Kitty Goes to War Page 53

“He suggested stealing a snowplow.”

Another moment passed while Ben considered. “He’s not doing anything that’s going to break his parole, is he?”

That question wasn’t highest on my list of current concerns.

“Can I help? What can I do to help?” Tyler asked. Guy needed a mission.

“Think you can get the army to issue us a Humvee?” I said, mostly joking.

Tyler glanced at Stafford, who was down the hall, conversing with a medical crew that had arrived to help clean up the mess. They were loading Walters and Vanderman into body bags. The place was becoming crowded, lots of people in uniform taking orders from the colonel, ducking in and out of rooms, clearing debris. Someone should call Dr. Shumacher to let her know what happened.

“The base is still under lockdown,” Tyler said. “He may not let us out at all.”

Who was I kidding? He probably wouldn’t even let us out of the building, much less out of FortCarson. But I’d never know unless I asked. The worst he could do was say no.

I walked over to the colonel, hands laced behind my back, trying to look harmless. The slight limp probably didn’t hurt.

“Colonel Stafford?”

He turned and glared, but didn’t tell me to go away.

“I know you want us to stick around, but I really have to get back to Denver. I’ve got a friend who needs help. I’ll come right back as soon as I can, but Tyler says that with the base under lockdown nobody can leave. I really need to leave.”

If possible, his frown deepened. More than stern, though, he looked tired. He disguised the shadows under his eyes with sheer willpower. “I don’t suppose there’s any point in keeping the lockdown in effect. But you can’t drive to Denver in this weather. You might as well stay.”

He was right. We’d barely gotten here in Ben’s sedan as it was. I had no other argument, except to clasp my hands to my chest and look up at him with my big brown eyes while begging, Please?

Even my dignity had bounds.

I crossed my arms. “What if I told you that this blizzard isn’t natural? That it’s the product of a magical spell designed to cause millions of dollars in damage and plunge the region into chaos. I know how to stop it, but I have to get to Denver to do it.”

He crossed his arms back at me, and stared at me down his nose. “I’d say you were crazy.” But the thing was—he was still listening.

“You know that werewolves exist, right?” I said. “You ever think about what else is out there? If werewolves are real, what else must be real?”

“Actually, Ms. Norville, I’ve been trying not to think too hard about that.”

I hid a smile. I understood the impulse. “I really have to get to Denver. You can talk to my friend and he’ll explain the whole deal, if you want. Dr. Shumacher could probably back us up.”

He considered me for an even longer moment. In my mind, a clock was ticking—I needed to call Cormac back. By this time, Ben and Tyler had inched over to listen in. Tyler’s brow was arched, possibly in amazement. Ben was just smiling.

Then Stafford said, “So you came down here to try and help my men before chasing down this other situation?”

“Yes,” I said. Of course I did.

“Sir,” Tyler said, stepping forward to interrupt. “If you have a Humvee with chains you can spare, I can drive it.”

Tyler was bigger than Stafford, who might have been that fit earlier in his life. So it was strange seeing Tyler defer to him—he still stood at military attention, but his shoulders slouched, just a little, and his gaze was down. I held my breath.

“Are you going to be okay, Sergeant?” Stafford asked.

Tyler glanced at me, and nodded. “Sir. For a little while, I think so, sir.”

So. Stafford let us go.

I CALLED Cormac while we waited for Tyler to find our Humvee with tire chains. We were in the glass-fronted lobby of the hospital. Ben was grinning wide enough to split his face.

“What?” I said while I waited for Cormac to pick up.

“You’re awesome, you know that?” he said. “You just talked an army colonel into loaning you a Humvee.”

“It was that or try to steal one, right?” I said. I tried to be happy, but I was getting tired. “And I couldn’t talk Vanderman into anything.”

Cormac answered before Ben could say anything to that.

“Hey,” I said. “What did I tell you? Ten minutes.”

“It’s been twenty,” he said.

“Whatever. We found a ride. We’re on our way. Now what’s going on at Speedy Mart? What do we have to do?”

He paused while he adjusted the phone. At least that was what it sounded like. “He’s using them to anchor power. Each one is a focal point in a ritual, and he strings them together in a kind of circuit. He can extend the effect of the ritual over an entire region that way—a hundred miles in every direction. But if we can neutralize each location, we can stop this.”

“Right, cool, and how do we do that?” I imagined it involved burning incense, sprinkling some sort of concoction, or chanting. The usual stuff.

“There’s a symbol, the gromoviti znaci, the thunder mark. People in Slavic countries used to carve it into their doorframes to protect against lightning strikes. Franklin’s power is associated with the weather because he’s invoking thunder gods, gods of storms. But that’s his problem—he’s not limiting himself to a particular magical tradition or set of symbols. He’s invoking as many as he can, thinking it will gain him more power. That’s why I had trouble identifying the magic, because it’s a mishmash of different systems. He’s using the power outside of its cultural contexts. The Norse god Thor doesn’t correspond exactly with the Slavic Perun, or the Hindu Indra, or the Yoruban Shango, or Sumerian Ishkur. They’re all thunder gods but they mean different things to their respective cultures. Some of these gods were meant to combat chaos, not cause it.”

He’d slipped into full-on lecture mode. I’d never heard him speak more than a couple of sentences together at a time. It almost freaked me out more than the blizzard. “Cormac, where the hell did you learn all this? You never used to talk like this.”

When he stayed silent, I was afraid I’d lost the connection. Then he took a breath, and his voice sounded calm, but there was tension—temper—held in check. “I’ll explain it all later. I promise.”

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