Burn for Me Page 6

Arrest record. Aha. Adam Pierce had been arrested six times in the past sixteen months. Busy boy. Let’s see, public intoxication, vandalism, resisting arrest—surprise-surprise, loitering . . . loitering? That must’ve been one pissed-off cop.

Let’s see, Facebook. I scrolled through half a dozen Adam Pierces. Nothing smelled genuine. That’s okay, he was probably a short burst social network kind of guy. I flicked to the Twitter app and searched for Adam Pierce. His Twitter account had been inactive for the last forty-eight hours. I followed him and clicked through his photos. Adam on a bike. Adam with his shirt off. Adam and a bunch of pretty-looking bikers in front of a bike shop. The photo showed a section of the sign: -aves Custom Cycles. I saved the photo on my phone.

I opened a writing app and began typing what I knew about Pierce.

Vain. Terminal fear of T-shirts or any other garment that would cover his pectorals.

Deadly. Doesn’t hesitate to kill. Holding him at gunpoint would result in me being barbecued. Whee.

Likes burning things. Now here’s an understatement. Good information to have, but not useful for finding him.

Antigovernment. Neither here nor there.

Hmm. So far my best plan would be to build a mountain of gasoline cans and explosives, stick a Property of US Government sign on it, and throw a T-shirt over Pierce’s head when he showed up to explode it. Yes, this would totally work. If only.

Likes to be arrested. It probably made him feel tough. Adam Pierce, the rebel. He didn’t like jail though. His first arrest happened to be on Sunday, and he spent the night in jail. The five subsequent arrests showed bail posted within hours after booking.

Famous. That was both in my favor and not. Being famous would make it harder to hide, but if he was recognized, the 911 boards would light up like fireworks and cops would be on him faster than I could blink. But being famous also would mean many false sightings. Especially if the cops offered a reward. People would see him here, there, and everywhere.

Handsome. With devil eye bonus.


Rich. Adam Pierce was rolling in money. This morning when I saw him on TV he was wearing a designer jacket and posing against a bike that looked like something out of a science fiction movie and probably cost a lot more than my car. He was a spoiled rich boy, and spoiled rich boys didn’t deal well with lack of money. They might slum for a little while, but they liked their toys and their creature comforts. The key concept of running any sort of enterprise, criminal or civil, was work. Given Adam Pierce’s track record, work was something he detested. Someone had posted those bails for him. Where was his money coming from?

I scrolled through the file. Pierce had an incentive trust fund. He could draw money only while he was in college pursuing a master’s degree or after obtaining it. According to the file, the family had cut him off cold turkey. A note marked ASM—probably Augustine Something Montgomery—read, Confirmed with the family. Stressed importance of financial incentive as means of bringing him in.

I called Bern. “Hey, have you pulled Pierce’s record?”

“Does ice float?” Bern’s voice had a measured cadence to it, which usually meant he was doing about six other things on the computer screens while talking.

“Who posted his bail?”

“One of his college buddies. Cornelius Maddox Harrison.”

Quite a name. Someone’s parents had ambitions.

“I’m emailing his home address now,” Bern said. “You can catch him at the house. According to his tax return, he’s a stay-at-home dad.”

“Thanks. I’ll swing by his house now.”

“Wait,” Bern said, his voice suddenly flat.


“Can you come by the house instead? I need to show you something.”

“This doesn’t sound good.”

“It isn’t good,” Bern said.

How could it possibly get any worse?

I found Bern in the Hut of Evil, otherwise known as our computer room. Soundproof and equipped with its own air-conditioning unit, the room occupied the space at the north of the warehouse, directly behind the offices. It was raised five feet off the floor, like a house on stilts, because Bern found it convenient to mess with the wiring underneath it. We used to joke that if the warehouse got flooded, we’d all race to the Hut of Evil to stay dry. From the outside, it looked like a separate tiny house within the larger space of the warehouse, complete with a ten-step stairway leading to it. At first we called it the House of Evil, but over the years it somehow became the Hut of Evil.

I climbed the stairs and knocked on the door.

“Come in,” Bern called.

I went inside and shut the door. The air here was at least five degrees cooler. Bern sat ensconced among four different monitors on swiveling mounts. Three computer towers blinked with red, white, and green lights. Across from him, Leon’s station, a smaller desk with a triple monitor, stood empty. He and the girls were in school.

Bern turned to me, his handsome face tinted with blue by the glow of the largest monitor. There was always something a little comical about seeing his big frame next to the computer screens. The keyboards and monitors seemed too small for him.

“What did you find?” I asked.

“While I was talking to you, I ran the background check on the kid implicated in the arson.”

“Gavin Waller.”

Bern nodded. “I pulled his lineage.”

In our world, lineage was everything. The magical families owned corporations, and most major cities were divided into family territories. Some families influenced only a few city blocks, others controlled entire neighborhoods. Your last name and your family tree could open doors or get you killed. If the family became prominent enough, it was considered a house. House Montgomery. House Pierce.

“Gavin’s father is Thomas Waller. His mother is Kelly Waller. Neither is magically significant.” Bern paused.

