Probably wasn’t even aware yet how the creature growing inside of him under that mark would be influencing his actions, compromising his judgment.
Eating his power even as it stoked the fire and made him feel more in control.
I couldn’t help him with that. He had to help himself, and I was about to take away his only way to do that.
“Hold him,” I said to Rahel. She shifted her weight off the man, but kept him flat with one hand between his shoulder blades.
“Let go!” he yelled. I ignored him and stuck my hand in his right coat pocket.
Nothing. The left held a ring of keys. I dropped them on the ground.
“Roll him over,” I said. The Djinn took one arm and flipped him like a pancake, and this time held him down with her palm on his forehead. Paralyzed. She flicked me a look, and I read unease in it. She reached over and sliced open his shirt with one taloned finger, and folded the cloth back to show me the black, slow-moving tattoo of the Demon Mark.
He started screaming. Whatever she was doing to hold him down, the demon didn’t like it. His whole body arched in pain, and Rahel’s face went blank with concentration.
I ransacked his pants pockets and came up with—of all things—one of those cheap leather lipstick cases, the stiff kind exported from India or China that snap open and have a mirror built in for touchups. No lipstick inside of this one.
This one held some cotton batting and a small perfume sample bottle, open and empty. The plastic snap-in plug was lying next to it.
I reached in and grabbed the cool glass, and felt the world shift in that odd, indefinable way, as if gravity had suddenly taken a left turn.
A Djinn misted out of the dark, staring at me. It began forming into a new appearance, and I realized that I didn’t want to see what effect my subconscious was going to have on it (please, God, don’t let it look like David…). I folded it in my fist and said, “Back in the bottle.”
It disappeared. I took the plug from the cotton in the lipstick case and slid it home in the mouth of the bottle, and felt that connection cut out, except for a low-level hum. Not nearly as strong as David, this one, but then it didn’t really matter.
Rahel was watching me with a frown. It’s not good when Djinn frown. In general, Djinn shouldn’t be annoyed.
“I thought you didn’t believe in slavery,” she said. Her cornrows rustled as she cocked her head, and I heard the cold click of beads even over the continuing pounding rain. “Ah. Unless, of course, it’s expedient. How human of you.”
“Shut up,” I said. “And thanks for saving my life.”
She shrugged. “I haven’t yet.”
And she let go of the Earth Warden.
He came up fast and fighting, and we went back to work.
The aftermath was like a war zone, if war zones had spectator sections. The wrecked SUV still smoldered and belched smoke; the whole damn road was buckled and uneven and burned down to the gravel in places. There would be some serious repaving later.
The spectator section was composed of Cherise and Kevin and Rahel, who were over by the Mustang. Cherise and Kevin were sitting on the trunk, huddled together under a yellow rain poncho held like a tent. Rahel paced back and forth, oblivious to the rain, casting looks out to the east, toward the ocean. Her eyes were glowing so brightly that they were like miniature suns.
Shirl and the Earth Warden—I still didn’t know his name—were unconscious in the Jeep, restrained with good old-fashioned duct tape. Lewis had also done some fancy Earth-power thing that lowered their metabolisms. He could keep them in a sleep state for hours, maybe days, if he didn’t have better things to do.
Lewis and I were leaning against the Jeep, gasping for air and trying not to moan. Much.
“You okay?” he asked me at last, and put that warm hand on the back of my neck.
I managed to nod. “No, you’re not. You’re too weak. Again.”
“I’m all right.”
“Bullshit.” He looked like hell; he was one to talk. Burned, blistered, ragged, suffering in his eyes. And a bone-deep weariness, too. He’d been running hard for a long time, and today was just another one of those days. He didn’t push the subject, though; he looked over at Rahel, then out toward the sea. “You feel that?”
“Yeah.” I sucked in a deep breath. “It’s bad. Maybe as bad as Andrew back in ’92.”
“Worse,” he said succinctly. “This is bigger and stronger.”
Worse than a Category Five. That wasn’t good news, clearly. “So? What do we do?”
“You do nothing. Jo, you’re like a wet rag; there’s nothing you can contribute. You need to get the hell out of here, I told you before. Fighting will get you killed.”
I swept him with a look. Burns, bloody wounds, and all. “Is this the last of them? The ones looking to take you out?”
“And who should be running?”
He smiled. It was just a little smile, tired and sweet, but it went through me like an arrow. “How’s David?”
I turned away, all the light going out inside. “I don’t know. I don’t know where he is. Things are…” I took a deep breath and said it, just said it. “I lost him. I lost the bottle.” God, it hurt. I couldn’t imagine that anything could ever hurt worse.
I could feel Lewis staring at the back of my head for a long few heartbeats, and then the Jeep’s weight shifted as he pushed off.
When I turned, he was stalking through the pouring rain to where Cherise, Kevin, and Rahel were.
Okay, what did I say?
He grabbed Kevin by the collar and yanked him bodily out from under the plastic poncho. Cherise yelped and flinched, and Kevin yelled, and Lewis dragged him, stumbling, by the front of his greasy-looking T-shirt back over to me.
“Give it back,” he said. Kevin flailed until Lewis shook him, hard. “I’m not fucking around with you, kid. Give her back the bottle.”
“What the hell… ?” I blurted, amazed, and then I remembered something Detective Rodriguez had said, in the surveillance van. The kid who was in your apartment last night ripped off some cash from the flour jar in your kitchen. Kevin had ransacked his way through the apartment, hadn’t he? And if anybody knew about the value of Djinn bottles…
I’d never even thought about it. I was too stunned to be angry.
Kevin looked pale, panicked, and stubborn. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, man!”
Oh, wait, the stun was wearing off now. Yep, anger was coming on strong. I shoved Lewis out of the way and grabbed the kid’s skinny, strong arms, shoving him back against the Jeep. “Don’t bullshit me, Kevin! Did you call him out? Did you try to use him?” Kevin didn’t say anything, just looked at me. Pale as skim milk, and just about as appetizing. “Dammit, say something! Is David all right?”
Kevin licked his already wet lips, averted his eyes, and mumbled, “Not my fault. He asked me to do it.”
I felt shock slip over me in a cold wave. “Excuse me?”
“I was just looking around. He—he appeared in the room and he told me to take the bottle.”
“He couldn’t tell you where it was, you asshole!” Djinn rules, although I’d seen Jonathan break them once. I’d asked David point-blank where his bottle was, and he couldn’t tell me…
… or, I realized with a sinking feeling close to despair, he didn’t want to tell me.
“He didn’t have to say anything,” Kevin was explaining. “He just stood there, you know, next to the nightstand. It was kinda obvious.”
I tried to say something—what, I don’t know—but it didn’t make sense when it got to my lips. I just stood there, staring at Kevin’s blank eyes.
“Look, he didn’t want you to get hurt anymore,” Kevin said. “He thought—if I held on to the bottle for a while—maybe you could get stronger. I was supposed to give him back, later. When things got better.”