Alarms rang. I lurched up from a drowsy dream of the Chicago fire of 1871—dogs barking, streets in flames, and maybe a fire-breathing dragon. I shoved Rachel. “Wake up.”
“What the hell?” She rubbed her eyes.
“I don’t know.” I smelled smoke. And fire.
I staggered toward the door. “Hey! Hello? “ I pounded my fists. “Let us out!”
“Stand back!” The voice thundered from the opposite side.
Rachel pulled at my arm. I staggered back, clutching her wrist, and then the door disintegrated in a wall of flame.
Evan Cassidy stepped back, flames spurting from his arms. He was naked, and his arms and chest were blackened by fire, but he managed to stand upright, staring at us. “Who are you? Where’s Chelsea?”
I lifted a hand. “Tom Jurgen. I talked to you in the hospital. This is Rachel. I think Chelsea’s here, but—”
“Fine.” Evan turned. “Don’t get in my way.”
He stalked down the hall.
Rachel leaned against me. “Wow. Did you see his, uh—I mean, that butt?”
“That’s just what I want to hear. Come on.” I pulled at her hand.
Sprinklers poured down on our shoulders as we followed Evan down the corridor. Then a door burst open. Agent Michaels darted out. “Stop!”
Evan shot a burst of flame at his feet.
Three more agents backed him up, weapons drawn. An Asian woman behind them peered over their shoulders, her face pale.
“Where is she?” Evan’s voice was a thunderclap. Flames shimmered down his arms.
“Wait. Just wait.” Michaels ran forward. “Here.”
He slid a security card and yanked at a door handle. “Okay? Just calm down, Evan. We’re not the enemy.”
Chelsea sat inside a tiny cell, just like ours, shivering on the same small bench in jeans and a brown leather jacket.
She rose up, smiling. “You came.”
“You called me.” Evan staggered into the cell. A certain amount of kissing went on.
A tap on my shoulder. I turned.
Dr. Brad Guy looked at me. “Sorry. I had to do it.”
Bastard. “You brought us here.”
He sighed. “You were asking questions.”
“That’s my job. What the hell is this?”
I let him pull me away from the open door while Evan and Chelsea talked. And kissed some more. “You managed the phone call to Evan? Telling him where to find her.”
“Yes.” Guy nodded. He grabbed his cellphone, clicked a button, and the water stopped. “But I had to make sure you were under control. Once we had Chelsea here.”
Under control. “She called you?”
“Eventually. After the carjacking incident. We were able to bring her in.”
“Into what?” Rachel glanced at the walls behind Chelsea. “What is this place?”
“It’s a facility for investigating this thing.” It was Michaels, watching the room. “This could be important.”
“As a weapon?” Rachel’s shoulders grew rigid. “Is this what you’re looking for?”
“That may be what other people are looking for.” Michaels straightened up. “Terrorists. We need to know how this works.”
“So you let her run around all day killing people?” My voice rose. “Even if they were all bad guys? Her parents were panicked—”
“I tried to call her!” Guy whirled around. “All day, ever since I heard the first report! She finally called me back. That’s why I had to call you. To keep you from getting in the way.”
I managed a deep breath. “I was never trying to get in anyone’s way. I was only trying to find her. For my client. Evan’s father. When he was in the hospital. And that was just this morning.”
“Things happen fast.” Michaels smiled and pointed a finger. “Look.”
Chelsea stood up, holding Evan’s hand. “We’re ready.”
Evan let Chelsea walked through the narrow door first. He winked at Rachel. “Sorry about, you know—the nudity.”
“Hey, no problem.” Rachel grinned. Then she glanced at me. “Nothing I haven’t seen before. Oh, wait, maybe I should rephrase that . . .”
Michaels stepped forward. “Wait. This isn’t what—”
Chelsea raised a hand. It glowed with fire. “We’re leaving now. Next question?”
“No.” Michaels reached under his jacket. “Stop him!”
The three agents around him raised their weapons.
“Wait.” I was close enough to catch his arm. “Don’t do anything stupid. Any of you.”
“He’s right.” Guy was right beside him. “We can’t stop this.”
“Goddamn it.” Michaels managed to pull his handgun out. “This project has gone on too long—we’ve been looking for this for years, and now . . . Stop! Stop right there!”
Michaels pointed his handgun.
I lunged back, but Rachel was already down in a crouch, covering her head. Guy stood behind him, his eyes wide with terror behind his glasses.
Fire flared from Evan’s arms.
Then Michaels burst into flame.
He screamed and dropped to the floor, rolling back and forth as his clothes and flesh burned.
