“You drive a blue Dodge Viper. Funny thing—we had a report of a blue Dodge Viper driving away from an area in the desert where Quinn’s SUV was found burned.” His dark eyes kept their level stare on me. “His truck was destroyed, like somebody had loaded it up with dynamite, but we didn’t find any trace of explosives.”
I lifted one shoulder, let it fall, and just looked at him. He looked back.
After a moment, he let one corner of his mouth lift in a slow, predatory smile.
It didn’t soften the harsh, hard eyes.
Quinn had managed to look coplike and friendly at the same time. Rodriguez just looked coplike, and didn’t bother with any warm-and-fuzzy bullshit to make me feel better.
“Quinn was a friend of mine,” he said softly. “I intend to find out what happened to him. If anybody did him harm, I’m going to see that that person suffers for it. You understand me?”
“Oh, I understand,” I said. “Good luck with that.”
Any friend of Quinn’s was definitely not going to be a friend of mine.
I pushed off from the car and walked away, heels clicking, hair ruffling in the breeze. It was hot and turning sticky, but that wasn’t what was making the sweat run cold down my back.
In retrospect, becoming a television personality probably hadn’t been the best career choice I ever made, when a cop was missing and presumed dead, and I’d been the last one to be seen with him. Guess I should’ve thought of that. I’d spent too much time in the Wardens, where things got taken care of, and frictions with the rest of the mortal world were smoothed over with influence and cash and—sometimes—judicious use of Djinn.
Shit. I wondered about the Viper now. Since I’d actually stolen it off of a car lot in Oklahoma. Was it listed as hot? Or had Rahel, my friendly neighborhood free-range Djinn, taken care of erasing it from the records? She hadn’t bothered to mention it. I wasn’t sure how important she’d have found that, in the great scheme of things.
Hell, she’d probably think it was kind of funny if I got arrested. Djinn humor.
I needed to take care of that, soon. I had the bad feeling that Armando Rodriguez wasn’t going to just go away, and if there was anything he could find as leverage, he’d start pushing. Hard.
Just as I started to think my day couldn’t get much worse, I heard a rumble from overhead, and saw that a thick bank of clouds had glided over the top of the mall while I was worrying about how not to get myself thrown in the slammer.
I stretched out a hand. A fat, wet drop hit my skin. It was as chilly as the water that the stagehands had dumped on me in the studio.
“No way,” I said, and looked up into the clouds. “You can’t be happening.”
It peppered me with a couple of drops more for evidence. Marvelous Marvin had been right after all. Somebody—somebody other than me, most certainly—had made damn sure he was right. Looking up on the aetheric, I could see the subtle signs of tampering, and the imbalance echoing through the entire BrowardCounty system. Worse than that, though, was the fact that as far as I could tell, there weren’t any other Wardens anywhere around. Just me. Me, who wasn’t supposed to be doing any kind of weather manipulation at all, under penalty of having my powers cut out of me with a dull knife.
I was so going to get blamed for this.
And, dammit, I didn’t even like Marvin.
A storm is never just one thing. Too much sun on the water by itself can’t cause a storm. Storms are equations, and the math of wind and water and luck has to be just right for it to grow.
This storm, young and fragile, runs the risk of being killed by a capricious shift in winds coming off the pole, or a high-pressure front pushing through from east to west. Like all babies, this storm’s nothing but potential and soft underbelly, and it will take almost nothing to rip it apart. Even as attuned as I am, I don’t really notice. It’s nothing, yet.
But the weather keeps cooking up rising temperatures and the winds stay stable, and the clouds grow thick and heavy. The constant friction of drops churning in the clouds creates energy, and energy creates heat. The storm gets fed from above, by the sun, and from below, by blood-warm water, and a generator starts turning over somewhere in the middle, hidden in the mist. With the right conditions, a storm system can sustain itself for days, living off its own combustion, an engine of friction and mass.
It’s just a few days old, at this point. It won’t live more than a few weeks, but it can either go out with a whimper, or with a bang.
This one can go either way.
It moves in a wide, slow sweep over the water. A wall of white cloud, drifting gray veils. No rain makes it to the ocean below; the engine sucks it back up, recycling and growing.
As the moisture condenses inside the clouds, conditions get strange. Intense energy sends water into jittering frenzies, producing even more power. The clouds darken as they grow denser. As they crawl across open water they are getting fatter, spreading, spawning, and that engine at the heart of the storm stores up power for leaner times.
And still, it’s really nothing. A summer squall. An annoyance.
But now it’s starting to know that it’s alive.
By the time we broke up the Great Mall Trek of 2004 for lunch, Sarah, Cherise, and I had enough shopping bags to outfit an Everest expedition, if the climbers were planning to look really, really adorable and hang out extensively at the beach.
Sarah had always been a natural-born clotheshorse. Not as curvy as me, and with the kind of perfect angular proportions that sparked envy and were held up as examples by plastic surgeons to keep them in the lipo and sculpting business.
Life with the French Kiss-Off (as I decided to title Chrêtien) hadn’t ruined her, except that she had some lines around her eyes, a good haircut gone bad, ugly shoes, and a generally sour attitude about men. A nice toning lotion took care of the lines. Toni & Guy bravely addressed the hair issues. Prada was very willing to practice some accessory therapy. I didn’t think anything could possibly help her with the attitude, except massive applications of chocolate, which with her figure she wouldn’t accept. After half a day of it, I was ready to send Sarah to the Bitter Ex-wives Club for an extra session of getting in touch with her whiny inner bitch.
“He was a lousy lover,” she declared, as she was trying on shoes. She had perfect feet, too. Long, narrow, elegant—the kind of feet men liked to think about rubbing. Even the salesman, who surely must have had his fill of stinky, sweaty toes, was looking tempted as he held her by the heel and slipped her into a strappy little pointy-toed number. Personal service. It only happened at the best stores these days, but then, he was trying to sell her shoes worth more than your average television set.
“Who?” Cherise asked, inspecting a pair of kitten-heeled pumps. She must have missed the entire ongoing monologue about the flaws of Chrêtien. I stared gloomily at the ruby red pair of sandals I’d been saving up for, which were likely to go out of style and come back again three generations from now before I could actually afford them again, at the rate Sarah was shopping.
Not that I hadn’t asked for it. And it was in a good cause. But I really needed to introduce her to the concept of outlet malls.
“The ex, of course,” Sarah replied, and tilted her foot to one side to admire the effect of the shoe. It was, I had to admit, very nice. “He had this terrible habit; he’d do this thing with his tongue—”
Okay, that was too much information. I shot to my feet.
“I really don’t think I’m ready for this level of sister-bonding. I’m going to get a mocha. You guys—shop.”