All That Glitters (Part 1)
Comics Retcon Universe 005
All That Glitters
Mike Carter is the man about campus who lives life in the fast lane. He's quarterback of his college football team, well liked by the student population and quite a ladies man. But due to gambling, Mike has a money problem. To make ends meet he takes a job at as a security guard at a museum and things go down hill from there all thanks to a gold orb.
Author's Note: Here's All That Glitters Part One. I have to warn you that Mike isn't very likable at the moment but that he will mellow out as the story progresses. Any Northwestern fans or alum out there I apologize too as well, I hope I got things right. I also need to state that the views expressed on Band Geeks and sorority girls are solely Mike's and not mean. I'd like to thank djkauf for being my editing once again and doing a wonderful job. The characters herein are DC Comics and not mine.
“Hey babe, can I buy you a drink?”
The blonde at the bar turned to me with a look of disgust. I smiled, showing her my pearly whites and her face changed. It was a gift I had. Girls from all over always threw themselves at me. I may come on too strong when I first approach them but as soon as they get some of the Carter charm, they melt in my grasp. Like this chick. She was good looking, not a knockout like some girls but she had a nice rack. I know what you’re thinking and you’re right, it’s definitely about the rack. The bigger the better I always say. The ones before me were definitely a D and the little top she squeezed them into was perfect for them. I could see her nipples through the thin fabric and she was definitely not wearing a bra.
“You’re Mike Carter, aren’t you?”
I smiled again. “Guilty as charged, babe.”
She giggled. God I loved the dumb ones. She was the stereotypical bimbo: blonde, blue eyed and big breasted. I bet she was a good lay too. “What are you drinking tonight, babe?”
She looked down at her drink, thinking for a second. “It’s a Mojito.”
“Hey barkeep, can you get a lady another one of these.”
The guy behind the bar nodded and went off to mix her drink. He came back about a minute later, handing her the drink. I didn’t have to pay; I never paid. That’s how it was when you were the Star. What kind of star, well the football God, of course. That’s right; I’m a genuine God Among Men as far as throwing the ball goes. I was All State back in high school and during my freshman year at NU---that’s Northwestern University for you civvies---I went from fourth string to second in only two games. In my third game, the first string broke his arm and I got bumped up. I threw fourteen touchdowns, ran in six and had multiple complete passes. Now in only my sophomore year I practically ran the whole team. I walked on water as far as campus life went.
That’s where I got my nickname from too. They called me “Booster” because I could launch the ball down the field like a rocket. How cool is that?
The blonde took her drink and sipped it slowly through a straw. I took her by the elbow and guided her away from the three or four other circling vultures trying to poach her from me. I pushed my way through the crowd. Lenny’s was always crowded after the games and practice seasons. It was the place to be Off Campus. For one it was the only place that didn’t card you at the bar and for another, it had a wall of huge flat screen TVs. Seeing as I was the Hero---The Wildcats had a fantastic season, thanks in part to yours truly---I had a reserved table right in front. After the games and practices, they played highlights and Lenny liked me front and center so I could bask in all the glory. I love the glory. It’s like a drug that I need to be fed every couple of days or I’ll wind down to nothing. Our season ended on a high note and though we didn't get too far into the play offs it was still a damn good time.
The music was loud and booming and there was so much talking I could barely hear myself think. But it was always this way after the games. As I approached the table, a couple of frat boys came by. One of them slammed me on the back and the other handed me a beer. I thanked him and took a slug. Beers were free too and seemed to materialize out of thin air. Anything for the God, I guess. I finally reached my table, pulling a chair out for the little lady. She sat down delicately, crossing her long, sexy legs. She was wearing a short jean skirt that barely covered her ass. When she crossed her legs, for a second I saw her bikini cut undies.
“So what do I call you, gorgeous?”
She giggled. I hated gigglers but I’d let it slid this time because she was so damn hot.
