Burn for Me Page 46

“Keys.” Rogan held out his hand.

I put them into his palm. He clicked the locks on the Audi and we got in.

“He doesn’t have the third piece.” Rogan reversed and stepped on the gas, and the Audi shot out of the parking lot like a bullet. “He made a huge production out of getting the first and the second, so he’ll make a production out of getting the third one. He knows where it is. We don’t.”

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. The risk of terrorist attack has been raised from elevated to imminent. Evacuate the downtown area. I repeat, evacuate the downtown area. If you’re unable to exit via vehicle, seek shelter in the tunnel system. The main entrances are . . .”

Mad Rogan turned it off. We wove in and out of traffic at a breakneck speed. A flood of cars clogged the street going in the opposite direction. Everyone in our lane was either turning onto side streets or trying to turn. People fled out of downtown.

“Mark Emmens has one daughter,” Mad Rogan said. “His wife and sister are deceased, and so is the sister’s husband. The daughter and her husband are accounted for. According to Augustine, nothing unusual has taken place in their life, but Mark’s grandson Jesse Emmens disappeared from his dorm room at Edinburgh three months ago.”

“His grandson’s last name is Emmens? Was there a son, too?”

“No, Mark’s son-in-law took the Emmens name. The Emmens family is respected and their name has more recognition. Jesse Emmens was gone for forty-eight hours, then he was dumped in front of the dorm unharmed, but with no memory of what had transpired while he was missing. The block on him was so strong that it took him twenty-four hours before he could remember his own name.”

“Did Jesse know the location of the artifacts?”

Mad Rogan nodded. “He was hexed as well. Someone had broken him, so it can be done.”

And it would be up to me to do it. I still had no idea how.

“You can do it,” Rogan said. “This could’ve gone a lot differently if you had received proper instruction.”

“If I had received proper instruction, people like Augustine would force me to become their own personal lie detector.” And now, no matter if I succeeded or failed, it would happen anyway. Assuming MII survived whatever Adam was about to unleash.

“Can Augustine compel you to do it under the terms of your contract?”


“I can buy your contract.”

“No, you can’t. Any sale of our mortgage requires my consent, and I won’t consent to it.”

He grinned. “You don’t want to work under me?”

“I’m not even going to dignify that with an answer.”

“Do you have a copy of the contract?”

“I have it on my phone.”

“Read me the provision that forces you to take MII’s cases.”

Ten minutes later we pulled into the parking lot in front of the blue glass shark fin of the MII building. A flood of cars rolled out in the opposite direction. People hurried out of the building, their faces pinched with worry. Augustine was evacuating MII.

Augustine’s receptionist met us in the lobby. Her makeup was still impeccable, her clothes still fit her perfectly, but her hair was now malachite green. “Follow me, please.”

She hurried to the elevator at a near run. We followed her. She pushed the button for the fifteenth floor. “We were able to capture an image of Adam Pierce coming into the city via street-level cameras before the entire network went off line. He was riding his motorcycle, which was preceded and followed by two black BMW X6 SUVs.”

The elevator chimed, signaling a stop. The doors opened and the receptionist rushed down the hall. “The recordings indicate that street-level observers did not see either Pierce or the SUVs. The police forces have set up blockades on every major roadway into downtown.”

Someone was cloaking Adam Pierce. Another powerful magic user. This was getting more and more complicated by the minute. Whoever these people were, they were organized and powerful, and they planned in advance. None of it boded well for Houston.

What did they want? Why? Why was this even happening? It made no sense.

The receptionist stopped before a door and held it open for us. We walked into a wide room. The floor was black, not glossy, but not exactly rough. The same paint covered the walls. Blackout shutters blocked the windows. The only light came from six glass tubes, positioned vertically like columns, from ceiling to floor, three on one side of the room and three on the other. Each tube was about a foot in diameter and filled with clear liquid. Hundreds of bubbles floated up through the water, their ascent slow and hypnotic, backlit by purple lights embedded inside the tubes, making the entire arrangement glow with gentle lavender light.

In the wide space between the tubes stood a chair. An old man sat in it, holding a carved wooden cane in his left hand. He wore a suit, and his hair was white and wispy, like cotton. Age marked his face with deep wrinkles, but his hazel eyes looked at me with sharp, alert intelligence. Augustine stood next to the man. At the far end of the room, five people sat at computer stations below a big flat-screen TV. The light from their displays illuminated a little of the wall behind them, highlighting swirls of chalk dust. Now the odd color of the floor and the walls made sense. This was a spell room, painted entirely with chalkboard paint.

“Mr. Emmens,” Augustine said, “allow me to introduce Connor Rogan and his associate.”

“A pleasure,” Mr. Emmens said.

“I need an amplification circle drawn,” Mad Rogan said, “with two focal points at forty-five and one hundred and thirty-five degrees.”

A woman jumped up from one of the terminals, ran over, and began drawing on the floor.

“Excuse me.” Augustine smiled at Mr. Emmens. “I need to speak to my colleague.”

He drew Mad Rogan aside. I followed them, because I didn’t know what else to do.

