Kitty Goes to War Page 27

We went on like this for miles, into the suburb of Englewood.

“There,” Cormac said, without urgency. “Is he turning?”

And he was. The Hummer signaled, slid over a lane, kept signaling, and turned into the parking lot of a Speedy Mart.

“Maybe he’s just here to check on the local branches,” Ben said. We rolled on past the Speedy Mart and turned at the next block.

“Fair enough,” Cormac said.

“We’re still going back, right?” I said.

Ben turned again, and again, bringing us back to the block with the Speedy Mart. He pulled the car over and shut down the engine.

From here, we could see part of the store’s front parking lot and most of the back. The Hummer parked at the side, and Franklin, looking spiffy in his suit, was putting something into a box out back. It looked like a breaker box, attached to the brick wall of the building, painted gunmetal gray, but no cables or pipes or anything led into it. It was just a box stuck to the wall. Franklin opened the door, and whatever he set inside was no bigger than his hand. At this point I totally knew what the plan was: wait for Franklin to drive away, then check out what he’d put into the mysterious box. Maybe it was nothing more nefarious than money. Maybe he was being blackmailed and this was the drop. Maybe he had some weird smuggling scheme going. The possibilities were endless even without considering the supernatural. Maybe it was just a four-leaf clover to bring luck. Maybe that was the secret to the chain’s success.

Franklin started back to his car, but paused, and looked at us. We’d been quiet, sneaky, but maybe the pressure of three gazes made him look over and see the car. We weren’t even parked all that conspicuously—several other cars were parked on both sides of the street around us. But he looked, saw us staring back at him, and he certainly recognized me.

The man raised his hand, like he was saying hello. I started to slide down the seat, though it was too late to hide. Then I passed out.

The world seemed to vanish for a moment—pure blackout. Missing time. I was staring wide-eyed at Franklin, then I was slumped to the side, my face pressed against the window, my mind awash in vertigo, wondering where my memory went. Inside me, Wolf howled.

“Whoa, shit, what was that?” Ben had one hand on the dash, pushing himself away from the steering wheel, where he’d apparently slumped over. He blinked and shook his head. “What happened?”

I had a headache pounding in the middle of my skull. I couldn’t seem to focus. By instinct, I reached and put my hand on Ben’s arm, hoping to steady myself and my speeding heart. His hand went to mine, squeezing. His skin was clammy.

“You blacked out, too?” I said, my voice sounding tinny. I squeezed my eyes shut, and they came a little more into focus when I opened them again.

Franklin and the black Hummer were gone. Figured.

I opened the door to get some fresh air and clear my head.

Cormac was already outside, standing by the open passenger door of the car, his right hand raised as if preparing to throw something at the spot where Franklin had been standing. I just stared at him dumbly.

Ben got out and called across the roof of the car. “Cormac?”

He didn’t respond.

The object he held in his hand was small, metallic—wire twisted into a knot-work pattern. An amulet, maybe. The expression on his face was set, determined, as if he was sure of himself, the situation, and what to do about it. A soldier preparing for battle. But he had a gleam in his eyes as well, an eagerness that I’d never seen before. I’d always thought of him as a cold killer, who would shoot his target—kill another human being—without emotion, without reflection, treating it like a job, like taking out the trash. It was what made him scary. But now he seemed excited about a coming battle. He even smelled different—adrenaline and endorphins. The scent of a chase. For half a heartbeat, I almost didn’t recognize him.

Then it was gone. I might have imagined it all.

“Cormac!” Ben shouted it this time.

Cormac blinked and took a deep, recovering breath. The set expression faded into a frown, and his gaze turned studious, distant. He lowered his arm. The metallic charm went into his jeans pocket.

The bounty hunter looked at Ben and me and seemed to need a moment to collect himself to speak. When he did, his voice was way too calm. “You two okay?”

“What was that?” Ben demanded.

“Bastard’s a wizard,” he said.

That wasn’t even the wackiest thing I’d ever heard. I’d met a wizard before. And he was one of the strangest, scariest guys I knew—so what did that make Franklin?

“Okay, but what’s he up to?” I asked.

“You took that a lot better than I would have expected.”

“You tell me he’s a wizard, okay, I believe you. Me bitching isn’t going to change that.”

Cormac started walking toward the lockbox on the wall.

Ben called after him, “As the lawyer present I’d like to point out that actually interfering puts us on shaky legal ground.”

“We can’t even look?” I said.

“Legally, we just need proof that he’s up to something; we don’t have to know what,” Ben said.

“You aren’t curious?” I said.

“That’s got nothing to do with it. Cormac? Anything even remotely resembling trespassing or breaking and entering is going to look bad to a parole officer.”

Cormac stopped, then turned and sauntered back to the car. “I hate that.”

I thought a minute—I wasn’t on parole. I started for the box.

“Kitty,” Ben said, admonishing. I waved a hand.

“Don’t touch anything you find,” Cormac said as we passed each other.

The box seemed to be bolted to the brick wall, and it didn’t seem to be locked, which was odd. I looked all around it, searching for wires, arcane symbols, anything. Holding my breath, bracing for the inevitable lightning strike, I opened the door.

At the floor of the box lay an amulet, a couple of inches long, made of pewter or tarnished silver and shaped like a fat, stylized “T.” The top part of it was curved inward—like the whole thing was a miniature, double-headed ax.

I didn’t touch it, but closed the door and backed away slowly. Back at the car, Ben and Cormac were standing, leaning on their respective doors, watching. They must have seen the quizzical look on my face.

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