But he was 91% percent accurate over the last two years.
Hard to argue with that, but I lived in hopes that today, at least, would be the beginning of the end of Marvin’s reign of meteorological omniscience.
We piled into the Viper and headed for Shopping Nirvana, otherwise known as the Galleria—150 shops, with everything from Sak’s to Neiman Marcus. I both loved and hated living so close to it. It was like a diabetic with a sweet tooth living next door to the fudge factory. We cruised along, drawing envious stares from teenagers in gleaming low-riders, faded Yuppies in Volvos, soccer moms in enormous SUVs. Mona was a sexy car. I still pined for my beloved Mustang, but I had to admit, the throbbing growl of power from the Viper was seductive.
Even doing something as tame as crawling from one red light to another on this cloudless suburban day.
We’d only gone about three blocks when Sarah suddenly said, “Did you know you’re being followed?”
We were heading down East Sunshine, and the traffic wasn’t exactly light; I looked at her in the rearview (she’d been relegated to the back) and studied her carefully. “Okay, you’ve been living in California way too long. This is Florida. We don’t get tailed in Florida.”
She didn’t look behind her as she said, “Chrêtien had me followed for six months; I know what I’m talking about. There’s a white van with dark-tinted windows and a magnetic sign that says it’s from a flower shop. It pulled out of the apartment parking lot when you did. It’s three cars back.”
I blinked and focused on the traffic. She was right, there was a white van back there. I couldn’t see anything about the sides, but the windows were dark-tinted.
“So? He dropped off some roses. Unfortunately, not to me.” And I so deserved it, for putting up with Sarah.
“Change lanes,” she said. “Watch him.”
Couldn’t hurt. I spotted an opening and did one of those sports-car levitation glides laterally from one lane to another, no signal, and then sped up and whipped back over two lanes. Cherise yelped and grabbed for a handhold; Sarah turned to look back, just a quick glance.
“He’s following, but he’s trying to look casual about it,” she said. I nodded.
It wasn’t easy to do in traffic, but I split my attention and sent part of myself up into Oversight, to see what was going on in the aetheric.
It wasn’t a Warden behind us, at least. Nothing but normal human stuff happening, not even the faint smear I’d come to recognize as a Djinn who didn’t want to be spotted. I dropped back into my body, put my foot down, and felt Mona respond with a fast, eager purr. “Hang on,” I said, and whipped the wheel over hard at the next light. Cherise yelped again, higher-pitched; Sarah grabbed for a handhold and tilted without making a sound.
“Hey!” Cherise blurted. “This isn’t the way to the mall!” She was much more panicked about the idea of missing her shopping appointment than any sinister, faceless stalker we might have picked up.
Hey, I never said she was deep. Just fun to be around.
“Back entrance,” I said. The van turned the corner, a block behind me, and accelerated. I eased back down to a regular street speed, mindful of any cops that might be lurking and itching for a chance to ticket a Viper, and made another turn, to the left.
I took the turn into the Galleria parking lot. It was a typical day, which meant busy; I cruised around for a while, watching for the white van. It was still back there. When I pulled into a space, so did it, several rows away.
All very sinister, suddenly. I didn’t like it at all.
“Cherise, you take Sarah and go on to Ann Taylor,” I said, and popped my door open. “I’ll be right behind you. Sarah, you’ve got my Mastercard. Just—don’t buy big ticket without me.” I realized that Sarah’s standards of big ticket might vary from mine. “Um… that means anything over a hundred dollars.”
She looked briefly shocked, probably at the low-limit amount. Both of them started to argue, but I slammed the door and kept walking, fast and purposefully, heading for the white van that was parked and motionless several hundred yards away. I made sure to stay blocked from it as much as possible by giant SUVs—who the hell needs a Hummer the color of a yield sign, anyway?—and the ubiquitous Gran-and-Gramps-do-Florida RVs, and came at it from the passenger side.
I knocked on the dark-tinted window. After a few silent seconds, a motor whirred and the glass glided down.
I didn’t recognize the man in the driver’s seat. He was Hispanic, older—forty, forty-five maybe—and he had graying hair, fierce, dead dark eyes, and a windburned complexion.
Looked damn intimidating.
“Hi,” I said, and gave him my best, most confident smile. “Want to tell me why you’re following me? If this is about Sarah, tell Chrêtien that he can stick it up his French…”
“You’re Joanne Baldwin,” he interrupted me. No trace of an accent.
“In the flesh.” Scars and all, which had fortunately faded with a little help from silicone patches and the tanning salon.
“Get in the van,” he said.
“Oh, I really don’t think—”
He produced a gun and aimed it at my head. “No, I really do.” I wasn’t good with guns, especially not identifying them, but this one looked big and serious about its job. “In the van. Now, please.”
I felt an overwhelming impulse to do exactly what he said, but I also knew better than to climb into some stranger’s van. Especially in Florida. I tried to focus past the gun and hold his stare. “It’s broad daylight in a mall parking lot. You’re not going to shoot me, and I’m not getting in your damn van, either. Next subject.”
I surprised him. It passed over his face in a flash. Blink and you’d miss it, but it was definitely present. He cocked one eyebrow just a millimeter higher.
“Why exactly do you think I wouldn’t shoot you?”
“Security cameras everywhere, pal, and my sister and my friend both have really good memories for license plate numbers. You wouldn’t get back to the main road before the cops cut you off.” I forced myself to smile again. “Besides, you don’t want me dead, or you’d have shot me already and been out of here, and we wouldn’t be having this lovely conversation.”
For a long, long second, he debated it. I held my breath, and let it slowly out when he shrugged and holstered the gun again, with a move so deft it might as well have been a magic trick.
“You know my name,” I said. “Want to tell me yours?”
“Armando Rodriguez,” he replied, which took me by surprise; I hadn’t expected a guy who’d just pulled a weapon to introduce himself so readily. “Detective Armando Rodriguez, Las Vegas Police Department.”
Oh, dear. I felt goosebumps shiver up the back of my arms.
“I’d like to ask you a few questions about the disappearance of Detective Thomas Quinn,” he said. Which I’d already figured out.
Too bad I knew exactly what had happened to Detective Thomas Quinn. And there was no way on earth I could talk to this guy about it.
“Thomas Quinn?” I didn’t want to out-and-out lie, but the truth was a nonstarter. “Sorry, I don’t think I know the name.”
Rodriguez opened up a folder stuck in the side pocket of his driver’s side door and slid out a collection of photos—grainy, obviously off of surveillance cameras. Me, in a black miniskirt, being escorted by Detective Thomas Quinn.
“Want to try that one again?” he asked.
“I hear everybody has a double,” I said. “Maybe you’ve got the wrong girl.”
“Oh, I don’t think so.”