“Anybody would be. Take it easy, okay? Ask questions. I’ll do my best to answer you.”
She hesitated a second, then waved a hand out at the storm assembling over the ocean, like a million soldiers ready to attack. “Can’t you stop that?”
“When it’s that big and mean? Yeah. Just no. Maybe Lewis can do it—”
“The old one or the young one?”
“You know, the old guy in the flannel or the young one in black?”
Old guy? I threw her a look. “He’s my age!”
“In your dreams.”
“Not the young one, the—the—” I glared. “Lewis is my age. Kevin is the punk-ass kid.”
“Well, the punk-ass kid was nice to me,” she said, and shrugged. “What? It’s not my fault I’m twenty-two and you’re—not.”
Oh, I was so going to get my own car.
We drove in silence for another ten minutes before I said, because I couldn’t resist it, “I’m not old.”
“Yeah,” she agreed, and sighed, and put her head back against the upholstery. “You just keep telling yourself that.”
I gunned the Mustang up to one hundred thirty on the way back through the storm.
Surprisingly, we didn’t die in a fiery crash, but that was probably just God looking after fools and children, and as I blasted past the WELCOME TO FORT LAUDERDALE road sign and had to kill my speed to just under sixty, due to traffic, my cell phone rang. I fumbled for it and took the call.
“The same.” That lovely voice sounded as calm and deceptively friendly as ever.
“Got what I asked for?”
“Good. I’d hate for Sarah to suffer.”
“Is she awake? I want to talk to her.”
“What you want really doesn’t concern me, love. As we seem to have a storm kicking up hell, I’d like to get this ended as soon as possible. No point in dying tonight, especially from something as stupid as fate.”
My hand was clenched tight around the cell. I forced it to relax. Ahead on the road, some grandpa in an ancient Ford Fiesta swerved into my lane doing thirty-five; I instantly checked perimeters and glided into the left-hand passing lane to whip around him. Tractor trailer ahoy, lumbering like a brachiosaur. I managed to slip around him and behind a white Lamborghini that wasn’t any more patient with the current traffic than I was. I drafted him as he negotiated his way to free airspace.
“Where?” I asked. Eamon’s warm chuckle was unpleasantly intimate.
“Well, why don’t you come to my place? Maybe we can enjoy a nice drink after we conclude our business. Possibly Sarah might be open-minded enough to…”
“Shut the hell up,” I snapped. “I have a Djinn. Do you want it the nice way or the hard way? Because all I have to do is tell him to kill you, you know.”
“I know.” All of the needling humor dropped out of Eamon’s voice, replaced by something hard and as chilly as winter’s midnight. “But if you do that, you won’t get your sister back. It took a lot of research—which was accomplished with a lot of screaming on the part of my research subjects—but I know the rules. I know what the Djinn can do, and what they can’t. And you’d best not take a chance that I’ve been misled.”
He was right. There were rules to the covenant with the Djinn. Responsibilities a master had to accept. Violating those rules had some serious blowback, and if he understood enough, he could have set it up to be sure Sarah died with him.
No, I couldn’t take the chance. Not that I’d been willing to in the first place.
“Fine,” I said. “Give me the address.”
It was close to the beach, which wasn’t an advantage right now; I hung up and checked the progress of the storm. The streetlights were blowing nearly sideways, and signs were fluttering like stiff metal flags in the relentless wind. Hurricane-force winds, and it was just the leading edge of the storm.
As I took the exit from the freeway heading for the beach, I caught sight of the ocean, and it made my guts knot up in fear. Those smooth, greasy-looking swells out toward the ocean, exploding into gigantic sails of spray when they hit shallow water… blow on a small bowl of water and look at the way the waves form, heading toward the edge. Concentric rings, mounting higher as force increases.
The storm surge was going to be horribly high. Houses at or near the beach were already doomed. My apartment complex was probably toast, too—so much for the new furniture.
Life was so fragile, so easily blown apart.
“Look out!” Cherise yelled, and threw out a hand to the right.
I barely had time to register something big coming from that direction, hit the brakes, send the car into a spin across two lanes of traffic—thankfully, unoccupied—and manage to get us straightened around in a lane by the time we came to a lurching stop.
A boat bounced in from the right and landed keel-first on the road, oars flying off like birds into the wind. It splintered into fiberglass junk. I watched, open-mouthed, as it rolled off in a tangle.
“Holy shit,” Cherise whispered. “Um… shouldn’t we, like, get somewhere? Maybe the hell out of Florida?”
Yeah. Good idea.
Eamon’s building was a needle-thin avant-garde structure, the kind of place that, when they talk about building erection, they really mean the double entendre. I couldn’t read the sign, but I decided the best possible name for it was TestosteroneTowers, and it was someplace I intended never to live.
Even if Eamon wasn’t there.
Cherise looked pale and scared, and I didn’t blame her; the weather was getting worse, and this was exposed territory. Last place I wanted to be was in a high-rise… safe from the storm surge, sure, but way too much glass. I was thinking of something in a tasteful concrete bunker, up on a bluff. And as soon as I had Sarah back, we were going to find one.
“Should I stay here?” Cherise asked cautiously. I pulled the Mustang into the parking garage and went up to the next-to-highest level. It was the logical spot … not completely exposed, only one level could collapse on you, and it was higher than the likely storm surge. Bottom level would be safest from flying debris, but a collapse was possible, and drowning an added hazard.
“I think you’d better come with me,” I said. “Just stay close.”
We got out, and even in the shelter of the garage the scream of the wind was eerie. It ripped past me at gale speeds, pulling my hair and grabbing at my clothes. I braced myself and went around to take Cherise’s hand. I had a little more height and weight than she did; she was too small and light for this kind of thing.
We made it to the stairs and found a hamster tunnel of plastic and lights leading from the parking garage to the building. It looked like being in the middle of a dishwasher on full spray, and I could hear an ominous creaking and cracking from the plastic. I tugged Cherise along at a trot. The concrete under our feet—padded by carpet—trembled and yawed. Leaks ran down the walls, and half the carpet was already soaked.
When we were three-quarters through it, I heard a sharp crack behind us, and turned to look back.
A huge metal road sign had impaled itself through the plastic and hung there, shuddering. It read SLIPPERY WHEN WET.
“Funny,” I told Mother Nature. “Real funny.”
The plastic shivered under the force of another brutal hit from the wind, and I saw stars forming around stress points. This little tunnel through the storm wasn’t going to last.
I tugged Cherise the rest of the way. The big double doors were key-locked, but I was well beyond caring. My little theoretical addition to the practical chaos already swirling around wouldn’t matter a damn, really; I focused and got hold of the running-on-empty power I had left, and found just about enough to fund a tiny lightning bolt to fry the electronic keypad.
The door clicked open.
Beyond that was a deserted, impersonal lobby, with a long black couch with kidney-roll pillows running down one wall. It was very quiet. There was a large computer screen displaying names and numbers—almost all of the spaces were vacant. In fact, it looked as if the building was just opening up for renters.