Vegas, Baby, Vegas! (Part 1)
A Whateley Universe/ Loose Cannons Story
VEGAS, BABY, VEGAS!
Bek D Corbin
Stuck inside these four walls
Sent inside forever
Never seeing no one nice again like you
Mama you, mama you
If I ever get out of here
Thought of giving it all away
To a registered charity
All I need is a pint a day
If I ever get out of here
If we ever get out of here
Well the rain exploded with a mighty crash
As we fell into the sun<
And the first one said to the second one there
I hope you're having fun
Band on the run
Band on the run<
And the jailer man and sailor sam
Were searching every one
For the band on the run
Band on the run<
For the band on the run
Band on the run
Well the undertaker drew a heavy sigh
Seeing no one else had com<
And a bell was ringing in the village square
For the rabbits on the run
Band on the run
Band on the run<
And the jailer man and sailor sam
Were searching every one
For the band on the run
> Band on the run
Yes the band on the run
Band on the run<
Band on the run<
Band on the run
Well the night was falling as the desert world
Began to settle down<
In the town they're searching for us every where<
Cause we never will be found
Band on the run
Band on the run<
And the county judge who held a grudge
Will search for evermore
For the Band on the run
Paul McCartney, Band on the Run
We had to get out of town- hell, out of THE STATE- as quickly as possible. But, as Eddie (in a show of heretofore undemonstrated common sense and tactical savvy) pointed out, it’s better to run smart than it is to run fast. So, among other crafty diversions, I called my brother Kyle, who was a Sophomore at Stanford (‘Oooh… look at me, I go to STANFORD, and I’m a big shot College guy, and Dad doesn’t hate me!’freakin’ coddled legend-in-his-own-mind…), and made out like I was calling for help. Knowing Kyle, he was on the phone to the MCO five seconds after I hung up, or his phone was being bugged, just in case I called there; either way, the authorities are expecting us to head south through San Jose. Instead, we headed the one way that they’d never expect us to go: back through Sacto, on our way up to Lake Tahoe. We ditched the motorcycles in Truckee and then headed over to Reno. We left the SUVs in the last place that anyone would look for them (namely, the local Sheriff’s impound lot), and wasted another couple of days waiting for something that Chris was working on.
DATE: Tuesday, March 20th, 2007
And, despite the two-day stay in less than luxurious accommodations, what Chris came up with was worth the wait. Get this- not one, not two, not even three, but FOUR out-of-state high schools were sending students to Las Vegas for some sort of competition. I’m still not sure what it was. Heck, I’m not sure that the kids who were going knew what it was. But HEY! They were going to LAS VEGAS! Who CARED what it was? And they were all joining up in Reno, to go to Vegas on the same train. With that many kids and so few adults keeping track of them, it was easy enough to blend in. With the help of a few suitcases of clothes that ‘somehow’ got misplaced (don’t ask), we were able to pose as groups from ‘another school’. Mack, Eddie, and Rachel were jocks. Chris, Roxie, Marly and Yvonne were cheerleaders. Sparky was a Mascot. And the rest of us were Band Nerds <grumble, grumble, popular assholes… well, we still got our MUSIC! Yeah, no one can belt out the theme from ‘Star Wars’ like we can…>
Suzy was off, doing… something (the only way to keep her in one place would be to chain her to something, and at the very least she has the minimal common sense to not use her superspeed. much) and I was stuck with Billy and the two new kids. Joy. Oh yeah, and Sparky the Wonder Dog. Megan and Rick, the two kids that we’d hauled out of that UNITY lab in San Francisco, were just beginning to thaw out, and get a handle on the fact that we weren’t going to sell them to someone or put them to work with their psychic powers or something. Billy and I tried to get them to open up a little more, but both of them had that ‘Go away, I don’t wanna talk about it’ look. I got the distinct impression that neither of them had been at Snowfish for the five-star accommodations and the bouillabaisse dinner. I wanted to tell them that my dad was probably just as big an asshaul as whoever had sent them running, but no kid, especially one who screwed up the nerve to run, wants to hear that their special, unique brand of suffering is a mass market commodity. After a while both Billy and I gave it up, and checked out the scenery.
Ah, Nevada… or, as Californians like to call it, ‘the vacant lot next door’.
But miles and miles of rolling foothills giving way to rolling desert gets real boring real fast. So, I dragged out some of the dossiers and printouts that we’d gotten from the PFAR building, and started trying to see if I could get anything from them.
Dear God, I’m a wanted fugitive with multiple national-level organizations that want to kill me, and I still have to do homework. How pathetic is THAT?
“What’s that?” Megan asked, finally perking up with curiosity.
“Oh, while Mack and the others were breaking you out, Billy here broke into the safe of the Bleauchamp Society, a refugee assistance non-profit that shared the building with the lab that was working you guys over. We think that Bleauchamp is just another UNITY front, like Snowfish and the PFAR, and I’m looking for anything that Bleauchamp had going in Las Vegas.”
“A refugee non-profit? What would UNITY want with that?” Megan asked.
“Very good question,” I admitted. “But I got the distinct impression that UNITY didn’t like having neighbors that could stick noses into their business. And I’m seeing a ton of e-mails to addies in Vegas. Hey, Billy… this is right up your alley: for some reason, I’m just not seeing a secret lab in Las Vegas. You got any ideas?”
Billy sat back, as though thinking about it carefully. But I could tell that he was digging on being the center of attention (and without people yelling at him for once). Finally, he said, “Nah, I gotta go with you on this one, Ev. Secret base in Vegas? SO not the Vegas vibe. Maybe out in the desert or somethin’. But in Vegas, the town? Can you imagine some egghead scientist keeping it a secret? Nope, if you’re talking Vegas, that’s where these yoinks go to make sure the cops can’t track their money. That or it’s where they pick up new guinea pigs for those stupid experiments of theirs.”
“Why would they go to Las Vegas for fresh lab rats? They had Snowfish.”
“So? Who says that they only got the lab in Frisco? Why put all their eggs in one basket? Snowfish only supplied kids for the Frisco lab; but they probably got labs stashed out in the boonies somewhere and they can’t use the locals, or people would catch on. So, they just troll the Vegas casinos for losers, guys who came to Vegas on their way somewhere else, and blew their traveling money at the slots. Probably nobody knows these guys are in Vegas in the first place, and with most of those guys, nobody gives a shit. They go do something that losers do to get a ticket out of town, and the nice UNITY person shows them into the back room, and BAM! You got one more body, ready for the slab.”
“Good point, Billy,” I nodded. “You got one more body- and his identity.”
Billy’s eyes popped open wide. “Oh! Good Idea! You think that they’re selling legends?”
“Legends?” Meagan asked.
“Y’know in old spy movies, when the spy goes to this ratty old shop and this old guy sells him a set of ID papers?” Billy asked, confident on this subject. “Well, you can’t really DO that anymore. Nobody just has a passport or a driver’s license anymore. You got to have entire histories: where you were born, what schools you went to, what grades you got, driving records, medical records, arrests, convictions, credit history, all that. And with the internet, they can check that real fast these days. If you don’t have a complete history these days, you might as well be a 25-year old Hawaiian organ donor. I’ve heard that there are guys who will pay good money for a decent ID pack, or ‘legend’. And the best Legends come from real people who had real lives but aren’t really connected to anyone at the moment, and nobody knows that they’re dead.”
I leaned back and considered Billy. “Legends. I hadn’t thought of that. I was thinking that they were using the stolen identities for the new members of UNITY, so they wouldn’t be connected to their old lives. But, like you said, ‘legends’ ARE a valuable commodity. And if they were brokering new identities, then the Bleauchamp Society suddenly makes a lot of sense.”
“Yeah?” Megan asked, suddenly very interested. “How?”
We were interrupted when Marly almost broke our cover by walking up to us like we were real, actual people, instead of band geeks. She had a girl tagging along, about our age, maybe a little younger than me, dressed like most of the other kids. The girl was taller than Marly, thin, and had long, slightly curly hair the color of new pennies and the pale, freckle-prone complexion to go with it. She had a long, narrow, pretty forgettable face that was more than redeemed by a pair of huge, compelling gray eyes that she hid behind a pair of glasses. “Hey, guys,” Marly asked, obviously for the sake of the other kids that were paying attention to us (or, at least her short cheerleader skirt), “would you make sure that Ginny here doesn’t go wandering off again?” She said it in a ‘cheerleader bitch-queen giving the band geek underlings notice that any further interference would NOT be appreciated’ tone. ‘Ginny’ sat down with us and looked back and forth with obvious curiosity. I sent silent cues to Billy, Megan and Rick to not discuss anything weird with ‘Ginny’ until we got a straight answer out of someone.
Four very, very tense hours later, we pulled into Las Vegas, and Marly made sure that Ginny stayed with us. Chris had pulled some sort of scam with reservations at the MGM Grand, where all the other kids were staying, and we got adjoining suites. BIG, luxurious suites. Chris pulled some sort of buck-and-wing at the desk, and we got sent up, despite the fact that there was the expected hitch at the front desk. “How did you PULL that?” Rae asked as we gathered in one of the girls’ suites. Chris just showed off one of the UNITY gizmos that we’d pulled out of their San Francisco lab with a smirk, this thing that sort of looked like a cross between a Playstation console and a handbag. It meant absolutely jack to me, but both Rae and Mack seemed to get the point.
“Before that,” Billy said with a note of exasperation in his voice (he was probably digging on being the one exasperated, instead of the exaspertor), “WHO is SHE?” he pointed an accusing finger at ‘Ginny’.
