Embers (Common Law, #2)
Small town—big problems. Jericho Crewe is back in Mosely, Montana, trying to deal with police corruption, interfering feds, his newly discovered family members, and, of course, Wade Granger.
He doesn’t really need a biker war on top of it all, but as the bodies start to pile up, it becomes pretty clear that’s what he’s got. Not only that, but Wade’s involved somehow, and as soon as Wade is a part of something, things that seemed clear become cloudy.
With the feds breathing down his neck, Jericho has to find his way through Wade’s maze of half truths and manipulations. It would all be so much easier if Jericho could think straight in the other man’s presence. So much easier if their passionate past could be forgotten, and if he could be sure he’s strong enough to resist the temptation of a passionate present.
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Jericho Crewe was writing a ticket for underage alcohol consumption when he saw the massive flash reflected in the warehouse windows behind the drunk teenagers. His body reacted without thought, pushing the two kids to the ground in the shelter of the parked patrol car. He was crouching behind the same vehicle when the boom of the explosion reached them, strong enough to rattle the windows that had been his mirror a moment before.
“Drink at home,” Jericho said quickly, shoving the ticket book back into his belt and heading for the driver’s door of the cruiser. “Or don’t drink at all. Whatever.” It was four o’clock on a Monday morning, so really the kids should be asleep, getting ready for a fun and educational day at school, but he had bigger things to worry about, suddenly. “You two can get home safely? No driving?”
“I live just across the field,” the girl said, gesturing at a row of houses on the far side of a narrow strip of land. She seemed dazed by more than alcohol. “Andy’s staying at my place.”
Great, so teen drunkenness can slide into teen pregnancy. A more prudish-than-expected inner voice, but not something Jericho could worry about right then. “Okay. Be safe.”
He was halfway into his sheriff’s department cruiser when Andy yelled after him, “Deputy Crewe! Hey!”
Jericho turned around, and the kids were both staring at him. “What was that?” Andy asked, gesturing in the direction of the explosion.
“Police business,” Jericho said seriously. “Get indoors, and stay there.”
Andy looked like he might be thinking about defying that instruction, but the girl had better sense and tugged on his hand. “Let’s go.”
“I see you out again tonight,” Jericho said, “I’ll finish writing those tickets, and see if I can’t figure out a couple other charges to add to them. Go home.”
There. That was the protect part of the job taken care of. Now he could to do something more interesting.
In the month since he’d started at the sheriff’s office, Jericho had spent most of his time helping Kayla look into corruption and wading through the bureaucratic bullshit that was part of running the department. Cooperating with the FBI as they investigated his shooting of their rogue agents and all the events that had led up to that, then endless hours of poring over old arrest reports, case notes and evidence chain-of-custody paperwork had bored him so completely that the occasional night of filling in on patrol seemed like an exciting adventure. The town of Mosely didn’t have its own police force, so the sheriff’s department covered the little grid of houses and businesses as well as the vast rural area beyond. Town was the most likely spot to find something happening on a night patrol, and Jericho had been pretty happy to discover a couple of drunk kids to cut the tedium. But writing tickets was nothing compared to explosions. He grinned as he called in to central dispatch and requested firefighters and extra police. This was more like it.
His excitement turned into something else, something cold and tight in his belly, as he drew closer to the flames licking the night sky and realized just which building was on fire. This wasn’t a fun adventure, it was a dangerous situation. Someone might have been killed if they’d been caught in that blast.
He parked the cruiser across the road to block any oncoming traffic. He was the first person on the scene, as far as he could tell, so there was no one to see him as he jumped out of the car and ran toward the burning building. The heat was too intense for him to get much closer than the edge of the parking lot.
He stood there and stared, barely aware of the churning in his stomach and the cold sweat on his skin. The building blazing in front of him was Kelly’s, the bar owned by Wade Granger. And if Wade had been inside when the building exploded, there was no way he could have survived.
Jericho still had Wade’s cell number, and he fumbled with his phone and stabbed at the screen, sending a silent prayer to anyone who might be listening, anyone who might care, as he waited for the number to connect.
When Wade’s voice mail clicked in, Jericho wanted to scream in frustration. Instead he said, “Wade, it’s Jericho. There’s a problem at the bar. Give me a call as soon as you can, okay? As soon as you get this message. Call me. Now.”
