Burn for Me Page 43

The debris exploded, rolled on the pavement, and clamped Mad Rogan again.

Around me vehicles swerved, rushing to avoid Mad Rogan and the explosion of magic around him. Anyone with half a brain would get the hell out of here. Especially anyone in an Escalade.

“Troy!” I raised my gun and walked straight at the Escalade.

The driver didn’t move. He saw me coming straight for him with a firearm and he didn’t move. We’d found the animator.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the metal fall apart, clamp Rogan, and fall apart again. Time slowed, stretching. An armored Escalade meant a reinforced hood, radiator protection, and RunFlat inserts, rubber strips embedded in tires. Even if I shot the tires to pieces, the vehicle could still drive off at sixty miles per hour and keep going. The windshield was bulletproof. A round from Baby Desert Eagle wouldn’t penetrate. But it would still crack the outer shelf of the glass. I didn’t need to kill the Prime inside. I just needed to obscure his vision enough to keep Mad Rogan alive.

Time restarted. I squeezed the trigger and fired six shots in a tight pattern right in front of the driver’s face. The gun spat bullets and thunder. The windshield cracked, each bullet striking the glass and forming a round burst of cracks, as if someone had taken a handful of ice from the wall of a freezer and pressed it against the windshield. I could barely see the driver.

I fired six bullets at the Prime’s side of the windshield, ejected the magazine, and slapped the second one in. Twelve rounds left.

Troy ran by me, leaped onto the hood, and swung his pipe at the windshield, putting the weight of his whole body into it. The glass cracked but held. He bashed it again. The windshield bent inward. Another solid whack and he would get through.

The Escalade roared into life and shot backward. Troy slid off, rolled on the pavement, jumped to his feet, and chased the huge black SUV. The Escalade turned the corner of La Branch, still in reverse, and sped up the street parallel to Franklin. I ran through the empty lot after it. The Escalade made a sharp right onto Crawford. The driver was circling the parking lot in reverse. If he made another right, it would put him straight on a collision course with Mad Rogan.

“Troy!” I turned right and cut across the parking lot, running at full speed.

The Escalade turned onto Franklin. Mad Rogan was still fighting the metal debris.

I squeezed every drop of effort out of my muscles. Air turned into fire in my lungs. Hot pain stitched my side.

The Escalade sped straight at the metal clump surrounding Rogan.

I fired at the tires, trying to slow it down. Four bullets ripped into the rubber.

The metal clump of the pipes and chains fell apart. For half a second Rogan stood completely exposed. The Escalade rammed him. There was a crunch, a sickening crunch. Oh my God.

Rogan flew across the pavement, fell, and lay still.

I lunged between him and the Escalade and fired point-blank at the rear window. Eight, seven, six . . .

The passenger door swung open. The pipes jumped up, re-forming into a beast, a shield between me and the car. I kept firing. An arm in a suit sleeve reached down and swiped something off the ground. The sun reflected on a thick gold ring just before the door slammed shut.

Last round. I fired.

The SUV snarled and sped up Franklin Street.


“Drop your weapon!” someone roared behind me.

I raised my hands in the air, slowly lowered my gun, and let it fall from my fingers. Something bit me from behind, right between the shoulder blades. My body locked up, as if I’d jumped under an ice-cold shower and every muscle had gone rigid at once and stayed that way, numb, hot, and painfully itchy. I fell on my side. My head bounced off the pavement. Three men in marshal uniforms jumped on top of me.

Tased, I realized. They’d Tased me.

The men wrenched me up. Someone forced my hands behind my back, and I felt the cold metal of cuffs on my wrists.

Ahead I could see Lenora Jordan stopped by a pile of metal. Where was Rogan?

Four people in uniform dragged Troy forward. He was bent over, his skin scraped bloody from falling on the asphalt.

Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, please don’t let Rogan be dead.

The metal heap shivered.

The marshals dropped me, and I went down on my knees, hard. There were cops and marshals and bailiffs everywhere I could see, and every gun was pointed at the metal heap.

The pile of pipes and chains exploded. Rogan staggered up. His expression was terrible.

“Stand down,” Lenora ordered.

Two dozen people simultaneously lowered their firearms. Rogan turned to her, his face contorted by dark rage. For a second, I thought he might kill her.

“Issue a f**king alert, Lenora,” Mad Rogan growled.

Chapter 14

“He probably has two broken ribs,” the female paramedic told me. “It’s likely an incomplete fracture, but the only way to find out for sure is to take an X-ray. We’ve relocated his shoulder to its proper place, but he’s refusing further treatment.”

She glanced at Mad Rogan sitting on a stretcher. He had what could only be described as the Look of Rage on his face. The first responders were giving him a wide berth.

“He really should go to the hospital,” the female paramedic said. “Really.”

“Have you told him that?”

“Yes, but . . .”

I waited.

The female paramedic leaned closer. “He’s Mad Rogan. The DA said I should talk to you about it. She said you could make him see reason.”

If the clouds split open and an archangel descended onto the street in all of his heavenly glory and tried to make Rogan see reason, he would fail miserably and have to pack up his flaming sword and go back to Heaven in shame. I had no idea what gave Lenora the idea that I could do any better.