“This is Ginny,” Marly started, “and she reads minds.” We all started to say ‘how do you know that she reads minds’, when the obviousness of the answer hit each of us. “Yeah. We sort of ‘bumped into each other’, if you get my meaning, and, well, she sort of… knows all about us…” Marly gave us all an embarrassed grin. “She’s… sort of… a lot better at this telepathy thing than I am.”
“I AM?” Ginny asked, like she was overjoyed to finally hear that she was better than somebody at something. “Wow. I only got this mind reading stuff a couple of weeks ago!” She looked around at us, all aquiver with excitement. “Are you guys really all MUTANTS?” she asked, like she equated ‘mutants’ with ‘rock stars’.
“Well, YEAH,” Roxie said, not very comfortable with it. “Sort of. It’s… complicated, and we’re not exactly clear on everything.”
“Really? How did you guys all get together? What was it like when you discovered your powers? It was all really confusing for me. I mean, I just suddenly started hearing voices in my head, I thought that I was going NUTS! MAN, you would not believe the crap that goes on inside most people’s heads! And BOYS! Do they ever think about anything other than SEX?”
“Yeah,” Eddie said matter-of-factly, “we think about cars, guns, explosions, video games and sports. Oh, and not humiliating ourselves. But mostly we think about sex.”
“Weird,” Ginny said with a shake of her head. “Anyway, I tried to tell Mrs. Dermot, the guidance counselor at my school? But she just called the MCO on me! They would’a bagged me, but I lucked out and ran into her in the parking lot and she tried to be all cool and get me into her office where the MCO goons were waiting, but I could tell that she was freaking out inside. And I could tell that she really, really wanted me to go into her office, so I split out of school. But the MCO was fuckin’ everywhere! So, I hadda get out of Salem-”
“Salem, Oregon. Didn’t I say that? Yeah, I’m from Salem. And Salem’s a government town, and the MCO has it IN with the state government, and I hadda cash out my entire savings account, max out my emergency credit card, and swipe my dad’s credit card to get the money to get out of town. What happened with YOU guys?” she settled down, and looked at us with happy expectation of a rousing adventure story.
“Some assholes captured us,” Rachel said in a flat no-nonsense voice, “did weird science stuff to us, killed four of our friends, and now they’re trying to KILL the rest of us, that is, unless the Knights of Purity or the MCO or the fucking COPS don’t beat ‘em to it!”
“Ew,” Ginny deflated.
“Why did you head to Las Vegas?” Chris asked.
“Hey, I only got a few hundred bucks on me,” Ginny said defensively, “and it’s not like I can call my folks for some more. I figured that I’d come down here and use my mind-reading thing to pick up some real money, and live on that until I figured out what I was gonna do.”
“What?” Billy said with a snotty tood, “You ain’t heard?”
“Vegas is like a Psychic Motel! Psychics check in, but they don’t check out!”
“Yeah,” Rachel agreed, “I heard that the people who run Vegas are always checking out the players. If they spot people who show signs that they’re using ESP or whatever, they just pally up to them, let ‘em have all kinds of free drinks, and when they go to their rooms to sleep it off, they just ‘disappear’ them.”
“How do they spot psychics?” Ginny gleeped, her big gray eyes full of fear.
“Dunno,” Billy said. “That’s just the word. But think about it: what’s the first thing that crosses your mind when you think about getting ESP? You think about going to Vegas and making a killing at the tables! We know that there are psychics, so how do Vegas and Reno and Atlantic City stay in business? They know how to spot psychics. If yer lucky they just call the MCO on you.”
“I thought that they didn’t have any technology for detecting telepathy or clairvoyance or anything like that!”
“What technology?” Chris asked. “They have those cameras watching the tables for cheating. If what Billy and Rae say isn’t total street hooey, then they’d just have people who know how to read players’ tells, those little giveaway things that people do, that show that someone’s using some telepathy or ESP or some other weird gimmick.”
“Well, I could-”
“Hey, no matter what you could think of, they’ve got it covered,” I said, trying to cut the kid a break. “These people are professionals, in a field where they handle a LOT of loose money. AND, that’s if they let you into the casinos in the first place. You’re what? Fifteen? Sixteen?”
“Well, with the right makeup-”
“With the right makeup, you’d STILL need a damned good fake ID to get in,” Roxie said, all big-sisterly. “And how reliable is your mind reading?”
Ginny sort of sank down into herself. “Well… it isn’t always on… and I gotta sort of get myself thinking in the right way. And then, I kinda got a problem with getting it to shut OFF.” She looked at us oddly. “Y’know, I had NO problem reading Marly. And I can pick up some stuff from those two,” she indicated Megan and Rick. “But her?” She jerked a thumb at Yvonne, who was sitting and sort of listening, but not paying any real attention. “It’s like the lights are on, and someone’s home, but they aren’t answering the door. And you guys? It’s like you’re there… but there’s some kind of… blanket or somethin’ around your minds, muffling everything. I know that something’s going on in there, but it’s hard to make it out.”
“Well, at least SOME of us have something going on,” Rachel said with a snide smirk in Billy’s direction.
Billy have her a ‘very not-funny’ laugh and snarled, “Yeah, so why are we letting her in? We’ve already GOT someone who can read minds,” he jerked a thumb at Marly. “So, what do we need Carrot-top for?”
“Hey, Billy, this isn’t the Legion of Superheroes,” I pointed out. “We HAVE firepower. As my dad would say, what we need is intelligence and recon capability. Marly and Ginny can read minds: HUGE edge right there. And TWO people who can read minds is twice as good, if not more. Ginny, you need a place to go; we need someone who can look ahead and see trouble coming our way. If you wanna run with a bunch of kids who have major guns on their ass, we’d be more’n happy to have you.” Ginny gleeped and sparkled, like she’d finally been picked first for dodge ball.
Billy growled at that and looked at Megan. “So. You. Marly and Ginny read minds. According to Mack, Rick does the telekinesis thing. What about you?”
“Yeah,” Mack said, as though remembering something. “Back in Frisco, when the Dragons-”
“Dragons?” Ginny asked.
“-were blocking our way, they pretty much had us cold, but you pointed that thing at them, and it was like they just stopped COLD for a second. Okay, it gave us the opening we needed, but what the FUCK was that?”
“Oh, that?” Megan said, pulling the thing that looked like it couldn’t make up its mind whether it was a phaser or a digital camera. “That was this. It causes one of those ‘space out’ things, where you sort of lose track of everything for a second, and you need a time out to figure everything out.”
“How’d you know that?” Mack said suspiciously. “Hell, how’d you know how to use it? I don’t see a trigger or anything on it.”
Megan fidgeted under all the attention for a moment. “Well, Marly’s got telepathy, Rick’s got that telekinesis thing and I… I got ESP… I guess...”
“Yeah, if I focus, I can see things, like in the other room. And if I handle things, I get these impressions off ‘em.”
“It’s called ‘Psychometry’,” Chris said. “There’s a bunch of controversy over it, and how reliable it is, and whether they can use what they get off an object as evidence in court.”
“Right! Anyway, I got ahold of this… gun… thing, and I knew what it would do and I just used it.”
“What about the other stuff we got out of that lab?”
“Lab?” Ginny asked, “What lab?”
Megan shrugged and said okay. As we took samples of tech from their boxes, I commented, “I wonder why they only put these single-name labels on the boxes. There’s no picture, no instructions, no nothin’.”
“They don’t need them,” Megan said settling in. “Every member of UNITY pretty much knows what all the others know, at least while they’re linked up. So, they already know what each gadget does. The only reason that they even put those labels on the box is that they can’t be bothered to remember which box is which. More would just complicate things.”
“How do you know this?” I asked, not quite sure what to make of someone who knew that much about the enemy.
“They kept pounding at us, constantly, for days,” Rick groaned. “They just wouldn’t let up.” He rubbed at his temples, like he was trying to get the last of it out of his head.
“They just kept hammering at you, trying to get in?” Suzy asked.
“No, they didn’t try to force their way in,” Megan said. “They just keep at you, over and over, telling you how fucking important it all is. They kept telling us about what they did, and how it all fit together.”
“Bullshit.” Rick muttered.
“I can’t remember everything that they told us- I think that’s part of their technique, they just overwhelm you and wear you down. But I remember bits and pieces of what they told me.”
Besides the thing that Megan had used, which we discovered actually created a hypnotic effect in people (hey, Megan had been in a rush), she checked the dingus that Chris had used at the desk. Megan said that it created a sort of generalized ‘charm’ effect that caused people to react well to whoever was at the center of the effect, and to think well of him and want to help him. Chris snatched it out of Megan’s hands and said, “MINE!” like a grabby two-year old.
Others started to complain, but Mack said, “She’ll be able to use it best.”
There were gadgets that created mind blasts, PK blasts, panic attacks, made you not so much invisible as no one noticed you, made people forget what had happened in the last five minutes or so, set things on fire or iced them up, levitated you, created a PK force field, and one that Megan said could make a person think things you wanted, like they owed you money or something. “Everything here is some sort of psychic effect,” Chris noted. “Why would they want gadgets that make psychic effects, if they’re all already psychic?”
“They aren’t all psychic,” Rick said. “Anyway, not all telepaths. I can’t read minds, but they were trying to drag me into their stupid unity thing, ‘cause of my PK. The ones who aren’t telepathic are linked to telepaths. But sometimes a ‘Unit’- that’s what they call the losers they bring into UNITY, ‘Unit’, how lame is THAT?- will need to affect somebody, so they use one of those ‘tank’ things. Or a telepath will need some sort of PK effect.”
“Like a force shield,” Rae said, like she thought that she’d run into one.
“Force shields?” Ginny gleeped, like she’d wandered into the middle of an adventure story.
