“I don’t see what’s so ironic about it.”
“I’d tell you, but it would ruin the fun.”
“Could you be more smug?”
He leaned on his elbow. “Possibly. I see you liked the flowers.”
I got a sudden urge to set the carnations on fire. “They are gorgeous. It’s not their fault you brought them.” I leaned over the table. “Mr. Rogan—”
“Mad,” he corrected. “Mad Rogan.”
“Mr. Rogan, here are some boundaries. You’re using me as bait for Adam Pierce. I’m using you as a means to capture Adam. I think you’re a dangerous man.”
“So formal,” Mad Rogan said.
“Here is the informal version: we have to work together, and when we’re done, we will go our separate ways. Don’t bring me flowers. We don’t have that kind of relationship.”
He laughed. It was a genuine, amused laugh. “You’re really mad at me.”
I was mad as hell, but saying it would be admitting that I’d let myself get emotionally involved, and he didn’t need to know that. “No, I just don’t want to compromise our professional relationship. It’s late and I’m tired. If you don’t have anything to tell me about Adam, please leave.”
“Thank you for keeping me alive earlier today,” he said. “I should’ve acknowledged it. I didn’t. In my defense, your circlework really is terrible.”
I opened my mouth to tell him where he could shove his circlework, when someone knocked on the door. What was it with the visitors tonight?
I went to the door and checked the monitor. Augustine Montgomery, wearing a silver suit, his glasses perched on his perfect face, his pale hair styled into a razor-precise haircut. Seriously?
“Who is it?” Mad Rogan came up behind me and peered over my shoulder. He was standing too close to me.
I didn’t want to let Pancakes in, but he still owned us. I unlocked the door.
Augustine stared over my shoulder, his eyes like ice. “What are you doing here?”
“I dropped in to borrow a cup of sugar,” Mad Rogan said.
“You shouldn’t be here.” Augustine looked at me. “He shouldn’t be here.”
“You got here rather quickly,” Rogan said.
“I was driving when I made the call.”
Behind Augustine, an elegant silver Porsche sat in a parking spot, all alone. We’d moved all of our cars inside, given that we couldn’t just order a brand-new one if one of them blew up.
“You might not want to park there,” Mad Rogan said. “I parked there yesterday and my Range Rover exploded.”
Augustine opened his mouth.
If we kept standing here with the door open, sooner or later my mother would come to investigate. If she realized that Augustine Montgomery—the cause of all our misfortunes—had appeared on our doorstep, she would shoot him. Just out of principle. Not to mention that we were sitting ducks here, lit up by the floodlight. The last thing I wanted was to have them both here at the same time, but I had no choice.
“Come inside,” I growled.
I led them both to my office. Augustine saw the flowers, blinked, and turned to Mad Rogan. “So you decided to involve yourself in this because of Gavin? Why the sudden concern for your relatives? So unlike you, Connor.”
Mad Rogan peered at him. “Why are you wearing glasses? I know for a fact that you have perfect vision.”
Here we go. This would end in them unzipping themselves to see who was bigger.
“You should’ve stayed retired.” Augustine’s voice was dry.
“And what’s going on with your hair?” Mad Rogan raised his eyebrows. “That’s a huge amount of illusion. What are you hiding up there? Are you prematurely balding?”
Augustine turned to me. “You have no idea who you’re dealing with. This man is extremely dangerous.”
Mad Rogan reached out toward Augustine’s hair, but lowered his hand. “I’d touch it, but I’m afraid I might cut myself.”
“Listen to me.” Urgency vibrated in Augustine’s voice. “You need to limit your association with this man. We exist in a fragile balance, and the core of that balance, the thing that restrains us, is our family. He feels no obligation to his family or anyone else’s. He has no restraint. You have no idea what kind of things he is involved in.”
And that, exactly that, was the problem with Primes. That right there.
“She needs to limit her association with you,” Mad Rogan said. “You’re trying to take her business.”
Augustine pulled off his glasses. “I may be putting her at risk financially, but you would take her life, if it was convenient, and make jokes about it later.”
Actually, Augustine was sending me after Adam Pierce, which was pretty much a death sentence.
Augustine kept going. “You have no code, Connor. You know nothing about duty or honor or self-sacrifice . . .”
Rogan moved, brutal and blindingly fast. Augustine’s back hit the wall, and Mad Rogan drove his left forearm into his neck, pinning him. His eyes turned cold and merciless.
“You spent your time after college sitting in a comfortable office learning the family trade.” His voice was precise and so filled with menace that the tiny hairs on the back of my neck rose. “This was your grand, self-serving sacrifice. You sat here, wrapped in your luxurious cocoon and wallowing in self-pity, while I spent six years starving and bleeding in a f**king jungle where all the money in the world couldn’t buy you a gulp of clean water. I did this so people I’ll never know could go to sleep in peace. What do you know about sacrifice? You never watched someone’s head explode from a bullet, then brushed pieces of human being off you and kept going. So how about you shut the f**k up?”
The room turned dark. Black bulges slid along the walls. Fear drained down my spine. Every instinct I had screamed at me that whatever was in the walls was bad and dangerous, and if it broke out, I needed to run.
