Kitty Goes to War Page 31

Ben and I had offered to give him—or loan him, if he preferred to call it a loan—a down payment on a nicer place. His aunt—Ben’s mother—offered to let him stay with her in Longmont, a town about thirty miles north of Denver. But he’d refused. He said wanted to be independent. He said he wanted his own space, after spending two years locked in a building with hundreds of other guys, under constant supervision. So, here he was, living on savings and working part time, scraping by.

He’d done some decorating since we moved him in here. He had a futon with a plain gray comforter against one wall. Near it was a nightstand with a fifteen-inch TV on it. Near the kitchenette, in pretty much the only other open space available, stood a kitchen table—small, round, retro, with a pair of worn chairs.

The table was covered with books. More were scattered across the bed and stacked on the floor by the bed. Many of them were open, or had sticky notes bristling out of them.

Cormac had also never struck me as the academic type. I’d sent him books in prison—one of the few things you could send to someone in prison—as something of a joke. But near as I could tell he’d read everything I’d given him. And he was still going.

“What did you do, rob a library?” I said. I didn’t mean to, it just came out.

Cormac’s expression didn’t change. “I used a library card, like a normal person.”

I peeked at titles, peering sideways so I could read the spines, hoping to figure out what he was researching. But I only grew more confused. The titles were mostly nonfiction: history books, art books, photography, military history, science, and politics. Most of the titles had some variation of “twentieth century” or “last hundred years” in them. The course of study was simultaneously broad and strangely focused.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Catching up,” he said. He sat in one of the kitchen chairs, leaned back, crossed his arms, and glared.

“On what? You were only in prison for two years.”

“Kitty, what do you want?”

The next step would be to rifle through his fridge and cupboards to make sure he had food and was eating. I refrained from going that far. Ben was right, we were treating Cormac with kid gloves, and that couldn’t have been going over very well with him.

“Have you found out anything else about Franklin?” I stood near the table, trying to look interested, but was actually sneaking looks at more book titles. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion by Mircea Eliade? The Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology?

“I’ve been trailing him,” he said. “Been keeping my phone off. Sorry about that.”

“It’s okay. So what’s the story on him?”

“He’s visiting Speedy Marts all over town. He does the same thing at each one—puts a charm in a box and leaves. I haven’t checked all the boxes. I thought I ought to keep my distance after that last encounter.”

“He has to be doing this for a reason.”

“The signs are he’s prepping some kind of spell. I just don’t know what kind—protection spell, get-rich spell, whatever.”

“Or summoning hurricanes?” I said.

He gave me an annoyed look. “Or maybe he visits all his stores to recharge the magic, like a cycle. He has a regular travel schedule to visit various franchises, and it doesn’t usually coincide with hurricanes.”

“That could just as easily be explained as regular business. President of the company inspecting his franchises and all that.”

“Best kind of magic hides in plain sight,” he said. “Like working a ritual symbol into the store’s logo. This could be a little more underhanded. He’s planning something, getting ready for something.”

“Like what?”

“Sabotaging his own buildings for the insurance money? I don’t know. It may just be good-luck charms.”

“He just happened to have his Denver trip scheduled right after he sues me.”

“That’s the kicker,” Cormac said. “He could have harassed you over the phone, but he came to do it in person. No, he’s up to something. We just have to figure out what. And maybe stay away from thunderclouds in the meantime.”

I leaned on a wall and crossed my arms. “Have you always known so much about magic?”

He looked away. “I might have picked up some things here and there.”

“In prison?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“This”—I gestured to the library around me— ”can’t all be about Franklin. What else are you researching?”

“Nothing.” He leaned forward, gathering together the books, shutting them, arranging them in piles, out of my reach and easy view.

“And have you been burning sage?” I said. Books, incense—I could even claim I smelled a faint whiff of magic, though I was sure it was my imagination. I had no idea what magic smelled like. No guns, no weapons, and even the smell of Cormac’s leather jacket was buried. “Seriously—are you okay?”

“I’d forgotten how damn nosy you are.”

I tamped down a flush of anger at that. Instead of rounding on him with the witty comeback no doubt sitting on the tip of my tongue, I started for the door.

“I have to get going. I told Ben I’d be home soon.”

“You two seem happy,” he said to my back. “I’m glad.”

There, just stab me through the heart… Which wouldn’t necessarily kill a werewolf. But it still hurt.

My hand on the doorknob, I hesitated, looking back at him and mustering a smile. “Thanks. And what about you? Are you happy or just coping?”

“Ask me again in a year.”

“That’s actually encouraging. You’re still planning on being around in a year.”

He shrugged. “I told you; I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

“I’ll see you later,” I said, and he nodded.

BEN WAS at work at his desk in the corner of the living room and turned when I came in, his look inquiring. “Rough day?”

“I stopped by Cormac’s place,” I said, propping myself on a nearby wall.

He leaned back in his chair. “You thought he needed checking up on?”

“I got worried,” I said, shrugging. I suddenly felt like I’d done something wrong.

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