“Hold on,” Roxie complained, “HOW can they have gadgets that give people who don’t have psychic powers the ability to do mind blasts and make people forget things? They can’t DO that!”
“That’s what you said about that dingus that changed us into this.” Rachel sneered.
“I gotta see-” Roxie reached for one of the dinguses, but Billie snatched it away from her with one of his tentacles. “HEY!”
“Hey, we NEED these things!” Billie blurted out. “Can you imagine what we could get away with, with something that makes people forget what just happened?”
“Yeah, but Rox’s got a point,” Mack said. “There might be something in these things that we need to know about. Hey, Ev- we got three of these,” he tossed me one of the boxier ones, one of the ‘psychic invisibility’ doo-jobs, “open it up and see if you can figure anything out.”
Well, like I said before, curiosity is my besetting vice. Along with a weakness for onion rings. I pulled out the Leatherman® tool that I’d picked up back in Frisco, and opened up the casing. The gadget was compartmentalized up the whazoo with blocky modules plugged in, very ‘plug and play’. “Just like we saw down in that workshop,” Roxie said, peering over my shoulder. I guess that Roxie has a problem with curiosity, too.
I pulled one of the boxes from its niche in the array. “Check this out,” I pointed at the connections. “These bits are pretty standard electronic connections, but they only lead to these three blocks here. The rest are connected by these thick black rubbery strips. I ain’t pegging what the strips are. And they seem to all start at the three blocks that are connected to the conventional power cables and electronics. Interesting. Well, nothing for it…” I carefully pried at the box at the seams and got it open.
“It’s… a brain?” Roxie said, like she wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be insulted.
“How’d they get it that small?” Eddie asked.
“The same way that you did,” Billy snapped. “It’s just a model.”
“No…” I said examining it carefully, “I think that it is, or at least WAS, real. But it’s not a human brain. From the flatness of the brain dome and the shape of the lobes, it’d say that it was either a large cat or a small dog.”
“How do they keep it alive?” Mack asked, totally squicked.
“It’s not alive,” I said, noting the tiny electronic interfaces set into the gray matter. “I think it’s been… jellied… for want of a better word.” Mack made a sick noise.
Roxie snapped her fingers. “The Workshop! They had all those animals in different stages of being implanted and conditioned and all that, remember? It was an assembly line! They were taking all those animals, doing… something… to them, and then, bit by bit, they implanted them and conditioned them until they could do this one psychic trick- don’t ask me how- and then they… jellied… the animals’ brains, so they didn’t have to go to the bother of carrying the whole animals around.” Eddie started making sick sounds like Mack.
“Yeah,” I agreed, trying to get the casing back together (hey, it wasn’t like I wasn’t getting a little queasy looking at it, either), “it’s like the old horror movie bit with the brain in a jar, taken to the next stage.” I looked at Sparky, with the ceramic cap on his head. “Sparky, you got off lucky.” Sparky just gave a disgruntled whimper, and turned his head, like he was saying ‘I’m glad that YOU think so…’
“Okay, now that we know what we got, put the brain crap away and deal with the shit we’re in the middle of right now,” Mack said, sweeping the brain gear aside. “Okay, we’re in Las Vegas, now what?”
Mack looked at me, and I looked at Eddie. “Any ideas?” Hey, I want as many people on this team thinking as possible, and when he puts his mind to it, Eddie can come up with some good ideas. He just needs a little pushing to do it.
Eddie sat forward, hands clasped in front of him and concentrated, “Okay, I got it… gimme a second…” Rachel started to make a snide comment, but I shushed her. “Okay! We’re here, and we’re safe- for the moment. We can’t stay here very long. First, we gotta figure out where we’re gonna go next, what’s the next step. Then we figure out how we’re gonna get there without blowing our cover. Nobody knows we’re in Vegas; we gotta keep it that way. BUT, we gotta make money. Nobody’s gonna give us a ride for free, and even in Vegas, tooling around in a stolen car is just asking for trouble we don’t need. So! We got those addresses that we got from the labs here in Vegas. Like we agreed before, we need money and we need credibility.”
“And we need to know who Mr. Bland and his buddies are,” I pointed out.
“Right! And we dunno what or who’s at those addresses, but they’re all we really got right now.”
“What about those guys that work in the casinos who bag Psychics?” Suzy asked. “We send in Marly or Ginny or Megan, let them get bagged, and we follow them to wherever the bag guys take them?”
“NO!” Eddie said firmly, getting into it. “WAY too dangerous. Those guys work for the casinos. The casinos aren’t just a part of the power setup here in Vegas; they ARE the power setup here in Vegas. We do NOT mess with the casinos or resorts if we can help it!”
“Day-um!” Rachel said, looking at Eddie all impressed. “When did YOU get a brain, fat boy?” Eddie just flipped her off.
“Okay, good work, Ed!” Mack said, taking the reins back. “So, it’s like back in Frisco: first we get to know the layout of the place, then we check out the addresses, figure out which of them has something going on, and then we go in and bust up the place!”
“Slow down, Speed Racer,” I said. “I mean, does anyone know what kind of clout the MCO has in this town? Or the Knights of Purity? What kind of Paranormal Threat division does Vegas PD have? What kind of superheroes do they have in Vegas?”
“Well, I dunno about the MCO,” Rachel said, “but Vegas PD has a PRIMO SWAT team for handling super-goons. One time, my Gramma took me to Vegas, and this asshole- never did get his handle- started tearing up the Strip. The House Superheroes jumped him, and then LVMPD SWAT came in, and they took him down, just like THAT.”
“Yeah, get this: each hotel or casino has its own house superhero! They walk around in costume, greet the guests, let people take pictures with ‘em and all like that, but it’s not all just a shuck, they have real super powers, and if someone with super powers starts busting things up, they jump in and handle it. And if they can’t handle it, they keep a lid on it until SWAT shows up.”
“Wow,” Rick said, “House Superhero. That is either THE cushiest job in the world, or the suckiest. It’s gotta be one or the other. No way it can be anything in the middle.”
“Hey, what about those ‘Mutant Death Matches’ that you hear about?” Suzy asked. “Y’know, like WWE, only with mega-zaps and tearing up walls?”
“Oh get REAL!” Roxie said with genuine scorn in her voice. “That’s just Pro Wrestling, Las Vegas style! I mean, you watch, and there’s all sorts of tearing up the stage and blasting and all that, but does anyone really ever get HURT? It’s all spectacle and razzle-dazzle, but I mean, do they even have anyone with actual super powers up there?”
“YES,” I said. “Check it out: those legit ‘super-matches’ may have started out as just a bunch of special effects, but you just know that the second that someone with real super powers figured out that he could make a lot of money safely in Vegas by just putting on a costume and strutting his weird out, there was a line of ‘em, all wanting a piece of the action. And, since the safety measures are cheaper than special effects, the resorts went along with it. Which means that at any given time, there must be at least 20 to 30 people with super powers of one kind or another in town.”
“Betcha that a bunch of ‘em are supervillains, laying low and looking to build up a stake for one of those big jobs they do,” Chris said. “I mean, it takes money to hire goons and rent lairs and buy all that stupid super-science crap! And who’s gonna front money to bad risks like supervillains? So, they come here, lay low, put on the stupid costume that the resorts want them to wear, and make money for their big scheme.”
“That means that there must be a MCO office here in town,” Eddie said. “And, I’ll just bet you that they’re in real tight with Vegas PD and SWAT.”
“Yeah, but it puts a whole new spin on those addresses that we got,” I pointed out. “Like you said, Chris, there’s this steady market of supervillains coming to Las Vegas, looking for scratch to put together, right? They’re here, looking around for connections for goons, lairs, special equipment, and all like that? Well, Vegas was fuckin’ BUILT by the Mob! Who’d be better for putting together packages like that?”
“So, the addresses are, like, warehouses of special gear?” Mack asked.
“Special gear, oddball weapons, strange costumes, custom-built vehicles, small armies of guys doing strange training: hey, it’s LAS VEGAS! Who’d notice?” I asked. “I mean, the supervillains who are putting on the big show to make the scratch for all this wouldn’t be satisfied with ‘sure, we got yer Zergatronic Death Ray; it’s in a shipping module in Dayton, waiting for yer final payment for loading.’ No, they’d want to SEE what they’re paying for, while they make the scratch.”
Billy nodded. “Yeah, and since no matter what anyone says, Vegas always has been and always will be Mob property, all the supervillains mind their manners. Maybe you got super powers, but everyone’s gotta sleep sometime. And if you been a bad boy on their turf, THAT’S when the Guys get you.”
“So… do we go after the warehouses?” Suzie said warily. “I mean, do we really want to piss off the Mob?”
That got into a whole big discussion about whether the warehouses were Mob turf or UNITY fronts or what. It went in a lot of different- and let’s get real, some pretty stupid- directions that you don’t really wanna hear about. Short form, we decided to go in and check out these warehouses, but this time, we keep it nice and quiet. No big fights, no explosions, no wreckage, get me? If we can, we go in, we find some stuff, we find some more out about Mr. Bland, and then we go OUT again, and nobody knows we was even there, at least until they do inventory. With any luck, we could get what we need, and be out of town, and nobody’d even know that we was even IN Vegas.
“Okay, so we gotta eyeball these places, like back in Frisco,” Mack said, getting his leader groove on.“A big crowd of kids all running around together will stand out too much- well, at least off the strip, where we’ll be looking, anyway. So, we gotta break up into teams and go look at as many places as possible. Okay, so, it ain’t PC, but the sad fact is that three black kids hanging out together won’t be as conspicuous as we would be if we was all spread out among the teams; we only see that kind of diversity on Sat-AM. So, Rae and Marly will go with me.”
