“They used a party buster,” the older man said. “It’s a military-grade, slow-burning, smoke-producing compound. They mixed about four gallons of it with half a gallon of gasoline and lit it up. The woman who was loaded into the ambulance, where was she when you found her?”
“On the floor, facedown,” I said.
“She’s lucky,” the younger man said. “Floor was the safest place, plus the high ceiling helped. This stuff is designed to clear personnel from buildings without doing structural damage. You stay too long in it, you die.”
“Whoever did this knew what he was doing,” the older man said. “Party buster is expensive and hard to get without a clearance. Most civilian arson inspectors don’t test for it, and it dissipates quickly. Mixing it like that will make the incident look just like a normal gasoline fire. One more thing. I talked to the firemen. They say a cigarette was the point of origin. I’ve been doing this a while and I’m telling you now, a lit cigarette may have been here, but it wasn’t what started the fire. The container melted from the back and top down. Someone put a strong heat source against the back of it. Like a blowtorch.”
Or Adam Pierce’s hand.
“Thank you,” I said.
The two men rose and walked out.
Mad Rogan looked at me, his expression neutral, waiting.
“Thank you,” I repeated. “I’m very grateful for your help. I would like you to leave now.”
He turned on his heel and left.
I marched to the corner of the motor pool and opened the cabinet, where the old computer sat waiting. Bern had networked the entire house a long time ago. I tapped the arrow key. A prompt ignited on the screen and I typed in my password. The graphic of the security screen appeared. I clicked the rear camera and rewound back an hour. Grandma Frida puttering around the shop . . . I fast-forwarded ten minutes, another ten . . .
A blurry dark figure appeared in the doorway. The image went black.
I checked the outside camera. It went black without capturing anything at all. I rewound back to the image of the figure. It could’ve been a man or a woman. I couldn’t tell.
I turned around and went back to the door. The security camera was mounted about fifteen feet off the ground. It was gone. In its place was a melted mess of metal and plastic. The camera was too high for the direct flame and if the fire had burned that hot, my grandmother would be dead. No, this was done by a precise strike of a pyrokinetic. Only one pyrokinetic had come in contact with me in the past week. Adam Pierce had attacked my family.
I looked around the warehouse, at the burn stain on the floor, at the melted container, and I imagined my grandmother lying here on concrete, facedown, dying slowly in her favorite place. Whatever willpower held me together broke. I leaned against the nearest vehicle and cried.
By the time Bern picked up my mother and grandmother from the hospital, I had cleaned up the garage, made dinner, and spent hours marinating in the fact that my actions had almost gotten my grandmother killed. I replayed the conversation with Adam in my head half a dozen times. The melted camera was far from definitive evidence, but my gut said he did it. My instincts almost never steered me wrong.
I’d tried calling back on Adam’s number. It was no longer in service. He must’ve used a prepaid phone and then tossed it.
If I hadn’t taken this job . . . I folded that thought very carefully and used it as fuel for the angry fire I was stoking inside. Guilt did me no good right now, but anger gave me all of the determination I needed. I would find out if he did it, even if it meant I’d turn the city upside down. And if he did do it, there would be hell to pay. I might not have combat magic, but I would make it my mission in life to bring him down. Nobody hurt my family and got away with it.
At two o’clock, the kids barged into the house, a full two hours ahead of schedule. Catalina’s friend and her mother happened to drive past our place on their way to a doctor’s appointment and saw the fire trucks. The friend texted Catalina, who saw the text after class and immediately texted Mom. Mom told her that Grandma was in the hospital but everything was fine. Catalina called Bern, got her cousin and her sister out of school, and drove home like a bat out of hell, because that’s how our family rolled.
I served them late lunch and sketched the situation out. It took them fifteen minutes to calm down and another fifteen minutes to be convinced that none of this should be shared on Facebook, Instagram, or Herald.
We were about done with food when Grandma came through the door looking like she wanted to punch somebody. My mother followed, limping. Today must’ve done a number on her leg.
“They wanted her to spend the night, but she won’t do it,” Mom said.
“Grandma!” Arabella waved her arms. “Why aren’t you in the hospital?”
“I have things to do,” Grandma squeezed through her teeth.
“Like what?” Lina blocked her way.
“Catalina, do not mess with me right now.” Grandma’s eyebrows came together. “I’m going to get a blowtorch and repair the walls, and then I’m going to install an observation post for your mother so she can shoot the next sonovabitch who tries to break in here.”
My mother pinned me down with her stare. “What did the firemen say?”
“They said Grandma shouldn’t have been smoking next to a gasoline container.”
Grandma Frida spun toward me. If looks could burn, we’d all be incinerated.
“Mad Rogan’s arson guys said someone mixed a military-grade antipersonnel compound with some gasoline and applied a heat source to it.”
“Mad Rogan?” Bern asked.
At the table Leon suddenly came to life and put his phone down. “Mad Rogan?”
“Mad Rogan had nothing to do with the arson,” I said.
“How do you know?” Leon asked.
