Kitty Saves the World Page 5

Ben sighed, pursed his lips. All that tension returned. “Right. Good thing we have beer.”

The man himself arrived maybe ten minutes later. I could smell him when the door opened, his distinct scent of leather jacket and close apartment living. Also, an undercurrent: herbs and lit candles—a magician’s tools. This, I associated with Amelia. His ghost, a Victorian wizard woman who’d died—or “died” rather—over a hundred years ago. And, I had to admit, his partner.

He came straight to the back table, trusting we would be here. We had a chair waiting for him across from us.

“Hey,” Ben said in greeting. “What’s up?”

“You’re not going to like it,” Cormac said. Which was a hell of a greeting. I’d have asked, How bad could it be? But this was Cormac, and my imagination failed me.

He pulled his laptop from a courier bag slung over his shoulder and opened the screen, turning it to face us. Ben and I leaned in close to look. I needed a few minutes to make out what I was looking at—an e-mail thread, maybe a dozen messages deep.

Earlier this year, we’d posted online a mysterious coded book of shadows that potentially contained information about what Roman planned—and how to stop him. We hoped crowd sourcing might help us decode the writing when all else failed. Finally, Cormac managed to translate the book. That was where we got confirmation about the volcano thing. In the meantime, dozens of people had sent him messages. This thread of conversation didn’t seem to have much to do with the book, but the correspondent must have contacted Cormac with enough information to warrant a response.

I read on. The unknown correspondent knew about Amy Scanlon—the author of the coded book of shadows—and asked a lot of questions about what Cormac knew about her: who she was, whom she was working with, what she was doing. The pointed interrogation was enough to raise the hairs on my neck and the hackles across my shoulders. This guy knew something, but what? Cormac’s replies were vague, leading without giving too much away. He kept his own identity safely hidden. Then the discussion got into really arcane details about some kind of dueling magic and spells.

“What exactly have you been getting up to?” I said, accusing. He’d spent time in prison, and as an ex-con he wasn’t supposed to carry—or handle, or even think about—guns anymore. He’d been pursuing magic as a replacement, which seemed to miss the point to my thinking.

“Just keep reading.”

I did, and got to the last few e-mails in the sequence. The unknown correspondent seemed to be offering Cormac—or whoever he thought was writing to him—a job. Cormac replied, “I don’t know anything about you. Who are you?”

The answer came back: “I am called Roman.”

I stopped breathing. That had to be a coincidence. It couldn’t possibly be a coincidence. I checked the date on the e-mails—he’d been sitting on this for almost two weeks. I could murder the guy. But he’d done it. Somehow, he’d drawn Roman out of hiding. Now what did we do?

Before I could say or do anything, either yelling at Cormac or fainting dead away, Ben said, “Shit. You’ve got to be kidding.”

That seemed like a reasonable explanation. Cormac, suddenly developing a prankster sense of humor and having one over on us. We looked at him, waiting for the punch line.

“Be nice if I was,” he said, and seemed amused. Or at least fatalistic to a dangerous degree. Not that he was ever one to freak out about something like this. “But I’m pretty sure it’s really him.”

“What did you tell him?” I demanded, breathless. Truth was, I was in awe. We’d been looking for Roman all this time, I’d had friends die trying to go after him, and all we had to do was put out bait?

Cormac leaned over, tapped a couple of keys, and brought up the reply: “My name is Amelia Parker. Let’s do meet.”

Which wasn’t a lie. But it was such a complicated truth, the mind boggled. This felt like juggling dynamite. I waited for the inevitable explosion. But there wasn’t an explosion, just the three of us leaning over the computer screen, staring in wonder.

“I have no idea what to do with this,” I murmured. “What are we going to do with this?”

“I say we set up a meeting,” Cormac said, calm and steady. Discussing a battle plan and not freaking out. “Agree to meet with him and set a trap. Stake him while his guard is down.”

“You make it sound simple,” I said. A million things could go wrong. Other people more powerful and more experienced than we were had tried setting traps for Roman, had tried staking him while his guard was down. They hadn’t succeeded. While we were setting a trap for Roman, he could just as easily be setting a trap for us. In fact, that seemed the most likely scenario. We were getting suckered into something.

“No, this could work,” Ben said, studying the computer screen as if it might reveal more secrets. “Even if he picks the location, we’ll have time to scout it out and set up an ambush. It may be our only chance to physically confront him.”

As if setting traps for two-thousand-year-old vampires was like setting up a drug bust. “Ben, you’re the one who’s supposed to be all skeptical and negative.”

“When are we ever going to get another opening like this?” he replied.

“There’s a problem,” Cormac said.

“Only one?” I shot back.

“I can’t go. Roman knows what I look like, he knows I’m with you and that I’m not anybody named Amelia Parker. The minute he sees me he’ll know it’s a trap.”

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