Of course she was. They were all named Brittany, Tiffany, or some bubbly name like that. I couldn’t help but stare at her boobs as she sipped on her drink. There was a Sorority necklace dangling around her neck, it was Sigma Alpha Iota. Strange, she didn’t look like a music chick. Usually they were kind of nerdy and a little on the dumpy side. This girl was anything but. I looked her over once more. Thinking past her boobs, I noticed that her shirt was red and it did have Greek letters on it. How the hell did I miss that? I usually avoid the vapid sorority girls because they were like leeches. I guess it can’t be helped.
“What’s your major?”
What the hell was that? I just smiled and nodded. I found that if you at least looked like you were interested in what the girl was saying then at least she’d let you make out with her by the end of the evening. Maybe I’d even get to squeeze those melons of hers. Hey, a boy can dream can’t he?
“Umm, do you play an instrument?”
I needed to keep this thing going until she was drunk enough to sleep with me. Hey, a boy’s got needs and right now, I’m on a Adrenaline High. Having sex was the only thing that seemed to bring me down. That and Black Jack. But if I hit the tables tonight, I’d be tapped out for the rest of the week. I’m kind of in a rut at the moment. In both cards and sex. I had a steady girl for a while but she caught on to my shit and told me I was too immature for anything serious. Frankly, it’s her loss because I’m a Wild Man in the sack.
She giggled again. “Music theory isn’t about instruments, silly. It’s about learning how music works.”
She started rattling on about pitch and all that crap. She went on and on about it. How the hell can a girl this flighty remember all that stuff? I looked around the room, trying to divert my mind elsewhere. The Bar was decked out in Purple and White in honor of the team. Evenm in the Off Season, Lenny loved to show his Wildcats pride. There were a lot of the guys here, wearing their jerseys like me. A lot of the cheerleaders were here too, out of uniform, unfortunately. I’d have bedded a couple of those a while ago if it wasn’t so frowned upon. There were a couple of cute ones at the bar too. Their boobs weren’t so big but they weren’t as vapid looking at Brittany here.
“Hey, are you listening?” She snapped one of her long manicured nails in my face.
“Of course I am, babe.”
God, please don’t ask me to repeat what you just said.
“What do you think?”
That was even worse. She was staring at me with those big blue eyes of hers, waiting for me to respond. I bit my lip. What the hell was I supposed to do now? I looked around the room, hoping for inspiration. The only thing that remotely inspired me was a waitress. She walked by carrying a tray of beers. I looked at the one in my hand. I’d only drained half of it. Fortunately, for me, Brittany wasn’t really paying attention.
“I think I need another beer.”
She pouted and I got to my feet. I slipped through the crowd of purple and white. There were a lot of congrats and more backslaps. At the bar I spotted my buddy Rick, he was sitting alone, nursing a bottle of Coke. Rick was a good guy. We met last year at Freshman Orientation. He was here on brains, me it was all scholarship. He wasn’t a sports fan but he came to the games because I told him it was a good place to pick up girls. Not that he was looking for some dumb flossy. He was looking for the woman he wanted to marry. I stared at him, sitting on the stool alone, sipping on his Coke.
“Hey Ricky” I said, sidling up to him. “Have I got the chick for you?”
He groaned. “Not again, that last girl, Amber, she kept trying to stick her hands down my pants.”
“So she was a little too ambitious for you. But this one is prime, I swear.” I pointed to my table where Brittany was sitting. “Her name’s Brittany. She’s a Music Theory Major and she loves brainy guys.”
Rick was studying Physics. He told me all about it once but I tuned him out just like everyone else.
“Is she boring you already?”
I gave him an innocent look. When he didn’t buy it, I threw the truth at him. “She talks and words come out of her mouth but I can’t make sense of them. I mean I know I should listen and care but really I’m in for the action.”
He sighed. “Ok, but you owe me.”
“Thatta boy, Ricky. Go wow her with that big brain of yours.”
