Low Midnight (Kitty Norville Book 13)

By: Carrie Vaughn

Chapter 1

CORMAC SAT quietly while the man across the desk from him talked.

“… model parolee, Mr. Bennett. I’m almost sorry to see you go.” Porter gave a pleasant, practiced smile. He didn’t mean anything by it. He was nondescript, a middle-aged bureaucrat with a plain suit and a tie someone else probably picked out for him. The office was equally nondescript, fifteen-year-old interior design washed out by fluorescent lights shining through frosted plastic. Cluttered desk, cluttered bookshelves, no view visible through a narrow window. Porter’s padded executive chair didn’t look much more comfortable than Cormac’s hard plastic one. How’d the guy come here to work every day without going crazy? Cormac was itching to leave and never look back.

He tried a tight-lipped smile in return, because it was expected. It was polite, pretending like he thought the joke was funny. He kept his hands in his lap and twirled a braided band of leather wrapped around his right wrist. One turn, two, three …

Porter relaxed further, the vague look in his eyes suggesting he might actually have been enjoying himself. “Is there anything else I can do for you, Mr. Bennett? Anything at all?” He needed to be helpful, did Mr. Porter.

So many favors Cormac might ask for. Special grants for ex-cons, maybe some cash rewards, payouts. Request a full pardon from the governor, get his conviction overturned entirely, wipe the record clean and reinstate his concealed carry permit—

A bird in the hand, murmured a voice in the back of his mind. A woman’s voice, speaking in an aristocratic English accent. Let’s not get carried away. It’s enough to be done with this place.

Cormac agreed. Stick to the plan, and the plan was to end his parole as quickly and painlessly as possible. Then stay the hell out of trouble so he’d never have to go through anything like prison again.

“No, sir,” Cormac said. “I can’t think of anything. Just your signature and I’ll get out of your hair.”

“That’ll be my true pleasure, Mr. Bennett.” Pen scratched on paper, the official document that meant Cormac was well and truly—finally—done with the Colorado Department of Corrections. He kept turning the braided cord, counting. Anyone watching would think he was fidgeting out of nervousness.

At last, Porter turned the pages around, showed Cormac the places he needed to sign, separated duplicate copies, folded one set, stuck them in an envelope, and handed the whole batch over.

“There you go. You are now what we call ‘off paper’ and officially out of the system. Congratulations.”

The envelope should not have felt like a piece of solid gold in Cormac’s hand, but it did. He should run. Flee, before Porter changed his mind.

Give the cord another turn or two, his ghost Amelia said. Just in case.

He did, fidgeting. Porter’s expression was expansive, pleased. The man was so happy to help, wasn’t he? He reached out to shake Cormac’s hand. “Good luck, son.”

Maybe they didn’t need the spell to ensure Porter’s cooperation. Maybe the wheels of justice didn’t need any greasing at all on this end. On the other hand, a little nudging couldn’t hurt.

“Thank you very much, sir,” Cormac said as calmly as he knew how. He picked up his black leather jacket from over the back of the chair, walked out of the boxy little office, down the hall, and out of the building into the bright morning sunshine. He squinted into the blue sky.

He was free.

* * *

BACK AT his Jeep, he tossed the precious envelope on the passenger seat. After consideration, he picked it back up and tucked it in the inside pocket of his jacket. Like he expected it to disappear if he didn’t have it with him.

“Shouldn’t feel any different,” he said out loud. “Not like anything’s really changed.”

Symbols are powerful, Amelia said. You know that.

This one meant he’d done it, crossed another bridge, taken another step toward normal. For certain values of normal. And now he had to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.

He made a call before even leaving the parking lot.

“It’s done,” he said when his cousin answered. “I’m off paper.”

“Hallelujah,” Ben O’Farrell sighed. “Congratulations.”

“Congratulations to you for keeping me straight.” Ben was also his lawyer.

“Group effort,” Ben said. “Speaking of which, you have to come to New Moon tonight.”

“Why?” he asked, wary.

“Kitty’s planning a surprise party for you, to celebrate. I couldn’t talk her out of it. Sorry.”

Kitty, Ben’s wife. Cormac had introduced them, years ago now. He still didn’t know quite what to think about that. Smiled a little, though he wouldn’t have if anyone had been watching. “She would want to do something like that, wouldn’t she?”

“Yes, she would,” Ben said, laughter and affection plain in his voice. “I thought you’d want some warning.”

“Yeah, thanks. And Ben—thanks.”

“You’re welcome. You should call my mother next. She’ll want to know.”

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