It wasn’t enough. Jericho wanted to spill his soul, confess to everything he’d felt over the years, and everything he hadn’t felt when he’d been with anyone but Wade. He wanted to set it all straight, stop wasting time, stop fighting something that could never be beaten. But if Wade had been in that building, it was too late for any of that.
So Jericho shoved his phone back in his jacket pocket and tried to focus on his job. His hands were shaking a little as he unrolled the crime-scene tape, but by the time the volunteer fire fighters started arriving, he was under better control.
He even managed not to punch the young asshole who sneered at the remains of the bar and said, “You want us to take it slow? No point risking our lives for scumbags like that, right?”
“Follow your standard procedure,” Jericho growled, and then stalked away before the kid said anything else.
It was hypocritical to judge the firefighter. He’d been pretty gleeful himself on the drive over, until he realized whose property was involved. And first responders often developed a sort of black humor as a way to deal with the trauma of their jobs. It was Jericho’s reaction that was unusual, not the kid’s.
He checked his phone, then stared at the flames. They were starting to die down on their own and the firefighters seemed to be spending most of their time on the nearby buildings, making sure the fire didn’t spread. Apparently they’d given up on salvaging anything from the bar. Anything, anyone . . .
Jericho’s phone vibrated in his hand, and he flipped it around to see the screen so fast he almost dropped it. The last texts between him and Wade had come from Jericho’s side, sending information about where his kidnapped half siblings were being held. Now the message came in the opposite direction.
Building is empty. No need for heroics.
Jericho stared at the screen. There was no emotion in the text. And he hadn’t mentioned a fire, or any other reason anyone might have been contemplating “heroics.” It didn’t seem as if Jericho’s call had surprised Wade at all. Did that mean Wade had— Had he known what was happening? Had he planned this? Most of Wade’s criminal activity involved smuggling things back and forth across the Canadian border, but maybe he’d branched out into insurance fraud. Maybe he’s branched out into murder, an inner voice prompted. Maybe he killed your father. Remember that, Junior?
Now Wade had sent a possibly incriminating message to the county Under-sheriff. Was he just assuming Jericho would keep his mouth shut about it?
No. Wade wouldn’t assume anything. And he wasn’t careless.
It was another one of Wade’s games. Another test, another trap. He wanted to see what Jericho would do. It was simple and easy, for Wade. Tap a few words into a phone and sit back and smirk as Jericho tortured himself. Damn it.
Jericho turned away from the flames in disgust. Amazing how quickly his cold fear had turned to hot anger. His body was still shaking as if it hadn’t realized that the temperature had changed. Wade didn’t care about Jericho’s career, didn’t care about his personal ethics; he wanted to stir things up. Just like he always had. As kids, they’d taken turns being the instigator, each pushing the other’s buttons and watching the ensuing fireworks, but Jericho had grown up, damn it.
He saw the flashing cruiser lights before he saw the car itself. Kayla pulled up next to him, climbed out of the driver’s seat, and stared at the remains of the building, then at Jericho. He walked a little closer.
“Did anybody get out?” she asked cautiously.
He offered her his phone, showing her the message from Wade. She raised an eyebrow after she’d read it. “He knew it was going to burn?”
“Insurance? He should be keeping his mouth shut. Not like him to blab.”
Jericho didn’t bother passing his theory about Wade’s motives along. There was no point. He’d shown her the text, so his job was done.
At least that part of it. There were regular police duties to take care of: supporting the firefighters, controlling the growing number of spectators, and of course, making sure the scene was preserved so evidence could be gathered once it was safe. Evidence. Because this was probably a crime scene. And, one way or another, Wade Granger was involved.
Jericho could still smell smoke when he woke early the next afternoon. He’d showered when he got back to his apartment, but apparently that hadn’t been enough to rid himself of the stench. It was likely his clothes that were stinking the place up, but he couldn’t get over the feeling that the smoke had somehow seeped into his pores. After all, it was Wade’s smoke, and Wade wasn’t easy to escape from.
He showered again, threw his old clothes into the compact washing machine in the kitchen part of the large main room, pulled on a clean uniform, and grimaced at the beige polyester. After eight years in the Marines and five as a patrol cop, surely he’d paid his dues? Coming back to Mosely had seemed like a time warp in so many ways, and stepping back into uniform was one of the most annoying.