“Don’t push me, Connor,” Augustine ground out. “You’ll f**king regret it.”
A violent, deranged light flared in Mad Rogan’s eyes. “Let’s test your theory about killing and jokes. I’ve got a good one just for this occasion.”
The bulges split. Ropy black tentacles shot out of the wall, flailing. If it was illusion, it was the best I had ever seen. Panic crushed me, chaining my feet in place. I shuddered in its grip. What the hell kind of magic was this?
Things rose into the air as Rogan sorted through my possessions, looking for a weapon.
No. This is my house. You will not wreck my house and put my family at risk.
The icy vise of panic broke. “That’s enough,” I barked.
The two men startled. Augustine frowned. “How . . .”
“What the hell is wrong with both of you? This isn’t some bar you can wreck. This is my place of business. This is my home! There are children sleeping less than a hundred feet from this room.”
The darkness vanished like a candle flame snuffed out by a draft. Rogan let go of Augustine.
“I don’t know which one of you is worse. Are you out of your minds? You’re both selfish, spoiled pricks.”
“Nevada?” my mother said behind me.
I glanced over my shoulder. My mother stood in the hallway with Grandma Frida next to her. My mother carried a shotgun. Grandma Frida carried her phone.
“Why are you screaming at an empty room?” my mother asked.
It had to be Augustine’s illusion. I glared at Augustine. “Drop it.”
He grimaced. Grandma Frida gasped. I had a feeling she and my mother just saw Mad Rogan and Augustine Montgomery suddenly pop into existence in my office.
“Get out of my house,” I said.
My mother chambered a round with an unmistakable metallic click.
The two men marched out of the office. Grandma Frida raised her phone and snapped a picture. The door closed. I landed into my chair.
My mother looked at the carnations. “Is there something going on that I should know about?”
I shook my head and picked up the phone. “Bern? Tell me you recorded all of this.”
“I’ve got it,” he said. “I saved a hard copy and offloaded it onto two remote servers.”
“Good,” I said. If there was ever a question as to why I needed to slap both of them with a restraining order, at least I would have plenty of evidence. Primes or not Primes, no judge would deny me a restraining order after viewing that.
Someone knocked on my bedroom door. I opened my eyes. I was sitting in bed, slumped against the pillow, my computer on my lap. I glanced at the electronic clock. Wow. 5:30 a.m. I’d moved to my bedroom after midnight, when my eyes had started glazing over. I must’ve fallen asleep. It had been a long day.
“Come in,” I called.
The door swung open and Bern entered, carrying a stack of papers. “Hey.”
“The kids printed out some stuff.” He put it on the bed. His eyes were bloodshot, his face haggard.
“Were you awake all this time?”
He nodded. “I’d gone over some things. It’s not Egypt, Japan, or China, I can tell you that. Leon did some research on India, but he conked out, so . . .” He yawned. “You . . .” He yawned again.
“Get some sleep. I’ve got India.”
He sat down on the trundle bed. It used to be mine when I was much younger. Sometimes, when my sisters and I would watch a movie in my room, they would pass out on it.
“I’ll just sit here a minute,” he said.
I leafed through the papers. Printouts of articles about various artifacts. Some weird doodle. A picture of a knight holding a shield against a gout of flame. “Not bad.” I turned to show it to Bern. He lay asleep on the trundle.
I tapped my keyboard to wake the laptop up. Right. India.
Leon’s notes listed the search strings. India, artifact, Emmens . . . over thirty-five searches. I blew out some air. He was very thorough.
Let’s see, what did the guy say before the explosion? Something about gateway to enlightenment, or door to enlightenment . . . I typed in Indian artifact enlightenment. The search engine spat out image results. Lots of things about Native Americans and United Native Tribes. Let’s see, what about Hindu artifact enlightenment? Hmm, pictures of flowers, ancient palaces, mosaic, an illustration of some deity with four arms sitting on a pink flower, a metal statue of a deity with an elephant’s face, a photograph of some beer cans and empty soda bottles . . . how did that get in there? This was a wild-goose chase. I kept scrolling. City with a river lapping at its walls, a piece of quartz, another deity, blue this time, with white stripes across his forehead . . .
Wait. Wait, wait, wait.
I clicked the picture. An illustration of a beautiful man with blue skin and one hand raised looked back at me. Two white stripes marked his forehead, forming oblong outlines. I grabbed my phone and pulled up the picture. The exact same shape. My heart sped up. There was something else sitting on top of the outline, but the image was too small to figure out what it was. I clicked the link for the image’s page. A site selling antique beads.
I typed so fast that my fingers flew over the keyboard. Hindu god blue skin. The search engines spat out the images. No, no, no, yes! Exact same picture. I clicked it. Dead website. Damn it.
I kept scrolling. Another one, something about a video game. I clicked the image. Shiva. I had a name. Dozens of articles popped up. Shiva, supreme god of Hindu mythology. Chief attributes include a snake around his neck, a third eye . . . A third eye!
I clicked the images search and forgot to breathe. Here it was, a statue of Shiva with a jeweled ornament on his forehead: two oblong stripes of pale jewels forming a base for a crimson outline of an eye positioned vertically, with a radiant jewel in its center, where the iris would be. There were dozens of different photographs.