as well. Most of the discussions assumed the book was old, some Renaissance alchemist’s journal that had been scanned, digitized, and posted by an amateur scholar. Kitty hadn’t posted any identifying information about the author—she’d become protective of Amy Scanlon’s private life. These dabblers treated the book and its code as an interesting problem and nothing more.

Five e-mails this evening. Usually, they came from borderline nutjobs begging for the secret of the universe or declaring that they had the secret of the universe, and they wanted to meet in person or send their own five-thousand-page book of shadows. Today, one of them was different.

“Hi. Whoever this is. I don’t know the code, but I know the diagrams, some of the formulas—this looks like Amy Scanlon’s book. I was in her coven in Taos, New Mexico, about six years ago. She started traveling, but I haven’t heard from her in a couple of years. Do you know where she is?” The e-mail listed a name and phone number. A trusting person, to hand out that information.

Cormac didn’t know how to tell her that Scanlon was dead, killed at the center of a mystery they desperately needed to solve. He couldn’t imagine trying to explain it and be sympathetic at the same time. He forwarded the message to Kitty to let her answer it. She was the diplomat and camp counselor. He stuck to lurking on forums and searching for articles that might give him more pieces. Clues to the mystery they’d set themselves to solving.

I quite like the idea of supernatural investigation. We could be the magical Sherlock Holmes and Watson.

“Yeah, but which of us is which?”

Well, I think that’s rather obvious, don’t you?

He snorted.

Hunting for information wasn’t too far off from hunting game, in the end. You had to have a good idea of what you were looking for and the places you’d be most likely to find it. Keep an open mind and your vision wide—focus too hard on one thing, you miss stray movement at the edges of your perception. Most of all, you had to be patient.

When it came to Scanlon’s grimoire, though, he was losing patience.

“It’s time to go to Manitou,” he said.

Silence from Amelia.

Part of the book ofshadows—the part Kitty kept offline—was biographical, uncoded, and mentioned one of Scanlon’s mentors, an aunt living an hour or so down the freeway from Denver.

“We’ve got no other leads.”

Still nothing. He sighed, wondering at the weird twists in his life that brought him to standing in his apartment, talking to himself.

“You want to talk about this in person?” he said.

After a moment she answered, If you like.

What the hell, it was probably time for bed anyway.

*   *   *

BACK IN prison, Cormac spent much of his time thinking about a meadow.

The place was a memory of a high mountain valley in Grand County where his father used to take him hunting. Mundane hunting for elk and deer with licenses and rifles and standard, non-silver bullets. Douglas Bennett’s main line of work had been as a guide on high-end outfitting trips, leading hunting parties into the backwoods of the Rockies to bag trophies. Sometimes when they were on their own, just him and his father, they’d camp in this meadow, a stretch filled with thick grasses, surrounded by lodgepole pines and a rushing stream cutting through the middle. Boil coffee on a butane camp stove before dawn, watch the sunrise as mist burned off the creek. Nothing smelled as clean as those mornings.

To keep himself from going entirely crazy in his ten-by-ten cell, he imagined himself back there. He’d lay on his metal cot and thin mattress and fall asleep by putting himself somewhere else. Over time, the place grew in detail, richness. He could see individual blades of grass blowing in a faint breeze, hear water rushing over rocks in the creek. Feel the sun on his face as he tipped his head back, watching white clouds scudding across an impossibly blue sky.

Habit kept bringing him back. Also, in a sense, this was where he’d met Amelia. This was how she’d found her way into his mind. This was where they talked.

In waking hours, she was a disembodied voice, a presence watching the world over his shoulder. When he closed his eyes, opened his mind, put himself in the place where he’d always felt most at home—safest—he saw her. She found him.

There was a boulder, a weathered outcrop of granite where he sat to watch the meadow and its valley. This was where she joined him. At first, back in prison, she’d approach cautiously and stand a few yards off, regarding him skeptically as if negotiating with a hired laborer.

Now, after all they’d been through, she sat in the grass nearby, legs folded to the side, her long skirt spread around her, and gazed out at the scene with him. Her clothing was antique, formal—dark gray skirt, white shirt with a high collar and touch of lace at the sleeves. Her black hair was wrapped in a tight bun, pinned to the back of her head, and she wore a flat, feathered hat. She was, would always be, a woman in her mid-twenties, straight and severe in demeanor, frowning as she studied the world with dark eyes.

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