He got off his stool and pushed his way toward my table. Me I sat down on his stool and ordered another beer. Then I looked about, trying to find the next lovely lady that wanted to chat up the Great Mike Carter. I actually found her. She was sitting a couple of stools over. She was another looker. A redhead this time, wearing an orange top and jeans. She looked out of place, especially in this bar. For a minute, I thought she might be a fan of our rivals, The Fighting Illini---that’s University of Illinois. Their colors were orange and blue. We lost to them in the playoffs,so to be a fan here would not be wise. This girl however didn’t look like an Illini fan; she didn’t look like a Wildcats fan either.
I got up and moved into the stool between us. “Hey beautiful, you’re in the wrong place if you’re not drinking.”
She turned to me and rolled her eyes. “But apparently it’s the right place for cheap pick up lines.”
It kind of stung. I liked a girl with a little spunk. But I wasn’t about to back down. “What brings you here?”
“Really” she said, laughing. “That wasn’t enough of a blow off.”
I hated it when they played games like this. “C’mon let me buy you a drink?”
She laughed. “Look, I’m not interested in being one of the Many Conquests of the Great Mike Carter.”
“So you’ve heard of me?”
“What girl on campus hasn’t?”
“Hey, babe” I said, setting my beer on the bar. “I’m not here to get you in the sack. I’m just offering to buy you a drink.”
She looked past me. “Did you get bored with the bimbo?”
I looked over at my table. Rick was doing me proud. Brittany was touching his arm and laughing. Looks like Mr. Science might actually score tonight. Now if I could be so lucky. I turned back to my redhead. There was something about her that intrigued me. Maybe it was her eyes; they were the brightest green I’d ever seen, like two shining jewels. Or maybe it was her hair. It was long and velvety; it hung about her head in waves of curls, like fire. It definitely matched the rest of her.
I needed to step up my game. “You have me at an unfair advantage. You know my name but I don’t know yours.”
“You’re not going to get it either.”
“How about your first name?”
“Not a chance.”
“What about a nickname, do you have one of those?”
She shook her head. “I do but I’m not telling you.”
I groaned. I’d only known this chick for a few minutes and already she was driving me nuts. I’m not sure if I was angry, impressed or really turned on. I think it was all three. She seemed to notice too, because she shifted in her seat, looking kind of uncomfortable. I knew the look, she was about to bolt. But there was no way I was going to strike out tonight. Brittany was a bubbly talker but this girl was a firecracker. Which meant she was probably the same in bed. I just needed to soften her up a bit and move in for the kill. Unfortunately my usual stuff wasn’t working.
“How about I tell you something about me and you give me your name?”
“Why would I want to know something about you?”
“Because you’re interested.”
She laughed. “I am, huh?”
I nodded. “Ok here goes.” I took a deep breath. “I bawled like a baby during Bambi.”
Ok it was a half-truth. I have actually seen Bambi but the crying part wasn’t me. It was actually an old school buddy I used to have. He once confessed during a game of Truth or Dare that he cried during Bambi. We were at a Co-ed party. Later that night, he lost his virginity to one of the hottest girls in school. I’m far from a virgin---I’m nineteen years old after all---but I needed something to get her to put out.
“Is that supposed to make me say Aww and hug you close to my bosom?”
“No, it’s supposed to make you tell me your name.”
She smiled. It was a cute smile. “Fair enough. You can call me Bea.”
“Bea, I like that” I let it roll around in my mouth for a few seconds.
“Is that your full first name?”
She laughed. “I never said it was my name at all” She stood up, straightening her top. “I just said you can call me that.”
She leaned forward and patted me on the knee. Then she did the unthinkable and walked away. I sat there stunned. I couldn’t remember the last time a woman walked away from me. I got up to follow her, even as far as grabbing her wrist. She snapped her head around and I could swear I saw fire in her eyes. I let go of her wrist.
She let me have it. “I was being polite before but I’m so far out of your league I’m on a different planet.”
She whipped her hair around, smacking me in the face with it and walked away.
I stood there stunned. For the first time in my life, The Great Mike Carter struck out.
