White Hot

By: Ilona Andrews

Prologue




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.”

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