Still, he took a moment to give himself a quick once-over in the cheap mirror on the back of the bathroom door. He was representing Kayla, and her life was complicated enough without having to worry about her officers looking sloppy.
But when he got to the sheriff’s station, it was clear that no one was going to be paying much attention to him. “Jesus,” he muttered, and frowned at Deb, the middle-aged woman who ran the reception area with a precision the Marines would have envied. “They’re back?”
“Just DEA so far. But depending on what started the fire last night, we might see ATF. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the FBI showed up too—they were all pretty chummy last time around.”
“Yeah, chummy enough to get dirty together.”
“That’s probably not a good ice breaker,” she said helpfully. “Especially since you shot three of their guys when they were here before.”
“That was justified.”
“Have they had the hearing already? I hadn’t realized.” He stared at her and she raised an eyebrow. “You know it was justified. I believe it was justified. The feds? They may be a little further along the path from certainty.”
“Damn it, Deb, do you think I need to be hearing that?”
“I absolutely think you need to be hearing it. Ideally, you would have thought of it for yourself, but that didn’t seem like a level of self-discipline I could count on.”
He frowned at her. They probably hadn’t had a real conversation since he’d joined the department, and he wasn’t really enjoying the change. “Is there a problem? You and me? Is there— Have I done something to offend you?”
Her smile was quick, warm, and real. “Not at all. But you’ve done something to offend them, and things will go better for everyone if you remember that.”
“Better for—for the department. For Kayla.”
She nodded. “Yes. For everyone.”
It was pretty hard to argue with her on that one. “Okay. I’ll keep a low profile.”
“That seems unlikely. But try to be conciliatory, okay?”
“Conciliatory? Are you— The shootings were justified, Deb! They’d killed at least one man, possibly more—possibly my father—and they kidnapped two kids! Members of my family.” They weren’t exactly a close family, but that was none of the feds’ business. “I got shot too, you know. And you want me to be conciliatory?”
“I want you to remember that these feds are not dirty. I want you to not pull out the attitude you showed the last time feds were in town. I want you to remember that Kayla doesn’t need to deal with your nonsense.”
And Kayla herself appeared then, distracting Jericho from trying to find out what the hell Deb knew about his so-called attitude and why she was suddenly deciding to comment on it.
“Jay, we need to talk.” She strode toward him, her duty belt making her hips look wider and somehow more feminine despite their weaponry. He wondered when Kayla and Deb had formed their alliance, then remembered that he was Kayla’s ally. Imported all the way from LA just to watch her back.
“You want to talk about the feds?” he guessed. “I already got an earful. I’m fully prepared to be professional and—” he frowned at Deb “—not ‘conciliatory,’ exactly, but professional. Yeah. Let’s stick with that.”
“That’s great,” Kayla said. “But not what I wanted to talk about.”
“Come upstairs,” she ordered, and he followed obediently behind her. He wished there were some feds around to see how professional he was being. And then as soon as he hit the top of the stairs, his wish came true and he couldn’t remember why he’d wanted it.
“Mr. Crewe,” Special Agent Hockley said. He made Jericho’s name sound like a disease.
“Under-sheriff Crewe,” Kayla corrected with a smooth smile. She turned to Jericho. “You remember Special Agents Hockley and Montgomery?”
Too well. They’d tried to strong-arm Jericho away from their case in the past, and from the looks on their faces they weren’t any more enthusiastic about his presence now. He’d had a few optimistic moments while investigating department corruption, hoping he’d find something that would incriminate these two, but they seemed to be clean. Which didn’t mean he had to like them.
But Jericho had arranged a leave from his job, moved halfway across the country, taken a pay cut, and returned to a town from which he’d barely escaped intact the first time around, all because Kayla needed someone on her side. Putting up with a couple of overentitled feds was nothing. So Jericho smiled, not widely enough to appear insincere, and nodded toward them. “Yeah, hi. Welcome back to Mosely.” And then, just because he couldn’t help himself: “You guys here for business or pleasure?”
Hockley frowned at him, then turned to Kayla. “As I said earlier, we’ll have to discuss information-sharing protocols. I accept that we could have been more open the last time we were here; possibly that would have helped us catch on to some issues sooner. But—” he looked doubtfully, pointedly at Jericho “—there will have to be limits.”