You want to know what I do when I get depressed: I gamble.
There’s this little pool hall just down the street from Lenny’s. On the sign hanging above the door it just says Billiards, but the place really has no name. It’s kind of exclusive, too. Most people walking by wouldn’t pay it much attention because it’s a hole in the wall establishment. The only way you knew what was in there was through word of mouth. The only way you could come to the place was through invitation. I stumbled upon it about a year ago. The doorman threw me out on my ass the first time I tried to get inside. But I kept trying. But each time I failed and ended up meeting the pavement with my ass. I didn’t get lucky until after my first winning game. When I tried that time, the doorman recognized me and let me in. Apparently, he was a big Wildcats fan.
Gambling is an addiction that runs in the family. My father, Jon, was a serious gambler. His game was poker. He used to pour all his hard earned money into it. He’d spend all his time in a casino about ten miles from our house. He’d keep spending and he’d keep losing. My father was a fantastic card player but he didn’t have the proper poker face. And he had this horrible tell where he’d click his tongue against the back of his teeth. His opponents always caught on to it. So even though he was really good he always seemed to blow it in the end. He squandered our whole life savings at the poker tables and then some. About ten years ago, he got in real bad with lowlifes. He owed them big and wasn’t able to scrounge up the money. So he put a pistol in his mouth.
My mother had to sell our house to pay off his debt. After that, it was just her and me. We moved into an apartment on the far side of town. She had to get two jobs to make ends meet. But she did her best; she wanted me to get a good education so she forced me to do my best too. Schoolwork never really agreed with me. I’m a Straight B student but I’m what they call an “Under Achiever.” My teachers used to get mad because they claimed I was brilliant but I seemed to be bored. But I wasn’t bored; I just didn’t care about school. All I cared about was football and winning.
I stood under the Billiards sign, hunching my shoulders, trying to keep out of the rain. It had been raining a lot lately. The weather girl on the News the other day joked and said it was a Meta. People were always joking about them lately. I suppose it helped pass the time. Me, I could care less. Chicago had their own; they called her Giganta. She was a girl who could grow real big. I have a classmate who swears he saw her in the mall doing something cool. She was the talk of the town for a while but with so many Metas popping up here and there, no one cared anymore. Just the other day there was something on the news about a new one in San Francisco. The Blue Something or other. The only thing I liked about it is that they all seemed to be chicks.
I knocked on the door and waited. It didn’t take long. A little slot opened and all I saw were a pair of eyes. “Password” said the voice that belonged to them.
“C’mon Marty, it’s me Mike. I’ve been coming here for a while.”
I groaned. The password was constantly changing. Every day I’d get a text message with the new password for the day. I reached into my coat pocket and took out my phone, scrabbling through my list until I found the proper message. I read it off to him: “Butterfly” and there was a click. When the door opened, Marty stood there, his bulging muscles pressing against his t-shirt. He had the biggest smile on his face tonight.
“I take it you put some good bet tonight?”
“You bet your ass I did.”
He slapped me on the back. The only gambling Marty did was placing bets, usually on sporting events like football and basketball. I suppose it takes all kinds.
I left him standing at the door and wound my way down the dark narrow hall toward the stairs. Rumor had it that this place once belonged to Al Capone. It was one of the many places where he ran some of his operation out of it. The place had two parts to it. The front room was filled with pool tables and dartboards, the usual things that you’d find in a Billiards place. But it was the upstairs where the real action was. When I approached the stairs, I heard the laughing and the oldies music coming from the front. A lot of the guys in there were regulars. Every once in a while I went and shot some pool but it was small bills.
I liked the big money.
I walked up the stairs and knocked on the door there three times.