“What about Yvonne?” Marly asked, standing by Yvonne’s side, all protective-like.
“I’m sorry, girl,” Mack said, looking into her eyes soulfully. “If it got too hairy, she’d only get in the way. If anything, she’d be the one most likely to get SHOT. We leave her here… and hope that the maids don’t come in and see her and get weirded out.”
“Okay, so that sets the teams at three per,” Roxie said. “I think that we need one of the Psi kids on each of the teams. We’ll NEED that touch of the ol’ ESP on this one. And we need someone who can protect the others.” She shot me a look that suggested that it might be a good idea if we steered someone with some actual brains onto each team, too. It didn’t work out quite as smoothly as that, but we did manage a reasonable split. Eddie weaseled the selection until he got on the team with Roxie and Ginny. I was left with Suzy and Megan, and Chris got stuck with Billy and Rick.
“Who gets Sparky?” Roxie asked.
“He stays here with Yvonne,” Mack said. “He stands out too much with that cap thing on his head, and Yvonne needs someone to watch out for her.” He leaned over and looked into Sparky’s eyes. “Sparky, you stay here with Yvonne. If anyone knocks, don’t do anything, just sit still. We’ll leave a message with the front desk, to not send up a maid until we get back.” Sparky gave a ‘yessir!’ bark, and jumped up into Yvonne’s lap. Yvonne started petting Sparky, like she was on automatic.
Yep, DAMN smart dog.
DATE: Wednesday, March 21st, 2007
As strange as it seems, Las Vegas is NOT a one-industry town. While the trade of separating suckers from their shekels IS the big dog in town, there are actually a bunch of R&D labs (most a good ways out in the desert), and a bunch of manufacturing firms that see being located out in a wasteland as an asset. Go figure. Some of the addresses we had to check out were way too far out in the boonies for us to be inconspicuous. But one of the addresses, a recycling plant was well in-town, if a good distance from the Strip. An oddly large, enclosed and cut-off from public view recycling plant. Suzy zipped off, and a few minutes later, she came back with a black plastic bag, and then she zipped off again, to return every so often with more bags. Finally, I managed to catch her and keep her from running off again. “Suze,” I said in the voice of sorely tried patience, “WHAT are you doing?”
“Cans and bottles!” Suzy came back in the ‘Doy!’ voice. “It’s a RECYCLING plant! We use these as an excuse to get and-”
I cut her off. “It’s a CHEMICAL recycling plant! They recycle stuff like dry cleaning chemicals, and used motor oil and shit like that. They deal with chemical lots by the TON, not by the pound,” I kicked one of the bags.
“Well then, how’re we gonna get in?” Suzy whined. “I ran myself ragged-”
“uhm, I think that I can get us in,” Megan said. “That door over there has a keypad, and the security camera covering it is bogus. I think that I should be able to read the combination off the keys.”
“You can do that?”
“Yeah, I should be able to. It’ll take a couple of tries, but I think I can get us in.”
“Megan, there are some lonely bank cards that need you to help make a match with some equally lonely ATMS.”
Megan was pretty much on the money: it took her three tries, but she got us in. I looked around. It was your pretty standard big enclosed maze of tubes and vats and like all that. It would take a little doing, but if we were careful, we should be able to figure the layout of the place without getting spotted. I took the lead, “Okay, Suzy, if it gets nasty, your job is to get Megan here to safety. I’ll cover your exit and get out on my own; don’t come back in after me, it would just defeat the purpose of me covering your exit.”
“Y’know, you’re making some pretty macho noises for someone who turns into a gurl at the drop of a hat.”
“You mock my manly dignity,” I said with heavy gravitas.
“Mock, mock, mock!” And on that harmonious note, we entered.
“It did WHAT?” Mack asked in a ‘are you shitting me?’ tone of voice.
“What did what?” Chris asked as she and her team walked in.
“Start from the beginning, Ev,” Roxie said, “We walked in the middle of this, and I think that Eddie needs to get this in order, ‘cause he’s having problems following it.” Eddie did the ‘ha-ha-very-NOT-funny’ laugh and flipped her off.
“Okay, here goes. We were checking out the addy we were supposed to. Megan got us inside-”
“It turns out that she’s very good at figuring out stuff like combinations and codes. She touches the keys, and she uses her ESP to read them for the numbers and sequences used.”
“Reeealllyyyy??” Billy sat down next to her, all interested-like. Megan just pointedly scooted well away from him.
“Yeah. Anyway, Suzy scopes out the place and finds that besides the separation tanks, there’s a bunch of mixing and combining stuff as well.”
“How do you know they were mixing vats?”
“It was printed on signs: ‘Mixing Vat #12-C’, like that,” Megan explained.“They also got these phony plates that they stick on with magnets, probably for when inspectors show up. Evan finds the office and figures out that they’re working a double set of books, one of which is written out in a ledger on flash paper so they can destroy the whole set, if the place gets raided.”
“Yeah,” I took over, “then Megan ‘reads’ the ledger and figures out that the plant is mixing up exotic compounds for various criminal enterprises using the recycling plant’s facilities. Then she opens the safe and finds stacks of envelopes with large amounts of cash, and some notes that suggest to me that they do a LARGE cash-on-the-barrelhead business.” I threw four thick envelopes on the table. Mack opened one up and pulled out a big wad of twenties and fifties.
“Let me guess,” Roxie said with a smirk, “they’re using this recycling place as a cover for mixing up weird compounds to order for supervillains and their ilk.”
“Hey, they could be using recycled dry-cleaning chemicals,” I pointed out. “Just because you’re irredeemably evil doesn’t mean that you can’t go Green. Even supervillains can have a social conscience.”
“Very funny,” Eddie snarked, “And THEN?”
“Okay, the reason why we can be sneaking around like this and not get spotted- aside from my mad Ninja skills-” Suzy threw a pillow at my head, “-is that the guys who are running the place were busy loading this space shuttle lookin’ aircraft that’s parked in the loading area. While Megan and I were doing what we were there to DO-”
“Hey, I was listening in, so’s we’d know if anyone spotted them, SHEESH!”
“-Suzy is listening in, and hears that the ship belongs to someone called ‘Longhaul’, and he’s going to make a delivery.”
“’Longhaul’?” Roxie whined, “Why do supervillains these days all have handles like something off G.I. Joe©?”
“’Cause most of ‘em grew up watching G.I. Joe on TV?”
“Yeah, well, that would do it.”
“Well, now you know.”
“And knowing is half the battle.”
“And the other half is explosions, lasers, bloodless combat and really horrible marksmanship. Those bozos never hit ANYONE!”
“Hey, don’t dis bad marksmanship. Air Force hand-gunning is the only reason I’m still alive today!”
“ENOUGH!” Chris yelled, “What’s the POINT here?”
“Well, while I’m watching, they rolled the ceiling of the place back,” Suzy said, “And the ship takes off, straight up. NOT A SOUND. Not a whisper. SILENT. And then, just as soon it cleared the roof, it DISAPPEARS.”
“WHAT?” was the general consensus.
“It just vanished,” I backed Suzy up. “She called us over to check out a totally silent vertical takeoff, and it just fuzzed out. People, we are talking the stealth vehicle from HELL here.”
You could just see the potentials for that register around the circle. But Roxie had an objection. “So WHAT? Something like that probably takes a special license, just to ride in; there’s no way that we could pilot something like that!”
“Something like that is probably a prototype that that guy stole, and computerized up the whazoo. I’ll bet that as long as you have the right codes and all that, it practically flies itself.” I pointed at Megan. “If Megan can use her psychometry on it, she can find the right codes and protocols and like that, and we have a sweet ride all the way to CHICAGO!”
“Why doesn’t this Longhaul guy just use that to make a killing, moving drugs over the border?” Billy wondered.
“Who says that he doesn’t?”
“Then why does he waste his time moving this stuff?”
“Maybe he doesn’t deal, he just moves,” Roxie guessed, “Mules make less money than the people buying and selling, but they run a lot less risk getting their asses shot during a deal. Hey, we don’t know how much he’s getting for delivering that stuff. With a rig like that, he’s probably asking a pretty penny to move shit around.”
Eddie looked worried. “No, wait a minute. There’s something that we’re missing.”
“Dunno,” he said sitting forward, concentrating real hard in his ‘I’m thinking’ position. “But there’s something here, something wrong. I mean, a magic airplane that’ll get us all to Chicago before dinner without a hitch just drops into our laps? That’s just too good to happen. It only happens in dumb little kids’ stories. And just jumping on that thing and trying to fly it all the way to Chicago is a dumb little kid move.”
There were some loud complaints that it was simple, and we’d be stupid not to jump on a golden opportunity. I whistled it down and said, “I agree: we gotta jump on this. But Ed has a good head for things like this. And I gotta agree with him, there are just too many things about that ship and that Longhaul guy and that whole situation that we just don’t know about.”
There was some groaning at that, and I saw Eddie checking out Ginny’s reaction. Then he said, “BUT, there’s nothing that says we can’t use that thing to get the hell out of Vegas. I mean, there are three ways out of Vegas: you can catch a flight, you can get on a train or bus, or you can drive. TSA and the MCO probably watch the airport and train and bus stations real close. We got lucky when we came in, ‘cause we had a couple of thousand high school kids running cover for us. No way we can count on that, gettin’ out. And Las Vegas is surrounded by a couple of hundred miles of flat-out nuthin’ in every direction. Driving out, with as many kids as we are, with no adult in sight, we’d get pulled over by Nevada State Troopers in an hour. The trick is gettin’ out of the desert, say, into the Rockies. Out in the desert, we’re sittin’ ducks. But in the Rockies? The terrain works for us.” Ginny flashed Eddie a ‘my hero!’ look, and the big goof just glowed.