Be conciliatory, asshole, Jericho reminded himself. Still smiling, he spoke to Kayla, not either fed. “You’re the boss. I’ve got lots to do just sorting through all the corruption stuff.” He looked apologetically at Hockley. “Oh, sorry, is that a touchy subject for you?”
So much for conciliation. It was too sweet to see Hockley and Montgomery glare. But he moved on quickly. “I’ve been working with some good contacts at the DEA in Denver—Shelly Walton and Timothy Parsons— Oh, Shelly’s the special agent in charge . . .” He frowned at Hockley. “I guess that’d make her your boss, huh? And she’s given me full access to all her records about what’s going on in Mosely. So if there’s something I need, I can just get it from her instead of you. Too bad to waste her time, but, after all—there have to be limits.” He turned his attention back toward Kayla. “Work for you?”
“For now,” she agreed. There was a light in her eyes that might have been a warning, but he preferred to interpret it as amusement. She glanced at Hockley and Montgomery, then turned back to Jericho. “Mind if we borrow your phone for a minute?”
He raised his eyebrow. “Kay, that’s a private phone. I’ve already shared the message with you, so I can’t think of why you’d need to see it again. And if you’re planning to show it to the feds—well, I’m not feeling particularly inclined to share with them right now. You know?”
“This is the sort of cooperation we can expect?” Hockley growled at Kayla. “We have to get subpoenas and search warrants for a member of your own department?”
“I’m still having some trust issues,” Jericho said firmly. “After all, the last time I was involved with federal agents . . . well, let’s not bring up painful memories. Although the bullet hole in my shoulder isn’t exactly a memory yet, considering I just had my final physiotherapy appointment a couple days ago. But, yeah, I think it might be nice if there was a clear paper trail to show exactly what you all had access to and when. And you’ve got to admit—subpoenas and search warrants are a good paper trail.”
“Jay,” Kayla said quietly but firmly. “Give me your phone, please.”
He could refuse, of course. It was his private property. If he did, though, it would make her look weak, like she didn’t have control of her own people. And if he gave it to her after making a fuss about it, she would look strong and he’d look weak. Damn it. But it was Kayla, so he pulled the phone out and even went so far as to type in the password and call up the appropriate screen before handing it over. She was his boss and his friend.
“Thanks,” she said, and held the phone up so the feds could see the screen. When Montgomery stretched to take it, she pulled it back. “It’s a short message. You can just read it.”
“We’d like to review the context,” Hockley said.
Jericho snorted. “I was the first on the scene and called the owner of the building to get information about who might be inside. He texted that back. That’s all the context there is.”
Hockley’s smile was almost pitying. “I think everyone knows that’s not quite all the context between yourself and Mr. Granger.”
Jericho reached out for the phone, and Kayla handed it to him without further comment. “Are we done here?” he asked her.
She made a face. “Hopefully. But, we’re tight for space again, with the new arrivals . . .”
Tight for space, and Jericho was using the building’s only conference room as somewhere to spread out his files. “I could work from home,” he volunteered quickly. “It’s not a big place, but there’s a dining room table I’m not using.” He grinned at her. “I wouldn’t need to wear the beige if I was at home, right?”
“I’d prefer to keep you in the building,” she said.
“The security of the documents is important,” Hockley added. “Especially in this case.”
“The security of the documents is a local matter,” Kayla corrected him. “Not something you need to worry about.” She stepped a little closer to the agent and lowered her voice. “And, Agent Hockley? We are done with you maligning the integrity of my under-sheriff. If you have any evidence of corruption or improper behavior, you can bring it to my attention. But if all you’ve got are sneers and innuendos? I don’t want to hear them. Not to my face, and not in my building. Is that understood?”
Agent Hockley was quiet for a moment, then he nodded. “It is.” He turned to Montgomery. “We should get back to work.”
They walked away, Kayla and Jericho watching silently until they were out of earshot. Then Jericho said, “Sorry. I guess. I mean, possibly I could have been more conciliatory.”
“They could have too.” She shook her head tiredly. “My life would be a lot easier if everyone would just get along.”
“If everyone got along, you’d be out of a job. No conflict means no cops, right?”
“I could still do traffic stops.”
“Those aren’t much fun.”
That was when one of the deputies found them and said, “Jericho, there you are. Nikki called. She wants you to call her back as soon as you can.”