I waited. Bern stored information in logical chains. When asked something, he would start at the beginning of the chain and pull it all out link by link until the relevant information finally emerged. If the house were on fire, Bern would begin by describing how he went to get the box of matches to light the candle that started it. Trying to hurry this process up wasn’t only futile, it was counterproductive. Interruptions derailed Bern. He would get back on track in his methodical way, and he couldn’t understand why you jumped up and down and foamed at the mouth in sheer frustration while he took his time doing it.

“Kelly Waller’s maiden name was Lancey.”


“Her father was William Lancey.”


“Her mother was Carolina Rogan.”

Mhm. Wait, what? “Rogan? As in House Rogan?”

Bern nodded. “Mad Rogan is Kelly Waller’s cousin. That makes him Gavin’s first cousin once removed.”

My legs decided that this would be a fine time to go on strike. I landed in a chair.

The United States hadn’t officially declared war in the last seventy years. Instead it got itself involved in armed conflicts, peacekeeping actions, and armed interventions, which, for all intents and purposes, were wars without having a scary label attached to them: Europe, the Middle East, and then the so-called South American Wars, which broke out when the discovery of magically potent mineral deposits in Belize destabilized the neighboring region. Mexico, already a magical powerhouse, invaded tiny Belize. Honduras, Nicaragua, and Brazil formed a coalition to oppose the invasion. Both the United States and the United Native Tribes joined the anti-Mexican coalition, even though the territories of the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana were nowhere near the border and even though UNT usually went against the USA in just about every policy decision. Everyone paid lip service to the brave soldiers of Belize, but the true reason was clear: nobody wanted Mexico, the magical juggernaut, to be more powerful than it already was.

The war was terrible. In the end Mexico relinquished its hold on Belize, but the ripples of that invasion spread through South America. Armed conflicts flared and died down across half a dozen nations. Mad Rogan made his name in those conflicts. He was off the charts even for the Primes. Nobody knew exactly what he was capable of, but everyone knew the name. Mad Rogan. The Butcher of Merida. Huracan.

The chances of us succeeding in apprehending Adam Pierce were already close to zero. If Mad Rogan decided to take an interest, it would knock us right into the negative.

“What do we know about Mad Rogan?”

Bern pushed a key on his keyboard. A grainy video filled the monitor. I remembered watching it once, a long time ago, while still in high school. I had gotten bored with it back then, because nothing really happened in the first two minutes, and hadn’t finished.

A young man with longish dark hair and pale eyes, his face smudged by static, standing in the middle of an empty four-lane road, silhouetted against an overcast sky, padded with gray clouds.

“. . . Carla will float you,” a measured female voice said. “No worries. We know you’re up to it.”

“This was taken somewhere in Mexico,” Bern said. “Most people agree it was probably Chetumal. You can catch a glimpse of an ocean in one of the frames.”

I raked my brain, trying to find something about Chetumal. A port city on the tip of Yucatán, one of the hubs of Mexico’s robust international trade. Thriving economy. It suffered in the war.

“This was his trial run. He wasn’t even commissioned yet. This video was the only one that got out onto the Internet. They cracked down hard after that.”

The man shrugged. He was pale and painfully young, younger than Bern. It might have been the lousy quality of the video, but he looked scared. The camera zoomed in on his face. His blue eyes were so sad, almost mournful and filled with power.

“How old is he?”

“It’s his senior year of college. He’s nineteen. He graduated from high school early and did his bachelor’s in three years. He was brilliant.”

“He also had the best tutors money could buy.” House Rogan was wealthy. I wasn’t sure what exactly they did, but Mad Rogan was a fourth-generation Prime.

“It’s time,” the woman’s voice said. “Remember, this entire sector has been evacuated. This is just property damage. No doubts, Connor. You are doing the right thing.”

Sure he was. Someone must’ve talked to him at college, someone from the military with many bars on his or her shoulder, and he must’ve listened, because they flew him out to Chetumal to see what he could do.

Rogan started down the road, a lone figure in a grey hoodie, walking along the yellow line toward the high-rises. A hundred feet. Two hundred. Rogan kept moving. He was almost to the buildings.

“What is he, half a mile out?” a male voice asked offscreen.

“He’s giving us safe space,” the original woman speaker said.

“How much safe space does he need?”

“As much as he wants.”

Rogan kept moving.

“Is he still in range?” the woman asked.

“I can levitate him from here, ma’am,” a second woman with a higher voice said, “but if he walks any farther, we’ll have to close the distance.”

Levitating a person without causing serious internal injury was a very specific branch of telekinetics. Levitators were highly prized, and once it became apparent that a child had this particular brand of magic, that’s all they did. A regular telekinetic could lift or throw a person, but he or she would likely be dead even before landing.

Rogan stopped. He was two buildings into the block. On his left, a huge rectangular complex of dark stone rose eight floors high. On his right, a white tower spiraled toward the stormy sky.

“Finally,” the male voice said.

Rogan regarded the towers of glass and stone. He stood motionless, as if overwhelmed by the sheer size of the buildings.

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