“Okay, but even then it’s not gonna be easy,” Suzy pointed out. She made a few points about the stealth ship’s fuel, handling and security measures that make me think she’s getting with the program herself. Billy may be all alone on the clueless boat, soon.
We talked it out over a few maps, and hammered out a few basics for our plan. “Denver,” Mack said definitively. “It’s got to be Denver. We got four solid addresses from the laptops in Denver, it’s on an almost straight line between here and Chicago, we got our choice of five different targets that we can reach from Denver, and it’s the travel hub of the Rockies. We’ll have our choice of which way we want to go and how we’ll get there.”
“Actually, Mack, we want to go HERE,” I put my finger down on Pueblo, roughly 70 miles south of Denver.
“What’s in Pueblo?” Suzy asked. “You wanna check on your SATs?”
“It’s not what’s in Pueblo,” I said. “It’s what’s HERE,” I put my finger down just outside Colorado Springs, “and HERE,” I put my finger a little north of Colorado Springs. “Respectively Peterson Air Force Base and Fort Carson Army base, which are home to the United States Northern Command, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the Air Force Space Command, the 21st Space Wing, the Army Space Command, the US Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd Airlift Wing, the 4th Infantry Division, the 101st Special Forces Group, a bunch of other divisions that aren’t quite as nasty, and the 51st Metahuman Special Operations Command Wing, which is nastier than any three of the others combined. El Paso County would be one of the most tightly monitored stretches of ground west of the Mississippi, just because NORAD is based at Peterson. But, on top of all that, after they shut down Strategic Air Command, they turned one of the underground operations centers into the Thunder Mountain Holding Facility.”
“What does it hold?”
“Supervillains,” Billy answered. “He’s talking about the Rat Trap, the Super-Ultimate Maximum Security prison that the Feds use to hold supervillains and like that.”
“Okay, so NORAD’s there,” Rachel groused, “What’re they gonna do? Lob a nuke at us?”
I gave her the ‘listen to me, I know what I’m talking about’ glower. “Look, after they shut down SAC in the Nineties, they gave NORAD the job ofoverseeing all the air traffic for North America, even the stuff in Canada and Mexico. I mean, just because WE can’t see or hear it, doesn’t mean that Military Grade radar or other sensors can’t. If even a top of the line stealth craft like Longhaul’s got went into El Paso airspace, they would scramble a wing that could shoot down the USS Enterprise! If we flew a straight vector from Vegas to Denver, we’d cut through that protected space. But, Pueblo is outside that zone, so we should be reasonably safe landing there.”
“How do you know this?” Megan asked.
“My dad is a USAF officer. I spent three years at Peterson AFB. The airspace around there is sewn up TIGHT!”
“Yeah, but Longhaul’s ship-”
“Can we afford to take the risk?”
“And there’s another reason why we don’t wanna go through that stretch of airspace,” Suzy kicked in out of left field. She tapped her finger on the space for Pikes Peak. “There’s a new superhero group in Colorado Springs called ‘the Denver Gold’. From what I picked up in the superhero and supervillain chat rooms, they’re new, they’re tough, they’re high-tech, and they don’t exactly play by the standard superhero rule book.”
“How do you mean, ‘they don’t play by the superhero rule book’?”
“They got a big mean corporate sponsor, some ‘Witch of Wall Street’ type named Guzman. And she’s pushing them to be THE big superhero group in the Rockies. They’re hungry, they’re pushy, and they’ve been making moves to make the Denver superhero group, ‘Heaven’s Thunder’ look like wimps. If they get so much as a whiff that we’re in the area, they’ll rip the place up to get at us, so they’d get all the glory.”
Mack put on his ‘I’m the leader’ hat and asked, “Okay, they got a point: we don’t know how much stealth Longhaul’s ship really has; knowing where and when to run is probably a big deal about using it. If going through Colorado Springs is too risky, then Pueblo looks good. But where do we touch down?”
“That’s why I chose Pueblo,” I shot back. “Pueblo used to be called ‘Steel City’, ‘cause way back in its glory days, it used to be the major steel town west of the Mississippi. There are still a lot of working steel mills and recycling centers, but there are, like, MILES of abandoned steel mills on the industrial side of Pueblo. If we come in sneaky, we can land it and leave it there, and nobody’d find it for weeks!”
“Yeah, but it’s 70 MILES from Denver!”
“Yeah, 70 miles, along Interstate 25!” I pointed out on our map. “People, we can catch a <u<bus from Pueblo to Denver! It’s a two hour ride! As long as we don’t bring a brass band along, who’d notice?”
Mack nodded. “Yeah, that works. And depending on what happens in Denver, we might be able to run back down to Pueblo and get the ship back if we need it. BUT, all we really got right now is that we know about this Longhaul guy and his ship. We don’t have it yet. And we might not be conveniently available to jack his ride when the time comes; I mean, a guy like that doesn’t stay out of jail by being predictable.”
“Yeah, but he gets jobs by being reliable,” Suzy pointed out. “According to the paperwork that we looked through, Longhaul makes deliveries to and from that place four times a month, regular as clockwork.”
“Cool!” Eddie said. “This means that we leave the recycling place alone until we need to get the hell out of Dodge. We pick a couple of the other places, check them out, and get our ducks in a row. First, we do sneaks on the places that we can, and then do hard strikes on the ones we can’t sneak, if they have something that we really want. Then we nail Longhaul at the recycling plant, and fly out of Vegas before anyone knows what’s happened. Sound like a plan, Mack?”
“YEP,” Mack said, giving Eddie a look of surprised respect. “Okay, the place that Rae, Marly and me checked out near the airport was pretty hard core. Roxie, what about the place that you checked out near the University?”
“It’s a lab of some sort,” she said. “Somebody doing some very exotic High Energy research.”
“The kind of energy research that regular research universities won’t do because it’s too dangerous,” I asked, “or because of DARPA restrictions?”
“Both, I’d say,” Roxie answered. “From the energy hookup, I’d say that they’re tapping into the Strip’s power-lines in six different places. Their cover is that they develop light shows for the lounge acts, and I’m guessing that they pay the bills by developing and selling energy weapons for the supervillain market.”
“Hey, those death rays don’t build themselves, y’know.”
“Okay, we hit these people, definitely,” Roxie said in an ‘I know what I’m talking about’ tone of voice. “If they’re not directly connected with ‘Mr. Bland’, then at the very least they do business. If we can’t find something on Mr. Bland and his crew from their records, then something’s wrong.”
“Yeah, and check this out,” Eddie said. “Right next door to ‘em is another *cough!*bullshit!* ‘workshop’ that makes ‘animatronic figures’ for the resorts. But from what we saw in their yard, they also develop robot combat units.”
“You saw them testing combat robots in their yard?”
“Why would they do it where everyone could see?”
“Why wouldn’t they?” Roxie asked rhetorically. “This is Las Vegas! Anyone who saw them testing would just go ‘Woo! Great special effects!’ If anything, trying to hide something like that would be suspicious. Doing it where anyone could see it and dismiss it as razzle-dazzle is safer and cheaper.”
“And any client who wants to see their Zergeriffic Warbot or Zergatronic death ray, can without worrying about the usual bee-ess, ‘cause it’s all out in the open,” Eddie added. “They just slap those B-S ‘villain’ decorations on ‘em so nobody recognizes ‘em.”
Mack chewed on that for a while. “Okay, that’s… interesting… but I’m not really hearing anything that we can use to find out who Mr. Bland is, or give us any real cards. Roxie? Evan?” he looked at us as his brain trust.
But we both shook our heads. So far, it was all just Business as Usual, Vegas-style. “Unless we connect it to ‘Mr. Bland’, or some flat-out crooked organization, it’s… nothing that we can use. We need things that District Attorneys can use to make big splashy, sexy cases that will make their careers. The UNITY gear and notes? That’s just the sort of stuff that we need.”
Mack absorbed that with a loud sigh. “Okay, Chris… you got anything?”
Chris gave this big grin that would have been an absolute guy magnet back at Marty Samm. “We hit the jackpot! We found a warehouse!”
“Yeah, but whose warehouse?”
Chris’ smile sparkled, “THAT’S the jackpot! It’s an escrow warehouse!”
“huh?” went around the room.
“It’s a Real Estate warehouse?” Megan peeped, confused.
“No, it’s an escrow warehouse!” Chris said. Seeing mostly blank faces surrounding her she went on, “It’s a place where you store something that you’re selling someone, until they’ve come up with all the cash. Handling the cash is another part of the service. Both of the parties that are buying or selling hand over the money or whatever’s being sold to the Escrow service. When both sides have handed over what they promised, and the Escrow service says that it’s all on the up and up, the Escrow people hand over the money to the seller and the whatever’s being sold to the buyer.”
“So there’s none of that Drug scene, ‘Gee I think I’ll keep everything, and I got a gun’ crap,” I said, getting her point.
“Right! This way, the guys who’re building the Doomatronic Fractal Imploder for the Crimson Scorpion don’t have to worry about the Scorpion going psycho on them and testing it on them. And the Scorpion doesn’t have to worry about a setup when he takes delivery, and he knows that the Imploder actually works, because the Escrow service checks on that.”
But Mack wasn’t sure. “This sounds way too close to what the Mob does,” he said. “Like Billy said, Vegas is a Mob town, and we really don’t want to go setting off any alarms by ripping off one of their operations.”
“So, who says that we steal anything? Why would we want to steal anything from them? They’ve got something a lot more valuable to us than money or any weird gadgetry.” Chris’s grin went smug. “They’ve got information. They’re handling Mr. Bland and UNITY’s supplies through Vegas, which means that they’ve got phone numbers, web addies, and maybe even physical addresses.”