“She say why?” It was unlikely that his father’s widow was calling to thank him for all his help.
“Said Elijah got loose and she thinks he might be heading your way. Is Elijah her dog?”
“No,” Jericho sighed. It wasn’t the first time this had happened. “He’s her six-year-old son.” Jericho’s half brother. He turned to Kayla. “He probably hasn’t gone far—last time he was up a tree just a couple blocks away. But I should go deal with it.”
“Yeah, you should. Maybe we can tag that kid with a transmitter, like they do with endangered animals.”
It wasn’t a bad idea, but it would help solve future problems, not the current one. So Jericho jogged back down the stairs he’d just come up, phone out and dialing Nikki as he moved. Getting into fights with feds and tracking down errant children: somehow, this had become his life. He glanced down at his uniform and shook his head. Yeah, it was his life, and he was living it in beige and brown.
“I don’t know why he’s doing this.” Nikki sounded genuinely confused, and also a little pissed off.
“How good is he at getting around?” Jericho drove and kept his gaze on the road ahead of them and the sidewalk to the left, while Nikki hopefully stayed focused on the view to the right. The last time Elijah had disappeared, he’d snuck out of his bed at night and his absence hadn’t been discovered until the next morning. This time, he’d left from school in broad daylight. With any luck that would make him easier to locate, but they hadn’t had much luck so far. “And do you really think he’s trying to find me?”
“You’re his brother.” Nikki’s eye roll was practically audible. “Plus, you carry a gun and boss people around and drive a car with flashing lights. You used to be a soldier.” Her voice softened a little as she added, “You saved him from the bad guys.”
“Wade saved him more than I did. I passed out about ten seconds after I found him.”
“Yeah, he was pretty impressed with all the blood too. You’re definitely his hero, at least for now.”
“Until he realizes you’re not on our side.” The bite was back in her voice.
“Give it a rest, Nikki.” She’d been pretty low-key when she was still in the hospital, depending on him to keep an eye on her kids in the foster home the state had found for them. But once she’d been released, her attitude had changed. He’d driven her around and helped her find a rental house on the edge of town, and he’d paid the first month’s rent without even suggesting she’d have to repay him, but apparently that wasn’t enough to make up for having taken the job with the sheriff’s department. Jericho wasn’t sure if Nikki was involved in any criminal activity herself, but she absolutely had her loyalties straight. Anyone married to Eli Crewe couldn’t have cared too much about following the law; however, Nikki clearly took it a little further and considered herself some sort of desperado. It was a pain in the ass. “Let’s just find Elijah.”
Jericho figured he’d give it about ten more minutes before he called back to the office and got a couple of deputies on the job. Ten minutes was enough time to cover every street in the damn town. Nikki didn’t want the sheriff’s department involved, of course, but if Elijah was genuinely missing, Jericho needed help.
“Duck down for a minute, okay?” he said.
“Duck down. So if Elijah looks at the car, he won’t see you.”
“You think he’s running away from me?” He couldn’t tell if she was hurt or angry. Possibly a combination of the two.
“Not necessarily. But he knows you’ll take him back to school, or home. Right? Maybe he thinks I’ll let him hang out for a while, if it’s just me.”
Nikki reluctantly slid lower in the seat, and when her knees hit the dashboard she slumped enough that she couldn’t be seen from outside. “If someone sees me crouched down like this, next to you, they’re probably going to get the wrong idea,” she said, sounding pleased.
Jericho ignored her, and hit the switch to turn the flashing lights on. He wouldn’t disturb the peace with the siren, especially when he wasn’t really sure if Elijah would run toward or away from the noise. Hopefully the lights would attract interest without being scary. Not that Elijah had ever seemed scared of much.
Jericho drove slowly up and down the streets, trying to think like a six-year-old boy. After a few minutes he rolled the window down and caught a whiff of the pungent air; he turned the wheel and headed in a new direction.
The firefighters had soaked the remains of the bar with water, but the acrid smell was still heavy in the area, an intriguing mix of destruction and mystery. Jericho wasn’t surprised to see a familiar blond head poking through the charred remains of the building. The little turkey had ignored the barricades and was conducting his own investigation.
Jericho pulled into the parking lot, and Elijah looked up, then raised a hand in casual greeting before going back to his explorations.