Well, if none of them could scrape enough courage to explain to the Scourge of Mexico that he needed to go to the emergency room, I guess I’d have to do my best. “Thank you so much. I’ll take care of it.”

I walked over to Mad Rogan. The female paramedic trailed me.

“Your ribs are broken,” I informed him.

“You heard her,” he said. “It’s an incomplete fracture.”

I held out my hand.

Mad Rogan looked at it.

“Give me your keys, Mr. Rogan. I’m taking you to the hospital.”

I became aware of the sudden quiet around us.

“This is ridiculous,” Mad Rogan growled.

“Broken ribs can be life-threatening.” I cleared my throat. “I need you to function, so let’s fix this. Which part of going to the hospital is upsetting?”

His eyes narrowed. “It will take forever. I’ll get there, sit for two hours, then someone will X-ray me and tell me, ‘You have broken ribs.’ Then they’ll give me two ibuprofens and send me home.”

“This is almost the same argument, word for word, Leon used last year after he decided it would be a grand idea to ride his bike down the stairs.”

“It’s a perfectly good argument.” Mad Rogan bristled. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Leon is fifteen years old. You’re twice his age.”

“Are you implying that I am elderly and decrepit?”

“I’m implying that you should know better. You were hit by an armored vehicle going at least twenty-five miles per hour. Before that you were compressed by half a junkyard’s worth of metal. You could be bleeding internally. You could have a concussion. You are supposed to have more sense than a fifteen-year-old boy who wanted to get on YouTube.”

“I’ve been injured before. I know it’s not serious.”

“I’m sorry, was your official designation sixty-two-alpha in the Army? Were you an emergency physician?”

“I’ve had training.”

I nodded. “Do you know who else had training? All these paramedics around you.” I nodded to the first responders. “Raise your hand if you don’t think Mr. Rogan should go to the hospital.”

Nobody moved.

“See? Please let them do their job.”

Mad Rogan leaned forward. A muscle in his face jerked. He caught it, but it was too late. I saw it. He pronounced every word with quiet menace. “I’m not going to the hospital.”

“Okay,” I said. “Is there another place with X-ray equipment and medical personnel where you would be willing to go?”

“Yes. You can take me to my family physician.” He reached for his pocket, slowly and gingerly pulled out the keys, and put them in my hand.

“Thank you for your cooperation.”

Three minutes later I was driving an Audi through the crowded streets of Houston. Mad Rogan sat in the passenger seat. His breathing was shallow. Troy shifted in the backseat. His left leg was broken when the Escalade hit him during its final escape. He also refused to go to the emergency room.

I changed lanes, sliding the Audi neatly in the short space between two cars. It handled like a dream.

“Maybe I should drive,” Troy said.

“She knows what she’s doing,” Mad Rogan said.

I sniffed.


“The fragrance of a genuine compliment from Mad Rogan. So rare and sweet.”

The radio came on. “This is an emergency broadcast. The Secretary of Homeland Security received credible evidence of a possible terrorist attack on the city of Houston . . .”

Lenora had issued the alert. Hopefully downtown and the other business centers would begin to empty.

“Take the exit in two miles,” Mad Rogan said. “Did Leon make it down the stairs?”

“Yes, he did. He rode the bike straight into the wall and the handlebar cracked his ribs. He also managed to hit his head and get himself a serious concussion for his trouble.”

My Leon was in Austin with my sisters and out of harm’s way. But the city was full of Leons and Arabellas and Catalinas, and Adam Pierce now had another piece of the artifact. For all we knew, he already had all three. He would burn the city down. And now another Prime was involved. What was happening? Why?

I felt like the further we went, the fewer answers I got.

Mad Rogan’s family physician practiced out of a three-story building that had no sign. It looked like a perfectly nondescript office building with tinted windows and its own small, private parking lot. There were only three other cars there, all three dark SUVs.

I parked and dipped my head to look at the building through the windshield. No signs of life.

Mad Rogan was getting out of the car. I stepped out and opened the door for Troy. “I’ll see if I can get a stretcher or a chair.”

Mad Rogan punched a code into the keypad.

“I think I can manage,” Troy said.

“It’s okay, I’m sure we can wrangle up something . . .”

The tinted double doors swung open. Three men and two women emerged, pushing two stretchers with practiced efficiency. Behind them, a huge Hispanic woman followed. She wasn’t fat but large, tall, at least six feet, and powerfully built, with broad shoulders and strong-looking arms left bare by her dark green scrubs. Her dark hair was pulled back. Her features, like everything about her, were large: dark eyes, strong nose, and big, full mouth. You knew she smiled often and the smile would be bright. She looked around forty.

She looked at Mad Rogan. “What did you do?”

Mad Rogan opened his mouth.

She turned to me. “What did he do?”

“He got hit by a car,” I said.

The woman pivoted back to Mad Rogan. “Why in the world would you do a stupid thing like that?”

Mad Rogan opened his mouth again to say something.

“Don’t you have an army of badasses to keep this exact thing from happening?”

“I . . .”

The woman turned to me. “What kind of car was it?”

“An armored Escalade,” I said.

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