Seeing where she was coming from, I added, “What we really need is more info on Mr. Bland, and some more info on UNITY wouldn’t hurt any. This warehouse has delivery addresses for the orders that they make online. If they’re in Vegas, and it’s a good chance they are, we can find them through their orders. Hell, we can probably track them by following their deliveries of pet food.” Sparky gave a woof, as though saying ‘hey, don’t diss the kibble’.
And from there, it went off on another paranoid tangent that went off in 16 different directions about how powerful UNITY was or wasn’t and whether we were playing right into their hands and all that paranoid horror movie crap, and was it pretty damn stupid in places. It was a waste of time, and I won’t waste yours with it.
“Okay, way I got if figured, we make three raids,” Mack got back into the saddle.“One for money, one for info and one for the ride out of here. Any more, and we WILL get busted. I may not be a big mastermind, but we’ve all heard about the guys who would have gotten away with it, but they just HAD to pull one more job, while they were on a roll. We can’t afford that. Three of ‘em, right in a row, three nights in a row, and with the last of ‘em, we’re out of town. Anyone see any problems with that?” Mack looked around. I looked at Roxie and then at Eddie. They both shook their heads. We looked around, and no one had any problems with it. It was good, simple, basic strategy. I nodded for Mack to continue. “So, now we have two of our three targets. The Recyke place is last. The Escrow warehouse is second to last. But we’re going to need money, as much as we can bag.”
“We don’t know if there’ll be a place that we can hit for cash after this,” Chris pointed out. “If we don’t stock up now, when we’ve got so many fat targets who won’t run to the cops, we might be forced to doing something that we won’t be able to defend later, like robbing banks or something.”
“Exactly,” Mack nodded. “So, who had an address where they had lots of money- and I mean CASH: we can’t afford to waste time or expose ourselves selling stuff. So, who’s got what?”
DATE: Friday, March 23rd, 2007
The cash cow was a pawn shop. But it was a pawn shop that could only exist in Las Vegas. It was a pawn shop for supervillains. Yeah, there was the regular- okay, some pretty outrageous- stuff out in front, that the suckers trucked in to stake themselves to another round of financial suicide. But in the back? WHOO! The stuff back there made the stuffed moose and the rhinestone studded rodeo saddle out front look tame! They had a collection of Maltese Falcons. And I’m not talking about the funky ‘black bird’ statues they sell in knickknack stores, I’m talking about the jewel-encrusted golden statue that the Fat Man, Alice Wonderley, Joel Cairo and all them were all willing to kill each other for, and there was a line of TWELVE of ‘em on one shelf! You may have heard that the world’s largest emerald, a big honking green slab of crystal the size of a watermelon that they found down in Brazil a few years ago, went missing and ‘nobody knows where it is’? I know where it is! It’s in that frickin’ pawn shop’s heavily armored back room! Apparently, the guy who nicked it couldn’t sell it, so he hocked the stupid thing! They had- I shit you not- what looked suspiciously like a fucking atomic bomb. I’m not sure that it really is, but then again… how would you check?
They had a rack of used power armor. USED power armor, folks. That they guaranteed were all in working condition. Okay, they each cost more than a main battle tank (used), but Hey! This is Las Vegas! There must have been at least one time when some high roller said, ‘Gee, I lucked out BIG at the tables! I think I’ll blow it all on that suit of power armor that I’ve wanted forever!’ Or something.
Marly, Chris and I had managed to get into the back with one of the pieces of UNITY tech as an entry card, namely one of the ‘psychic invisibility’ dinguses. Hey, we had multiples, and if anything went seriously hinky, Marly could get out ‘invisibly’ with it. Chris was carrying that ‘Psychic Charm’ dingus in a handbag, so she took the lead in peddling the cloaking device, while Marly was there, playing the supportive girlfriend, and I hung back, playing the way out of his league boyfriend. Like I’d ever be that lucky.
We were the Open/Nonviolent Entry team. Our job was to be there to back up the Covert Entry team, which was Billy, Megan and Rick, if they got blown. Billy, Megan and Rick were going to try and break in through the side, with Megan ESPing the alarm combo off the keypad. Their job was to get in, open the pawn shop’s cash reserve safe, where they kept the main amount of cash that they refreshed their working cash from, get as much folding money as possible, and get out without anyone seeing them. That was, of course, ‘Plan A’, where everything goes according to plan. My team’s part of ‘Plan A’ was to keep the store’s crew busy, preferably with that ‘psychic charm’ dingus of Chris’. If Billy’s team got blown, our job was to trip up the store’s security people until Mack’s team could get there. Mack’s team was Mack, Rachel and Eddie. If things went screwy, they’d go in hard. Rick would do that ‘poltergeist storm’ thing of his, my crew would trip up any armed response, and then Mack would come in the side door like Gangbusters. Roxie, Ginny and Suzy were the Base team, operating out of a stolen van about a block away. Roxie had taps on both the local power junction box and the phone relay; if Ginny got a message from Marly that it was going sour, she’d blow both boxes, shutting down both the power and any outgoing alarms or phone calls. Suzy would evacuate anyone who got hurt. Our emphasis was on getting out in one piece.
The cell phone in my pocket vibrated silently three times and then stopped. That was our cue. Billy was ready, and they were going in.
“Okay, let’s go over this, and figure out where we went wrong.”
“You were SUPPOSED to pick up the entire SAFE!”
“It was BOLTED to the fucking FLOOR!”
“Where did that that guy in the turban come from?”
“Where did that guy and chick come from? They almost fried me!”
“Why didn’t you just OPEN the damn safe?”
“Because it was electrified, and the wiring panel had a demolitions charge on it, that’s why!”
“Who has a pawn shop that’s wired with self-directing blasters?”
“Billy, you were supposed to grab any loose CASH!”
“But it’s the Maltese Falcon!”
“How are we supposed to HOCK the Maltese fucking Falcon?”
“And where were you while I was getting my ass handed to me by that refugee from the Arabian Nights? And where did he come from, anyway?”
“Try Aladdin’s hotel; he’s probably one of the house superheroes.”
“If he’s a superhero, then what’s he doing at a super powered HOCK SHOP?”
“Hey, maybe being a superhero is just his day job.”
“Where did those armed guards come from?”
“It’s gonna take me forever to get that capture gel gunk out of my hair!”
“Gunk? You’re bitching about gunk? I got SHOT! SIX TIMES!”
“And you’ve already regenerated it, Eddie!”
“So? It still HURT like fuck!”
“You think you got hurt? I walked into seven separate and distinct blasts IN A ROW! If it wasn’t for this shield thing, I’d be lunchmeat!”
“Excuse me? I know that I’m new here and everything, but WHY is Evan a Girl now? And why isn’t anyone else freaked out bythat?”
“Oh, that’s just something that he does, Ginny, HE says that it’s something to do with his powers, but if you ask ME-”
“Says the guy with the rainbow shirt.”
“So? What’s the matter with rainbows?”
“Hey, at least you can blend into a crowd… Do you have any idea of how hard it is to get around when you look like a fukkin’ ROBOT?”
“So? This is Las Vegas! Just say that you’re a street performer!”
“What I want to know is who started the FIRE?”
Mack cut it all off with a shrill whistle. “Okay, Evan, at least you got a military background… you got any input?”
“Not really, Boss,” I admitted. “That pawn shop was a very tough nut, and we just didn’t have the chops to crack it. On top of that, let’s be honest, it didn’t go west, it went in 16 different directions the second we committed. Which might be the only reason that we’re all still here, and not in the back of that pawnshop with the owners using a blowtorch on us! I’m still not sure of half the shit that went down back there! And while nobody did anything really RIGHT, on the other hand, nobody did anything really wrong, either. I mean, Suzy remembered to hit the cash registers when we couldn’t crack the safe, and even Billy’s reflex grab on that ‘Maltese Falcon’ isn’t the brainfart that it looks on the surface.”
“How’re we supposed to hock the Maltese Falcon?” Roxy demanded.
“Forget that it’s a Humphrey Bogart knockoff, and remember that it’s about 50 pounds of Gold, encrusted with a bunch of jewels,” I pointed out. “There was a fantasy book called ‘Myth Adventures’ that I read, where the writer argued that the reason why sorcerers always had these weird idols around with multiple arms, or flamebursts or sun rays, wasn’t that they were magic, but that they were made of Gold! It was a way of keeping a lot of money around in a form that people would be scared to just walk off with. When they needed some money, they’d break off an arm or a tentacle or a flame burst or a fruit or something and melt that bit down for the gold. I think that ‘Maltese Falcon’ is a sort of way of keeping some easily sold gold around, and keeping some hot jewels around until they cool off. The ‘falcon’ bit is probably a reasonably common supervillain joke. Odds are that dingus that Billy’s holding in his hot little hands is solid gold.”
“And given the going rate for gold, even without the jewels, that thing’s gotta be worth at least fifty grand,” Roxie said.
“Try over half a Mil,” Chris said, “Gold’s been steady at $850 an ounce for a while. And that doesn’t include the value of the gems.”
“A half MILLION?” Billy sqawked as he clutched the ‘falcon’ to him like a teddy bear.
“How much you wanna bet, that’s why that shop had so many of those things?” Rae offered. “It’s probably like a regular thing: steal or buy up a bunch of slightly hot gold and jewels, have someone make it into a ‘Maltese Falcon’, and cover it up with some enamel, ‘cause nobody would think that it’s anything other’n tacky Hollywood novelty item. And you can hock it, cutting out the need to melt it down again.”
