(The second book in the Hidden Legacy series)
A novel by Ilona Andrews
A wise man once said, “A human mind is the place where emotion and reason are locked in perpetual combat. Sadly for our species, emotion always wins.” I really liked that quote. It explained why, even though I was reasonably intelligent, I kept finding myself doing something really stupid. And it sounded much better than “Nevada Baylor, Total Idiot.”
“Don’t do this,” Augustine said behind me.
I looked at the monitor showing Jeff Caldwell. He sat shackled to a chair that was bolted to the floor. He wore prison orange. He didn’t seem like much: an unremarkable man in his fifties, balding, average height, average build, average face. I read a news article about him this morning. He had a job with the city; a wife, who was a schoolteacher; and two children, both in college. He had no magic and wasn’t affiliated with any of the Houses, powerful magic families that ran Houston. His friends described him as a kind, considerate man.
In his spare time, Jeff Caldwell kidnapped little girls. He kept them alive for up to a week at a time, then he strangled them to death and left their remains in parks surrounded by flowers. His victims were between the ages of five and seven, and the stories their bodies told made you wish that hell existed just so Jeff Caldwell could be sent there after he died. The night before last he had been caught in the act of depositing the tiny corpse of his latest victim in her flower grave and was apprehended. The reign of terror that had gripped Houston for the past year was finally over.
There was just one problem. Seven-year-old Amy Madrid was still missing. She had been kidnapped two days ago from her school bus stop, less than twenty-five yards from her house. The MO was too similar to Jeff Caldwell’s previous abductions to be a coincidence. He had to have taken her and, if so, it meant she was still alive somewhere. I had followed the story for the past two days waiting for the announcement that Amy was found. The announcement never came.
Houston PD had had Jeff Caldwell for thirty-six hours. By now the cops had scoured his house, questioned his family, his friends, and his coworkers, and pored over his cell phone records. They interrogated him for hours. Caldwell refused to talk.
He would talk today.
“If you do this once, people will expect you to do it again,” Augustine said. “And when you won’t, they’ll be unhappy. This is why Primes don’t engage. We’re only people. We can’t be everywhere at once. If an aquakinetic puts out one fire, the next time something goes ablaze and he fails to be there, the public will turn on him.”
“I understand,” I said.
“I don’t think you do. You’re hiding your talent precisely to avoid this kind of scrutiny.”
I hid my talent because truthseekers like me were extremely rare. If I walked into the police station and wrenched the truth from Jeff Caldwell, a couple of hours later I would get visitors from the military, Homeland Security, FBI, CIA, private Houses, and anyone else who had the need of a one hundred percent accurate interrogator. They would destroy my life. I loved my life. I ran Baylor Investigative Agency, a small, family-owned firm; I took care of my two sisters and two cousins; and I had no plans to change any of it. What I did wasn’t admissible in court. If I took any of those people up on their offer, I wouldn’t be in the courtroom testifying in a nice suit. I’d be at some black site facing a guy tied to a chair and beaten to within an inch of his life, with a bag over his head. People would live or die on my word. It would be dark and dirty, and I would do almost anything to avoid that. Almost.
“I’ve taken every precaution,” Augustine said, “but despite my best efforts and your . . . outfit, the chance you will be discovered exists.”
I could see my own reflection in the glass. I wore a green hooded cape that hid me from top to bottom, black gloves, and a ski mask under the hood. The cape and the gloves came courtesy of an Alley Theatre production and belonged to Lady in Green, Scottish Highwaywoman and Heroine of the Highlands. According to Augustine, the outfit was so unusual that people would concentrate on it and nobody would remember my voice, my height, or any other details.
“I know we’ve had our differences,” Augustine started. “But I wouldn’t advise you to act against your self-interest.”
I waited for the familiar mosquito buzz of magic telling me he lied. None came. For whatever reason, Augustine was doing his best to talk me out of an arrangement that directly benefited him, and he was sincere about it.
