Kitty Takes a Holiday (Kitty Norville #3) - Page 62

No one answered, which wasn't entirely surprising. This didn't seem like the kind of place where people threw open the door and welcomed you with hugs. In fact, I kind of expected to hear rattlesnakes or yipping coyotes in the distance.

I knocked again, and waited for another minute of silence. “Well?”

“Nobody's home?” Ben shrugged. “Maybe we can come back later.”

We didn't have a whole lot of time to wait. We also didn't have a whole lot of choice. What could we do, drive all over town asking random people where to find Lawrence?

“What do you want?” A man spoke with an accent, as if English wasn't his first language.

We had turned to leave, when the man leaning against the farthest corner of the building spoke. He was shorter than me, thick without being heavyset. He was old, weathered like stone, rough and windblown. His hair hung in a long gray braid.

“What do you want?” he said again, the words clipped and careful.

Ben said, “Are you Lawrence Wilson? Miriam Wilson's grandfather?”

He didn't answer, but Ben stayed calm, and seemed ready to wait him out.

“Yes,” the old man said finally. For some reason the word was earth-shattering.

“I don't know if the police have told you—Miriam's been killed.”

He nodded, his expression unchanging. “I know.”

“We're trying to find out what she did before then.”

Did Lawrence smile, just a little? “What is it you think she did?”

“I think she killed her oldest sister.”

He slipped past us and opened the front door. It wasn't latched, locked, or anything. It just opened.

“You have proof?” he said.

“Still looking for it.”

“And you came here to find it?”

“You filed the missing person report. The rest of her family seems happy enough forgetting about her. But not you. Why?”

Lawrence stood in the doorway, gripping the edge of it. I thought maybe he'd slam the door shut, after a good hard scowl. But he stayed still, watching us with hard, dark eyes.

“If I'd found her first, I could have

helped her. I could have stopped her. That's why I filed the report.”

“But she never turned up. You didn't find her.”

“She didn't want to be found.”

He went inside, but he left the door open. Like an invitation.

Ben and 1 glanced at each other. He gave a little shrug. 1 followed Lawrence inside, into the cave of the house. I sensed Ben come through the door behind me.

I'd never seen anything like it. The floor was dirt. The place wasn't sturdy. The planks had weathered and warped so that sun showed through the cracks between them, and dust motes floated in the bars of light that came in. In this weird, faded haze, I could make out the room's decorations: bundles of dried plants hung by the stems. Sage, maybe, fronds of yucca, others I couldn't identify. Along the opposite wall hung furs. Animal skins. Eyeless heads and snarling, empty mouths looked at me: the pale hide of a coyote; a large, hulking hide that covered most of the wall—a bear; a sleek, tawny, feline hide of a mountain lion. And a large canine, covered with thick, black fur. Wolf. One of each. His own catalog.

I couldn't smell it. At least, I couldn't smell what I expected. I should have scented the fur, dried skin, herbs, the stuffy air. But all I smelled was death. The stench of it masked everything. And it didn't come from the skins, from the room. It came from Lawrence. I wanted to run screaming.

“You're one, too,” I said. “A skinwalker. You taught her.”

He stood at the far side of the room, which looked somewhat functional: a table held a camp stove and cooking implements. Lawrence lit a pair of candles, which did nothing to brighten the place.

“No,” he said. “She learned. She watched. I was careless. I let her learn.”

“You couldn't stop her?” Ben said.

“Couldn't you? You aren't the only one who's been hunting her.”

“If you knew what she was, if you taught her—then you had the power to stop her, and you didn't.” His voice rose, along with his anger.

“I don't owe you any answers.” He went to a box on the floor, a wooden crate that might have held fruits or vegetables for shipping, and pulled out a can.

He started cutting it open with an old-fashioned, clawlike can opener.

The wolf skin on the wall had dark, curved claws intact.

“Yes, you do,” Ben said. “A man may go to jail unless I bring the court evidence of what she was and what she did.”

Lawrence looked at us coldly. “The man who killed my grandson? The man who killed Miriam?”

The strangeness of this place smothered my own anger. I felt strangely calm. “He saved my life when he killed her.”

Lawrence was busy lighting the stove and pouring the can of soup into a pot. “You're lucky to have a friend who will kill for you.”

So. I once had a friend who died for me, and now one who killed for me. Why didn't I feel lucky?

Ben turned his back on Lawrence and hissed at me. “We're not getting anywhere. He's not going to tell us anything.”

“What do you want me to tell?” Lawrence said, and Ben flinched—he thought he'd been whispering. “That she was evil? That I am evil? Do you expect me to tell everything I know as some kind of atonement? What's done is done. Nothing will change it. Nothing will make it better. The dead don't come back.”

“Wouldn't bet on that,” I muttered.

“I don't have any proof for you. I can tell you that Miriam killed Joan, but the police have no record of it. The doctors say it was natural, not witchcraft. Three of my grandchildren are dead, but you won't find anyone here who will admit that they were ever alive. That's what it is to be a witch here.”

“Then why do it? If it makes you disappear.” If it made you live in a place like this, isolated, other.

“It never starts out that way. But the line between medicine man and witch, Curandero and bruja, is very thin. The magic comes from the same place. The danger comes with the spells that pull you one way or another. Miriam saw what her brother became, and she wanted it. Donning the coat of a wolf, tasting blood—it pulls you toward the darkness. You understand this. Both of you. You live in the dark because it's what you are.”