“And a supervillain hock shop would take the things as a matter of routine,” Megan pointed out, probably trying to step up a little, “so the odds that it’s solid gold go way up, ‘cause nobody wants to blow their credit with the shop by foisting off something that’s loaded with lead or junk. When you’re at the level where you’re hocking falcons, the quarter mil or so that you’d get for it ain’t worth the knock to your rep or your credit rating.”
“Besides,” Rae added, “fences don’t stay in business by trusting their customers. That thing’s been checked by people who know what they’re doing. It’s GOLD.”
“Meh,” Roxie grunted. “There goes my chance to see if Archimedes had his head up his ass.”
“OKAY!” Mack took back control of the meeting. “So, yer outta the doghouse and in the black, Billy. Did anyone pick up any money that we can actually spend?”
“Yeah,” Marly said, “I managed to crack three cash registers before the counter guy got wise to me. I picked up about 15 grand, give or take.”
“And I got another 10,” Chris said.
“And I got the manager’s trucker’s wallet,” Billy said. “Check it out: the asshole was carrying over 50 grand in 100s in his back pocket!”
“WOOF,” Suzy said with a deep awed voice. “And I got 35 grand and change! So much for cluster fuck! We walked out of there with over 100 grand in cash, and a gold statue worth half a million dollars!”
“It was a cluster fuck,” Eddy said sourly. “We blew our biggest edge: nobody knew where we was. Before, they thought we were still in Frisco, or maybe going down to LA. Now people know that we’re in Vegas.”
“But they don’t know that it was US!”
“They may not right now, but they WILL, and when they do, it’s gonna get hella nasty.”
Roxie got up and started pacing. “We gotta get outta town, and we gotta do it NOW. We steal a car, a van or something, and head over to Arizona-”
“No,” Mack said.
“But We-” Roxie started.
“I said NO!” Mack said with the finality of a Supreme Court Justice. “Running away now is a Punk move. If they recognize us from the pawn shop, then they think that we’re punk kids, and they’ll be checking every report of a bunch of kids trying something to get out of town. They’ve seen this kind of shit before, they know what to look for; WE haven’t, so we don’t know how to do it without getting bagged. So, we hang tough, and we head out of town on Longhaul’s ship, which may be the only way out of this burg that they won’t see coming.
“Besides,” he continued, “we NEED the information from that escrow warehouse. The more information we find there, the better a position we’ll be in when we get to Denver, and then to Chicago. The money’s good, the gold bird is very good, but it’s that information, the stuff that we can give to the Attorney General, that’s gonna get our necks off the chopping block!”
Roxie started to argue, so I cut in, “Gimme a sec, Mack. I’ll talk to her.” I towed her out to the kitchen. She started to quibble, so I cut her off. “FIRST, he’s right: the guys who run this town know this scenario a LOT better’n we do. If we run, we’re playing their game by their rules in their backyard. We might as well just go to the MCO and turn ourselves in. They’ll disappear us, but it won’t be anywhere near as painful, ‘cause they don’t need to make an example of us. SECOND, it’s not a good idea to second-guess the leader when you’re in the crunch like we are, Rox. There’s reasons why guys like Mack get put in charge of armies, and not brainiacs like you’n me. When the going gets tough, guys like him hunker down and focus. Geniuses like us panic. Why d’you think I nominated him in the first place? I’m an Air Farce brat; I know how these things work.”
“Evan,” Roxie snarled at me, “we have GOT to get out of here! We can’t just go on like we have! The group was big enough, when it was just us, but then we picked up Marly and Yvonne, and now we’ve got those two lab kids, and now Ginny? We gotta do something! This many kids running around is like wearing a big ‘send SWAT to pick us up!’ sign!”
“Okay, Rox, you got a point,” I allowed. “But just cutting people loose like that ain’t a good idea. Eddie might get worried that we’re gonna throw Ginny overboard, and that could get real nasty real fast. And Yvonne’s pretty much dead weight, but Roxie, there’s no way that Marly just gonna leave her behind, and right now we NEED telepaths, dig? Megan’s a clairvoyant. So far, all we’ve seen is her psychometry thing, but if she can do Remote Viewing, she’s pretty damn indispensable, no? And if we start throwing people over the side, Billy might get scared and run off with everything that he can carry. Besides, we need as many people who can verify that we are who we say we are, remember? My Dad already pretty much disowned me back at the Country Club Mall. I need people who’ll back me up when I say that I’m Evan Ramsey, so the M-SOC will bother to take my fingerprints. And Roxie? Right along with Rae and Chris and me, you NEED people who’ll say that you’re Roxie Lockhart. I mean, what’re you gonna DO? Go to your parents and say, ‘Hey, check out the great makeover I got! Yeah, I know that I’m this blonde cutie with a great body you’ve never seen before, but honest, I’m your schlump doper daughter, Roxie!’?”
Roxie gave me an unsure look. “Look, Roxie, we can’t go undermining Mack! Mack is first rate leader material, but he doesn’t really believe that yet! If we don’t back him up, he’ll beg off on it, and it’ll be a complete cluster fuck! Rox, we don’t have what it takes to lead these guys. If we try, it’ll be like herding cats!” Roxie crossed her arms, and sort of scrunched up, and looked up at me with an ‘I don’t wanna’ scowl. “Rox, I get that you’re scared, especially after that fiasco we just had. But you can’t just run away from everything. There’s just times when the best thing to do is to charge right at whatever’s scaring you, and get it the fuck OVER.” She gave me a silent look that showed just how scared she was. Hey, waddya want? I may be a little gender confoozled, but I’m still guy enough to want to help a cute chick who’s scared. I gave her a big ‘it’ll be okay’ hug. She sort of melted into it, and it was very soft and warm for a while. Then I remembered that while she’s a lot cuter now, she’s still Roxie the Wreck, voted ‘the Girl Most Likely to Graduate from Rehab before she does School’. This could get very sticky if I wasn’t careful. I gave Roxie a big squeeze, told her that everything was gonna be okay, and all that big, strong man crap that chicks like to hear. I think. Maybe I should find a way of getting around more as a girl, get a clue as to how they really think? I mean, what could it hurt?
Roxie nodded and we headed back out to the others. Roxie apologized to Mack, and we got down to it. “Okay, as I figger it,” Mack started, “where we went wrong with the pawn shop was that we couldn’t do any advanced recon. The place was just too damn well guarded for a decent sneak. I kinda doubt that this escrow place is that Fort-Knoxed up, but we can’t be sure. So, we gotta do some serious up-front research. Roxie, Evan, that’s your turf. Go… do what you did back in Frisco. Billy, are you anywhere near as ninja as you like to make out?”
“Hey, I am the wind, I am the shadow, I am the night!” Billy said, putting on his best ‘Master Splinter’ ‘tood.
“Cool. Then you’ll go in alone for an eyeball checkout.”
“_what_?” Billy bleated, wilting a little.
“Not to worry, Squid!” Rachel said. “We got these ‘psychic invisibility’ dingbobs, remember and that shadow stone you got? We couldn’t use ‘em at the pawn shop, ‘cause it was a raid, not a sneak, but with those? You ARE the night, dude!”
“And while Billy is being the wind,” Chris jumped in, “or breaking it, whichever… I’ll be wandering around the warehouse, looking for my daddy.” She held up the ‘charm’ dingus, and looked all Moe-eyed, and damn, but if we didn’t want to help her!
“Yer adjusting real fast there, Chris,” Eddie said uncomfortably.
“And this is a bad thing how?” Marly asked. Ginny started to ask something, but Marly did something psychic-ish with Ginny, and the redhead gave out a squeak and her attitude about Chris made a sudden shift from envy to pity. Which did not help.
“Okay people,” Mack rallied the troops, “we got our basic plan. Stage One: get information. Stage Two: make intelligent plans this time. Stage Three: DON’T repeat the foul-ups at the pawn shop! We know what to do, so let’s GO!”
DATE: Saturday, March 24th, 2007
“I am amazed that you talked that clerk into letting you walk out of the County Recorder’s office with these,” I said, looking down at the official blueprints for the warehouse. Chris just smiled and strummed her fingers on the plastic cowling of the ‘charm’ dingus.
“The good news is they aren’t that hard to crack into,” Eddie said, looking at the blueprints. “Hey, it’s not like nobody messes with them ‘cause they have a killer security system. The BAD news is this room right here,” he pointed at one small room just off the main office. “According to Mr. Know-it-all,” he jabbed a finger at me, “this means that it’s heavily armored and fireproofed. That means that they keep the sensitive information on paper, and it’s rigged to burn if the place ever gets raided.”
“They probably write those records on flash paper, like bookies,” Rae suggested.
“Yeah, well it’s almost impossible to destroy electronic records,” Roxie said, “I mean, the Feds have so many ways to recover data from trashed hard drives and like that, that the only way to be really sure that you destroyed it is to literally shred the drive.”
“Problem:” I set it up for them. “This means that they got an incendiary, a firebomb of some sort, probably thermite, set. If they get raided, they can’t waste time trying to set fire to the records; they want something where they can just hit a button or something, and the whole thing goes up.”
“Why would they bother?” Ginny asked. “I mean, according to you guys, this warehouse is full of WAY illegal stuff. Why would they worry about the records?”
“Getting busted is just a part of the business,” Rae spelled it out. “You deal with it. But if your customers go down, you’re out of business.”
Billy peered closely at the layout of the warehouse. “Okay, there’s no such thing as a perfect security layout. The tighter the security is, the harder it is to just move around and do stuff. And this place is pretty open. They’d want just one button for the fire-starter. That’s simpler and way less likely to go off accidentally, or worse, glitch when they want it to go off.”