The agents fired. Maybe their bullets disintegrated from the heat spurting from Chelsea’s fist. Maybe they just missed as they tried to shoot through the flames. Whatever, Evan and Chelsea stood unharmed as their bodies glowed with white-hot fire.
Two of the agents dropped to the white tile floor, their clothes burning. The third one, a woman, dropped her weapon and lifted her arms. “Okay, okay!”
“Help me!” Guy dropped to his knees and pulled his jacket off, trying to stifle the flames. “Help them!”
The Asian woman came out, holding a small fire extinguisher. She sprayed it over the agents, doing her best to keep clear of their faces. In the meantime, Rachel already had a pair of blankets, soaked with water from the sink in our cell. I hadn’t even noticed her running. “Here—here!”
Guy pulled them over Michaels’ body, trying desperately to snuff the fire out. Michaels groaned, gasping for breath.
Evan and Chelsea stared down at Michaels’ charred body.
“Sorry.” Evan’s voice was a murmur. “They shouldn’t have tried to kill us.”
“Let’s go.” Chelsea clutched his hand. “And maybe get you some clothes.”
Evan looked down at his body. “Oh yeah. Sorry.”
Then he looked up at me. “Tell my dad . . . I’ll call him. Soon.”
Would Martin even pay me for this? But I nodded. “Sure. Take care.”
They walked down the hallway. I saw a flash of fire as one of them blew a door out.
Then they were gone.
Guy tried to keep Michaels’ heart going. The other agents groaned in pain as Rachel and the other two women brought water and towels to stop the burning. They’d survive. Only their clothes were burned.
But Michaels was dead. His face was screwed into an expression of agony.
“We were trying to find out what happened.” Dr. Brad Guy sat in an office. “How some people can start fires spontaneously.”
Paramedics from the hospital next door had come to take the rest of the agents to the ER for treatment—and carry Michaels to the morgue. No one had talked to Rachel and me.
“So what are you saying?” I was tired, stressed out, and needing coffee. “You sent Chelsea to target Evan?”
“We were monitoring her, yes.” He took off his glasses. “Like I told you, we’ve seen it before. It’s some kind of genetic anomaly. But if we could harness it and control it—”
“You could use it as a weapon.” Rachel crossed her arms.
He shrugged. “The other side will too. Isis and all the rest.”
“Hang on.” The thought was chilling, but I had another question. “Did you point Chelsea at Evan? Send her to his father’s company?”
He placed his glasses back over his ears. “There are parts of this I can’t tell you about.”
I stood up. Tired, but I managed to stay on both feet. “You knew all about Evan Cassidy. Somehow. You used them, both of them. All of them.”
Guy shrugged. “Yes. We have—resources. This project turned out badly. Nobody expected Chelsea to turn into some kind of vigilante. She was disoriented, and she was testing it out, but she couldn’t fully explain it herself. But we still had to do it. There’s a war going on, Mr. Jurgen, and if people can get through security checkpoints without any kind of explosives on their bodies—”
I pointed at the door. “So Evan Cassidy was what—a test subject?”
Guy took off his glasses. And focused his bare eyes on my face. “We hoped by studying him we could find out how the process worked. We didn’t think—”
“That he could transfer it to another person? Is that what you were hoping for?” I leaned forward on his desk. “You said this project. Are there others? People out they’re you’re trying to recruit and study?” I thought about Angelo. And then I tried not to think about him. “Everything about this stinks like the smoke in the hall.”
Guy put his glasses back on and pushed his chair back. “You’re free to go.”
“And what do I tell my client? Evan’s father?”
“Whatever you want.” Guy shrugged. “No one will believe you.”
Rachel got behind the wheel. “You’re too upset to drive right now. I’ll get us home. You just sit back and rant.”
But I was too tired. I sat next to Rachel, watching the highway go by, until my phone buzzed. Oh hell. What was I going to tell Martin?
But it wasn’t Martin. “Hi. This is Evan.”
“Oh.” I sat up. “Hi. Where—how—are you okay?”
“We’re fine.” He chuckled. “Where is something I don’t want to answer. But we’re both all right.”
“Good.” I looked out the windshield. “What happens now?”
“I don’t know. We’ll figure something out.”
“Okay. I’ll look for fires.”
“You do that.”
Evan cut the call. I leaned back. “It was him. They’re fine.”
“Good.” Rachel honked the horn. “Asshole!” She glanced at me. “So now what do you tell your client?”
“The truth, I guess. As always.” I closed my eyes.
And dreamed of flames.