“This isn’t going to help and you know it,” Augustine murmured. “He was hexed by Cesare Costa at birth. You’re not strong enough to break through. This will take a Breaker Prime. There are two of them in the country, and they’re both on the West Coast. We have minutes.”

“Ms. Baylor would like to renegotiate her contract.”

Augustine pivoted to me. “Now?”

“Now,” Rogan said. “She would like one word added to provision seven. It should read MII may NOT compel Baylor Investigative Agency to assist, etc.”

“Why would I do this? This is against my best interest.” Augustine frowned. “What’s going on here?”

“You will do this because the wind is blowing south,” Mad Rogan said. “No matter where in downtown Adam starts his party, this building will be hit by his fire, and you know it. Your House will lose millions. One word, Augustine. Consider the stakes.”

Augustine locked his jaw.

“Don’t be petty,” Mad Rogan said.

“Fine.” Augustine swiped a tablet from the nearest desk. His long fingers danced on it. He showed me the tablet. It read, “Addendum One,” listed the paragraph, and showed the correction. Augustine pressed his thumb to the screen, signed it, and held the tablet out. “Fingerprint.”

I added mine to his. The screen flashed.

“Done,” Augustine said.

“You’re on,” Mad Rogan told me.

I took a deep breath. Augustine watched me like a hawk.

Mad Rogan walked me to the circle. “Take your shoes off,” he murmured.

I took off my tennis shoes and slid the socks off. He held my hand and helped me step into the circle.

“Relax,” Mad Rogan said. “Let yourself interact with it.”

I stood in the circle. It felt strange, as if I’d somehow been balancing on the surface of elastic liquid. I had the odd feeling that if I jumped, it would bounce me up like a trampoline. Trouble was, I had no idea how to jump.

Mr. Emmens nodded to me. “Before we get started, I’ve been warned that answering a direct question about the location of the object may kill me. I want to tell you where it is, but if you force me to disclose the exact location, I will die before I can help you and you will never find it in time. I don’t mind giving up my life for the city. It is the duty of my family. I ask you only not to waste my life. I don’t want to die answering the wrong question.”

“I understand.” My magic filled the circle like a dense vapor. The surface of the “liquid” was placid under me. Somehow the two had to interact.

“We’re wasting time,” Augustine said.

“Do you feel the circle?” Mad Rogan asked, walking behind me.


Slowly, he circled the chalk line and stopped on the left of me. “Do you feel your magic filling it?”


“Do you know what Pierce plans to do?”

“He wants to burn the city down.” Where was he going with this?

“The artifact made Emmens into a Prime.” Mad Rogan’s voice was cold. “It will make Adam Pierce a god of fire. He can melt steel now. It melts at 2,750 degrees Fahrenheit. The artifact will double that. A house fire never burns higher than 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Adam Pierce will burn at five times that, maybe hotter. At 2,192 degrees, concrete will lose its structural integrity and turn into calcium oxide, a white powder. At 2,750 degrees, stainless steel within the buildings will melt. The downtown will be a nightmare of molten metal, crumbling concrete, flames, and noxious, poisonous gasses. It will become hell on earth. Thousands of people will die.”

I swallowed. Anxiety rose inside me.

“Pierce just crossed Dreyfus Street,” one of the people at the terminal announced. “The cameras have gone out. We lost him again.”

He was staying off the main roads to avoid Lenora’s roadblocks. Even with traffic, it would take him only twenty minutes to get downtown.

“The problem with ‘thousands’ of people,” Mad Rogan said, “is that it’s not personal.”

He took Augustine’s tablet and tapped it. The big flat-screen on the wall flared into life. A silver van was parked in front of an elaborate, ultramodern building—2 Houston Center, corner of MacKinnley and Fanin streets. It was a really distinctive building, all black glass, right in the middle of downtown.

Mad Rogan handed the tablet back to Augustine and raised his phone. “Bernard?”

“Yes?” my cousin’s voice answered through the phone.

“I need you to step out of the car and face the building.”

No. My body went ice cold.

The passenger door of the van opened. Bern exited the van and turned to the building. The camera zoomed up on his face.

Everything else disappeared. All I saw were Bern’s serious blue eyes, wide open on the screen.

Adam was less than twenty minutes away. Bern would die. And Mad Rogan knew it. He knew it, and he’d parked him there.

I heard my own voice. “Get out of there. Get out of there!”

“He can’t hear you.” Mad Rogan put away the phone.

“You bastard!”

My magic punched into the circle, smashing it. A cloud of chalk dust shot up from the circle’s boundary. Augustine dropped his tablet. The circle bounced back, and power flooded me.

“There it is,” Mad Rogan murmured. “It’s not fear or anger. It’s the protective impulse.”

“He’s nineteen years old!” My magic raged and my voice matched it.

“Then you better do something to save him.”

My magic snapped to him.

“Not me.” Rogan pointed at Mr. Emmens. “Him.”

I pivoted. My magic grasped the old man into its vise. He paled. The circle fed me more power. I stared into his eyes. “Is your name Mark Emmens?”

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