“Okay, you’re making sense, Squid,” I said looking at the map. “So, where would they keep the ‘oh shit!’ button?”
Billy made a heavy thinking noise and studied the map intently. But Rick, the new guy, cut in and jabbed his finger down, “Here! The main office. That’s where any security monitors would be, and they’d have cameras on the main entrances and the most likely points where the Cops try to enter. They wouldn’t want to run far to get to it when the shit hit the fan.” Billy glared daggers at the new kid for cribbing his act, but Rick said, “Hey, my dad is a construction contractor. He used to discuss details like this with my brother, Sam.” Oh dear, I got a definite whiff of a ‘Golden Boy/ Unfavorite’ situation, something that I am all too familiar with. I think that Rick’s ‘tood didn’t start at UNITY. Trying to measure up to the standards of someone who can do no wrong will do that to you. Hell, for Rick’s sake, I hope that that’s all he had to put up with. Ironically, that bitterness may have been what kept Rick- and maybe Marly and Megan-from giving in to UNITY.
“All right, from what I’m seeing, we’re looking at a sneak,” Eddie said, checking out the floorplans. “The way this place is laid out, if we tried a smash-and-grab, we’d have a ton of firepower on us every foot of the way in, and God only knows what aimed at us every inch the way out. And, normally, if anyone tried to break into the secure room, they’d be spotted in a minute; it’s way out in the open, everyone would see it. BUT-”
“BUT,” I cut him off, “we have something that turns that on its head, and makes it work for us.” I picked up the partially disassembled dingus. “Psychic invisibility. Everybody sees us, nobody notices a damn thing. And best of all, assuming I didn’t completely fuck this thing up when I took it apart, we got THREE of ‘em.”
“We don’t even have to take them out all at once,” Chris noted. “We send in a break-in team, and then send in one guy at a time to take out folders in plastic grocery bags, trading off the Psychic Invisibility things, like a conveyor belt. And best of all, they keep the regular boring everyday stuff in the front office; only the really interesting stuff goes into the ‘burn room’.”
It was a good, simple plan. I liked it. But Mack wasn’t loving it. He worried his lower lip and said, “It’s a good plan, Chris. But it has two big problems. First, it’ll take too long, and too many people will be under a shit-ton of pressure the whole time. Too many chances for someone to snap or do something stupid. Second, you’re taking for granted that nothing comes out of left field and sandbags us. People, in case you haven’t noticed it- we got weird shit coming at us left and right. For all we know, just when we’re crotch deep in this, the FBI will decide to raid this place, right when Mr. Bland, a bunch of UNITY drones, the MCO, the Knights of Purity, and Dr. fucking DIABOLIK all decide to check on what they got in escrow!
“No. We gotta keep this as short as possible, with as few people put on the line as possible, so the rest of us can come in and haul them out. The fewer people on the spot, the better.”
“But taking EVERYTHING is the only way that we’re gonna know that we got ANYTHING that we can use!” Roxie sputtered. “How’re we supposed to know what’s worth taking? We have to grab everything, and then go through it with a fine-toothed comb to find anything that we can use!”
Eddie snapped his fingers. “Evan! Remember in Sacto?” Ginny made a confused sound, so he redirected his comment to the Lady Fair, “When this first happened to us, we was in Sacramento, and we just barely managed to get out of the cages that they had for us. We needed to figure out what was going on, and all we had was a bunch of Science geek gobbledygook files that would’a made Mr. SPOCK go ‘what the fuck?’ So we gave the files to Evan and Roxie, and it was like we gave a pig to a pool of piranha! I mean, they was always a couple of brainiacs, but that? That was just SPOOKY!”
“Hey, brainiacs are always spooky.”
“Yes, I can see how intelligence and learning would be a new and frightening thing to you, Billy,” Roxie sneered.
“Evan, Roxie, you two tore into those files, and just CHEWED THEM UP!” Eddie said to the two of us. “Can you do that again?”
Roxie and I looked at each other. “I have NO IDEA,” I admitted. Roxie just shrugged and looked confused.
“If I could just do that any time I wanted, my parents would-” Roxie stopped dead, blinked a couple of times. Her expression curdled and she muttered in a sour tone, “Who am I kidding? They’d just increase my homework load by a thousand percent, and insist that I add Japanese, Hindi, Mandarin and Arabic to my list of languages to learn!”
“One of the downsides to being a brainiac,” I drawled in explanation to the others. “Parents who think that good grades automatically mean that they’re good parents.” I rolled my eyes and made a martyred groan.
“But you guys get-”
“The grades are NEVER good enough,” Roxie growled. “Ever.”
There was a sticky moment as the less-than-stellar students among us entertained the new and rather unsettling notion that maybe, just maybe, the Brainiacs didn’t have it quite as cushy as they’d thought. Then Mack pushed all that aside and said, “So, do you think you can do this?”
I shrugged broadly. “No way to really know until we try. And even if we DO find something, odds are that all it will really be is just another clue, not anything that we could take to the US Attorney General.”
“Hey,” Rachel grunted, “it’s all we GOT.”
Well, Rae always did have a knack for getting down to the brass tacks, pleasant or not.
DATE: Sunday, March 25th, 2007
[Okay, Evan, Chris is in the office, and she has the counter guy’s attention,] Marly reported into the bud in my ear. Marly and Ginny were doing the ‘Tactical Overwatch’ number, using their telepathic link to synchronize the people they were overseeing. Billy wasn’t good enough to disable the warehouse’s alarms or anything, WAY over his head, but he was able to tap into those exterior cables for the CCTV [Meagan is looking around with ESP, and she says that the guys on duty are pretty much on automatic, just another working day, and waiting for their coffee break. Billy is in, and he looks like he’s found the burn trigger cable. Okay, it looks like it’s gonna take him a bit so you might as well head in. Nobody’s looking at your door and Chris has the counter guy busy.]
“Okay, we’re heading in,” I said as much for Roxie as I did for Marly, and together we calmly strolled in, both of us with a plastic shopping bag and a pickled cat brain under our arm.
We got to the hidden file room, and nobody so much as blinked an eye. I carefully sliced open the locked cabinets with my energy blade, and started going through the files, putting them into stacks for ‘Mr. Bland’, ‘UNITY’, ‘Interesting’, ‘not interesting’, and ‘don’t even touch’. The ‘don’t even touch’ stack was getting pretty dang high, the ‘interesting’ stack was woefully low, there were 4 possible files for UNITY, 2 certains for them, 3 possibles for ‘Mr. Bland’, and no certains for him. Hell, it would be great if we had a name for his outfit. Or even a few fronts that we could be certain about.
Then Marly gave me a heads up. [Evan! We got activity]
“Define ‘activity’,” I said as I froze. I touched Roxie, and she gave me her full attention.
[Hard to say. We got people on the roof, and the roof of the warehouse next door, cars with their motors running. And I got someone sneaking in]
I gestured for Roxie to start bagging up the ‘Interesting+’ files. “How official does this look, Marly?” The last thing we needed was for The Man to find us here along with all this other crap.
[We can’t spot anything official looking. But, Evan, these guys are sharp. Get out, get out now, head to the north exit; they’re around the building to the east.]
“Good call Marly. Roxie? Time to make a quiet exit. Marly, what can you tell me about the guy trying to get in?”
[What try? He’s IN. And I can’t get a pin on him, he’s moving too fast for the CCTV]
“Leave the files on the floor, Rox. It’s time to book.”
We divvied up the files between us into those shopping bags and left the records room. We didn’t run, even with the psychic invisibility that could have drawn attention to us, but walked with a brisk intent towards the north exit. Which then pointedly shut.
“Shit. Marly, can you get a sense of this guy?”
[Not at this range, Evan. I need to be able to see the guy]
“Where is he now?”
[No idea. Ginny says the south door is still open]
“Right.” I pointed Roxie in the opposite direction and we were well out of sight of the records office when Marly called again.
[Problem. Billy’s on his way out and up in the rafters, but he says that he sees your guy, and he’s waiting for you near the south exit. Evan, he’s not on CCTV. Megan’s looking for him, but he’s hard to nail down. Whoever this guy is, he’s damn good. And it looks like he’s after YOU]
“Us? How’d he even know we were here?”
[Dunno, but Billy says that he is definitely following you somehow]
“Fuck. Roxie, someone didn’t get the e-mail about the psychic invisibility, and Marly says he’s on our tail.”
“Shit. I hate it when people don’t check their e-mail. What are we gonna do?”
“We gotta take him out and get out. Rox, he’ll probably focus on taking me out first, and not really bother that much with you. I’ll hold him off and you zotz him. The hard part will be doing it quiet, so the goons here don’t get in on the action.”
“Well, if he’s following us quietly, then he’s not with the staff,” Roxie pointed out. “Then he wants whatever he wants quietly. So, let him steer us to wherever it’s safe to jump someone. Let him do all the work.”
“Sounds like a plan. Marly, we’re going with that. Asking Billy to back us up would be asking too much of the squid, so just ask him to watch, and have the backup crew come crashing in if it goes off the rails.”
[Why would it go off the rails?]
“The way things have been going, I find I get a lot more mileage out of the question, ‘why wouldn’t it go off the rails?’”
Whoever this guy is, he probably plays a mean game of Gō. He took his time, let us see just enough of him, herded us to where it would go down nice and quiet, rattled us with distractions and like that, and the only reason why I knew he was coming was that freaky gut-feeling bit that I get every so often. He came in quick and completely out of left field, and it took everything that I had to not get smacked down. Rox tripped him but it just was a ripple in his movement, he got me off balance, and he had me dead to rights when: “BRIGAND?”
To Be Continued