“I know,” I said. “I asked. I monitored his experts too, and they weren’t lying.”
“Mad Rogan was here?” Leon pointed at the table. “Here? And nobody told me?”
“A thousand pardons, Your Majesty,” Arabella said. “Everybody was too busy trying to save Grandma.”
Leon ignored her. “Did he do anything while he was here?”
“He cut down the garage door,” I told him.
Leon jumped off his seat like his butt had springs.
“Sit,” Mother said.
He landed back in the chair. Apparently my younger cousin was a secret Mad Rogan fan.
“How sure are you that this was done by Adam Pierce?” Mother asked.
“I’m pretty sure,” I said. “I’ll be one hundred percent sure after I ask him face-to-face.”
My mother put a small box on the table. Ten orange pills rested inside. “So find him and ask.”
“I’d like nothing better.” I swiped the pillbox off the table. Looked like I would be going to the bad part of town tonight. It was just past three o’clock. Plenty of time before it got dark. “I might have to get backup. The kind you won’t like.”
“Do whatever you have to do,” my mother said.
“Better you get Pierce, than us,” Grandma Frida said. “Because if Pierce shows up here again, we won’t be playing around.”
“After we’re done, we’ll put what’s left of him into a plastic grocery bag and you can take it to his family,” Mother promised. “And Nevada? If you’re even thinking of beating yourself up over what happened, forget it.”
“You were doing your job,” Grandma Frida said. “You didn’t cause this to happen. They started it, whoever they are. They will regret it, because we will finish it.”
“Thank you.” It didn’t kill the guilt, but right now guilt wasn’t as important as finding Adam and finding out if he was responsible.
I headed out of the room. I’d need to get my Ruger.
Behind me, Mom said, “Let’s talk about safety. Nobody goes anywhere alone . . .”
I went to the cage, unlocked it, and took out my P90. The pills were for Bug. It was barely three in the afternoon, but I’d need backup to go see Bug, even in daylight. Bug lived in Jersey Village, or, as it was better known, the Pit. I could call one of the freelancers except that right now most of them ran from us like we were on fire. It would also cost me an arm and a leg. Going into the Pit was bad for your health.
I split the pills, putting seven into a plastic bag and three in the jar to take with me. I might need to go see Bug more than once. Three would do for the first visit.
There was one person who could give me all the backup I needed and then some. I scrolled through my phone to Mad Rogan’s number. This was insanity, but the stakes had changed. Before, Adam was just talking. Now there was a chance he’d turned violent. If he had tried to burn my grandmother to death, nothing would stop him from incinerating me the moment I said something he didn’t like. And if I did find Adam Pierce, I had no way in hell to contain him.
I hesitated with my finger over the number.
This was a bad idea. Mad Rogan was violent, ruthless, and brutal. All of the things I normally avoided in my job. I had a feeling he had no brakes, and that scared me. If he went off the rails and started slaughtering people, there was very little I could do about it. I didn’t want to be responsible for any deaths. Nor did I want to be left holding the bag when the dust from his rampage cleared and cops came asking questions. He had expensive lawyers. I didn’t.
The way my body came to attention when he was near scared me too. He turned me on by just looking at me. Having sex with him would be an experience I would never forget, and some insane part of me wanted that experience. I wanted to see him naked. I wanted to have all of that overwhelming masculine intensity focused on me. I’d never before had a reaction like that to a man.
I couldn’t trust Mad Rogan. Not just because he was likely a sociopath but also because he was a Prime and head of an old House. To him I was a peon. If he needed a bullet shield in a fight, he’d use me without any hesitation. I was the hired help, the means to an end, and I had to draw some strict lines in the dirt for him and for myself, or I would come out of this crushed or not at all. And if I gave him any hint of being vulnerable, whether it was my love for my family, my pride, or my irrational craving to find out what his hands on my skin would feel like, he would use it against me.
Not to mention that I had locked him in place with my magic and pulled the answers out of him. Considering that I was still alive and uninjured, he’d handled it awfully well. That was something I would need to research. My magic was rare and information about it was sparse, mostly because the few people who had it worked in classified positions. I had done my best to learn as much as I could, but I had never seen any mention of that particular magic. It had come out of nowhere.
I stared at Mad Rogan’s number. Was there any other way to do this?
If Adam turned on me, any freelancer I took with me, even if I took two of them, would end up dead. I would end up dead. Adam thought he could use me; so did Mad Rogan. The best way to deal with them was to use them right back. I had to throw the two Primes at each other and wait quietly on the sidelines until the dust settled.
I took a deep breath and pushed the keys. He answered on the second ring.
Hearing his voice was like being caressed. Chains, I reminded myself. Basement. Psycho. Boundaries. Boundaries were good. “I thought about your offer.”
“I’m aflutter with anticipation.”
Psycho who likes to mock me. Even better. “I don’t want your money. I don’t want to be employed by you. But I would like to have a partnership. I want to be very clear: I wouldn’t be working for you. I would be working with you on equal footing toward a common goal. And I have conditions.”