“Augustine, if one of my sisters was kidnapped, I would do anything to get her back. Right now a little girl is dying of hunger and thirst somewhere. I can’t stand by and let it happen. I just can’t. We have a deal.”
Augustine Montgomery, head of House Montgomery and owner of Montgomery International Investigations, held the mortgage on our family business. He couldn’t force me to take clients, but he’d called my cell earlier this morning, just as I was walking to the police station, about to destroy my life. He had a client who’d specifically requested my services. I promised to hear the client out if he arranged for me to have an anonymous shot at Jeff Caldwell. Except now he seemed to be having second thoughts.
I turned and looked at Augustine. An illusion Prime, he could alter his appearance with a thought. Today his face wasn’t just handsome; it was perfect in the way the greatest works of Renaissance art were perfect. His skin was flawless, his pale blond hair brushed with surgical precision, and his features had the kind of regal elegance and a cold air of detachment that begged to be immortalized on canvas or, better yet, in marble.
“We have a deal,” I repeated.
Augustine sighed. “Very well. Come with me.”
I followed him to a wooden door. He opened it. I walked through into a small room with a two-way mirror in the far wall.
Jeff Caldwell raised his head and looked at me. I searched his eyes and saw nothing. They were flat and devoid of all emotion. Behind him a two-way mirror hid observers. Augustine assured me that only the police would be present.
The door closed behind me.
“What is this?” Caldwell asked.
My magic touched his mind. Ugh. Like sticking your hand into a bucket of slime.
“I did nothing wrong,” he said.
True. He actually believed that. His eyes were still flat like those of a toad.
“Are you just going to stand there? This is ridiculous.”
“Did you kidnap Amy Madrid?” I asked.
“Are you holding her somewhere?”
My magic snapped out and clamped him in its vise. Jeff Caldwell went rigid. His nostrils fluttered as his breathing sped up, racing in tune to his rising pulse. Finally, emotion flooded his eyes, and that emotion was raw, sharp terror.
I opened my mouth, letting the full power of my magic saturate my voice. It came out low and inhuman.
Figuring out when people lied came naturally to me and required no effort. Compelling someone to answer my questions was a whole different ball game. Until a couple of months ago I didn’t even realize I had the power to do it. Picking through Jeff Caldwell’s mind was like swimming through a sewer. He fought me every step of the way, his will bucking in panic, threatening to shatter his own mind in self-defense. The trick wasn’t getting the information; it was keeping his mind intact enough to stand trial. I’d gotten what I wanted anyway, and when I exited MII’s building, a caravan of cop cars had taken off down Capitol Street, an urgent cacophony of sirens demanding right of way.
Jeff Caldwell had drained me down to nothing. Driving was an effort. Somehow I made it through Houston’s notorious traffic, turned onto the road leading to our house, and almost blew through a stop sign. It was a bad place, too; delivery trucks had a nasty habit of rolling out this way as if other cars didn’t exist.
Nothing rolled out today. I glanced down the access road anyway. A two-foot-high steel barrier bristling with thick six-inch-long spikes blocked the street. Judging by the indentations in the pavement it could be lowered into the ground. If you added some blood and tattered cloth on the spikes, it would fit into any postapocalyptic movie. The barrier hadn’t been here a couple of days ago. The last time two trucks collided here must’ve resulted in some serious lawsuit.
I yawned and kept going. Almost home. Almost. I pulled into the lot in front of our warehouse and parked my Mazda minivan between my mother’s blue Honda Element and Bern’s 2005 Ford Mustang. My cousin’s ancient Civic had died a sad death a month ago, when the descendants of two magical families decided to have words in the college parking lot. Their words involved trying to crush each other with five-hundred-pound decorative rocks from the landscaping display. Unfortunately, their aim turned out to be crap and they survived. Their families reimbursed us—and five other car owners—for the damages. Now a gunmetal-grey Mustang occupied the Civic’s former spot.
No charges had been filed. In our world, magic was the ultimate power. If you had it, you suddenly found that many rules bent around you.< ...