“Stay down another minute,” Jericho said quietly. “He’s here, and he’s not hurt, but he’s not on good footing. I want to get him out of there before he tries to run.”
“This isn’t about him running away from me,” Nikki hissed, but she stayed crouched down.
Jericho flipped the lights off and stepped out of the car, trying to match Elijah’s lack of concern. No small, uncontrollable children climbing over unstable wreckage here. No worries about dangerous chemicals or smoldering hot spots. Certainly no frustration about being dragged away from work to spend time searching for a feral brat who should have stayed at his safe, wholesome school instead of stumbling onto a crime scene and messing up evidence.
“Hey, Elijah.” Jericho stood at the edge of the wreckage pile. “You need to come out now, okay? There’s dangerous stuff in there. It’s not a good place to play.”
“There’s a place that bounces,” Elijah announced. He pointed, and then started moving in that direction.
“If you want to bounce, we’ll find you a trampoline. But come down from there now.”
“Come up with me,” Elijah suggested. “You could keep me safe.”
“No, that’s not a good idea. It’s dangerous. Come down, please.”
“Are you scared?” It wasn’t quite a taunt, not exactly a dare, but there was enough of both in the tone to have Jericho’s inner child leaping to the challenge, ready to climb.
“I’m scared for you, yeah. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
Elijah turned away as if considering Jericho’s words, then stepped forward and started bouncing.
No response. Apparently the area wasn’t just bouncy, it also had an invisible soundproof barrier.
Jericho was this kid’s hero? Yeah, right. He glanced back toward the car, saw Nikki peeking over the dashboard, and shrugged obviously enough for her to see. He was out of ideas. He could climb up and grab the kid, but the wreckage was unstable, and places that might handle the kid’s weight wouldn’t necessarily carry Jericho’s. Pretty ironic if his attempts to save the kid ended up getting them both hurt.
“Elijah!” Nikki’s voice was loud. Not fearful, just angry. “Get off there right now. You need to get back to school! I’ve had enough of this!”
But the soundproofing evidently worked against Nikki’s voice too. Elijah didn’t even turn his head.
“Get him down!” Nikki ordered Jericho.
“Great idea. Got any suggestions on how to get him down?”
“Just climb up there and grab him,” she said scornfully. “What, have you been reading child-raising books? You think you need to reason with him and give him the opportunity to correct his own behavior? Ignore that bullshit and get my kid off that garbage and back to school!”
It would be so easy to sever this relationship. Nikki was . . . difficult. That was the most charitable way to describe her. He’d helped her enough, surely. She might be his father’s widow, but she’d never been his mother. The kids were animals, wild and ungrateful and usually surly. His life would be a hell of a lot easier without any of them in it.
Then Elijah turned his head, just a half inch, enough to get a quick glimpse of what Jericho was going to do. And there was something in the movement, some mix of tentative bravado and desperate desire to be noticed, that pulled at Jericho. Something he recognized all too well. He couldn’t walk away from the kids, because they were in the same place he’d been in after his mother had died, and he’d needed someone to help him out and care about him then, although he hadn’t been able to admit it.
“I’m worried about you, Elijah,” he said. The boy slowed his bouncing, at least a little. “I really want you to be safe. I want you to have fun, but I’d hate it if you got hurt.”
“Just grab him,” Nikki said tiredly. “I swear, I’d thought a Marine would be a bit more interested in discipline.” She raised her voice. “You’ve got about three seconds to get your ass down here, boy. If I have to climb up and get you, there’s gonna be a whupping coming your way.”
Elijah turned away and bounced a bit harder. Apparently if he was going to get whupped, he’d make the crime worthwhile.
That was when a new voice entered the exchange. “Hey.” It was male, authoritative without being pompous, and even with one word, enough for Jericho’s body to recognize it and respond. “Hey, Elijah.”
Elijah swiveled his head to see the new arrival, and Jericho let himself do the same. Wade didn’t bother to look toward the adults, just stared at the boy. “That’s my pile of wreckage you’re messing up,” he said firmly. “Get the hell off. Now.”
There was a part of Jericho that wanted Elijah to respond to this new order the same way he’d responded to the earlier ones. A part of him that wanted at least one person in the world to be immune to Wade’s effortless charisma. But Elijah immediately started picking a path down off the rubble, like a tiny robot programmed to respond to only his master’s voice.