Home > White Hot (Hidden Legacy #2)(8)

White Hot (Hidden Legacy #2)(8)
Author: Ilona Andrews

I smiled at him. “I think we should table the gun idea for now. If he attacks, I’ll do my best to handle it.”

I wasn’t exactly defenseless. As long as I could get my hands on my attacker before he or she killed me, they would be in for one unpleasant surprise. The military had been employing more and more mages. Military service wasn’t exactly a stress-free environment, and the people in charge had quickly figured out that they needed a method for neutralizing magic users. That’s how the shockers came on the scene. Getting them installed involved a specialist who reached into the arcane realm, the place beyond our fabric of existence, pulled out a creature nobody fully understood, and implanted it into your arms. I’d had mine implanted when I was hunting Adam Pierce. You primed them with your magic, suffering through some pain, and if you grabbed your victim, that pain would hit them and blossom into a convulsion-inducing agony. The shockers were supposedly nonlethal, but I had too much magic. I could kill an Average magic user, and although I had used them on a Prime only once, barely, he’d definitely felt it.

“I’ll defer to your judgment.” Cornelius opened the door of his vehicle. “Please.”

“Let’s take my car,” I said, nodding at my minivan.

He glanced at the Mazda. His face turned carefully neutral. My aging champagne mom-minivan clearly failed to make the right impression.

I walked to the minivan and opened the passenger door. “Please.”

Cornelius opened the trunk of his car and lifted out a large plastic sack similar to one of those fifty-pound bags of cheap dog food, except this one was plain white and unmarked. He heaved it onto his shoulder and carried it over to the Mazda. I opened the trunk and let him slide it in there.

We got into my car and buckled up. I drove out of the parking lot and turned right, heading to Blalock Road. Anything to avoid the hell that was the 290. Cornelius’ face was a grim mask. He didn’t trust me yet. Trust took time.

“May I ask, why your car?”

“Because I’m familiar with the way it handles and we may have to drive very fast. In addition, this type of car blends into traffic, while your vehicle stands out.” Also because my grandmother made some modifications to the engine and installed bulletproof windows after my Adam Pierce adventure, but he didn’t need to know that. “What’s in that bag?”

“It’s a private matter, unrelated to our visit to the Assembly.”

Okay. Fair enough. But now, of course, I was dying to figure out what was in there.

“Do you smoke?” I asked.

“No.”

“How do you know about the smoking bathroom?” Here’s hoping he hadn’t shared with anyone that we were planning to visit.

“My brother is deeply offended by its existence. He’s asthmatic.”

True. So far he hadn’t lied to me.

“My turn,” Cornelius said. “What do you hope to gain by speaking with Forsberg? He won’t admit any guilt.”

“I have a lot of experience with watching people, and I can usually tell when they’re lying.”

And we ran into roadwork. Of course. Now I would have to merge onto Katy Freeway.

“Curiously, that’s almost exactly what Augustine told me about you,” Cornelius said.

Augustine had kept my secret. Primes didn’t do anything without some ulterior motive. I wasn’t looking forward to finding out what he was planning.

“Are you having second thoughts? It’s not too late. We can turn around and I’ll refund your retainer.”

“No.” Cornelius looked out the window. “When I woke up this morning, I thought of kidnapping Forsberg and torturing him until he told me everything he knew.”

Homicidal fantasies were never a good sign. “That would be a terrible idea. First, it’s illegal. Second, we don’t know if Forsberg is involved. If he isn’t, you would’ve tortured an innocent man. Third, my cousin ran the background on House Forsberg. While they are not the wealthiest House in Houston, their net worth is substantial and so is their private security force. If you were to kidnap Forsberg and not die in the attempt, you would be hunted down and eventually killed.”

Cornelius didn’t answer.

Bern and I had stayed up way too late with House Forsberg’s file. Matthias Milton Forsberg, fifty-two years old, was a fourth-generation Texan and very proud of it—so proud that he’d gone to the University of Texas instead of the usual Ivy League schools. He’d become the head of his House twelve years ago, when his father retired. He was married, with two adult children, Sam Houston Forsberg and Stephen Austin Forsberg, which made me laugh a little last night while drinking coffee. It was good that he’d stopped at two, because nobody was quite sure which man Dallas was named after. Matthias had never been arrested, never served in the military, and never declared bankruptcy. He did own a lot of houses.

Magically he was a hopper. Hoppers compressed the space around them, propelling themselves or others through it. Usually their hops were short-range, topping out at thirty yards. Still, they could cover short distances very quickly and were hard to target while hopping, which made them highly sought after by the military. I’d never encountered one before, so I had watched some YouTube videos. Most of them consisted of guys between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five launching things at walls with their magic, such as watermelons, pumpkins, cans of paint, and in one particular extra-stupid video, a gallon of gasoline with a lighted fuse made out of a long sock. That went about as well as you would expect. Most of them tried to throw each other or themselves as well, but none had enough power. The best they could do was stagger their friends a few feet. According to Bern, the mass and size of the object were a factor.

The internet claimed that Prime-rank hoppers could pass through solid walls if they timed their jumps right. If that was true, Forsberg’s reputation for flirting with corporate espionage made perfect sense.

Public records and YouTube videos weren’t much to go on, but unlike me, Cornelius had access to the House database and he’d probably met Forsberg.

“What can you tell me about Matthias Forsberg?” I asked.

“He’s a typical Houston Prime; he safeguards the family wealth, he has firm ideas of what is and isn’t proper for a person of his social standing, and he avoids public scrutiny. He considers very few people his equals and treats the rest with contempt.”

“Can he hop through walls?”

“Yes. Could you take the next exit, please?”

I pulled off the freeway.

“Make a right and park, please.”

We made a right and stopped before a construction site. The steel bones of the building were beginning to take shape, wrapped in scaffolding. Cornelius got out, took the sack out of the trunk, and walked down the road between the buildings, disappearing from view. Talon swooped down, following him.

What could be in the sack? It was plastic, reinforced with mesh. He could have body parts in there and I would never know.

I drummed my fingers on the dashboard and turned on the radio. “. . . no updates on Senator Garza’s murder investigation. The police department remains . . .”

I turned it off.

It couldn’t be body parts. They would’ve made bulges. The sack seemed uniform, so unless he’d minced the body parts into mush . . . Okay, this was just morbid. Four months ago it wouldn’t even occur to me that there might be body parts in the sack.

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