When the door opens, a terrifying looking black guy was standing there. He was taller and bigger than me. Which is quite a feat, seeing as I was six three. This guy was easily seven foot. They always changed the guys at the door up here, I’m not sure why. He looked me up and down then stepped aside to let me in. There was a small operation up here. There were a couple of black jack tables, a few poker tables and a wall of screens with each one playing a different sporting event. The room was packed tonight; several games were already going. I sauntered over to the little bar in the corner and ordered a beer. Hey, I don’t have a drinking problem. It’s just that I liked to unwind after a good game.
“Hey looky here, folks” said a loud voice as a short, portly guy stood up from one of the poker tables. “This here is a living legend.”
All eyes were on me. I turned and beamed at the room, giving them the Mike Carter beauty shot.
“Gentlemen, let me introduce you to Chicago’s own Golden Boy himself, Booster Carter.”
There were some murmurs and nods. The portly guy, Joey, came walking over and grabbed my arm, leading me to his table. Unlike me, he liked his poker. I looked at the pile of chips on the table, there had to be close to ten grand there already. Most of the faces I saw I didn’t recognize but that wasn’t uncommon. People came and went; there were always new faces. The only one that seemed to stand out was a guy in sharp, pinstriped suit. He looked like he was made of money. The suit was designer and his watch probably cost more than I make in a year. He had slicked back hair, just graying at the temples and a flashy looking gold ring on his right hand.
He looked at me; his eyes were gray and emotionless. “So you’re the Booster, huh?” Even his voice was kind of cold. I nodded my head.
This guy kind of scared me. “So you going to play cards or just gawk at me.”
I looked at the pot again. This was a high rollers game, way too rich for my blood. “You guys play for big money, too big for my paycheck.”
He smirked. “Nonsense kid. Why don’t you sit down and I’ll front you the two grand buy in.”
I looked at Joey. His eyes seemed to say No while he nodded. He looked kind of pale, so clearly whoever this guy was he was bad news. When he spoke his voice had a bit of a tremble to it: “It’s your call kid. Personally I think this game is a little rich for you but…”
“Let the kid make up his own mind, Joey,” said Mr. Pinstripe coldly.
I looked at the table again. Poker wasn’t my strong suit. I knew how to play but I wasn’t very good at it. I looked at the other faces; all of them stared coldly at me. They kind of sent a shiver up my spine. Joey kept trying to ward me off with his eyes. Then I looked at the pot again. It was huge. If I won that, I could send it home to my mother and she’d be able to pay her bills without a problem for weeks. I took a deep breath and decided.
“I’ll sit for a few hands.”
I sat in an empty chair. Joey looked a bit disappointed but didn’t say anything. Mr. Pinstripe passed me my two grand in chips and we began. They started a new hand, the dealer whipping the cards around the table. When I got all mine, I gave them a look. I wanted to smile but how bad would that have been. Suffice to say I was convinced that I had this in the bag. I played through the first game and doubled my winnings. I did pretty good in the second and third. I was on a roll until I folded on the fourth hand. On the fifth, I hit it big, winning half the pot. I looked at the chips before me, there had to be close to ten grand there already. The pile in the center was triple that amount now. Joey kept looking at me, trying to warn me off. I ignored him. I was on a roll after all. I played through a couple more hands, doing pretty good until I hit a snag. It was a big one too. I started bleeding chips after that until about an hour later I was down to about five hundred dollars. I felt like someone had socked me in the gut. Mr. Pinstripe looked around the table, all smug and mighty. When his eyes fell on me, he didn’t look too happy. Though he’d won back his two grand, clearly he thought I owed him more.
I blew my last chips twenty minutes later. “Well that’s it for me,” I said, standing up.
Mr. Pinstripe stood up too. “Cash me in.”
The Dealer nodded. He stepped away from the table and walked over to me, putting his arm around my shoulder. “Did I do something wrong?” I stumbled, suddenly very afraid.
I may have been Big Man on Campus but I was a small fish in this ocean.
“In a matter of speaking” he said, walking me over to the screens.
I gulped. This wasn’t going to be good. “I’m sorry if I offended you. I did try my hardest but poker really isn’t my game. If you let me play blackjack I can win a lot and…”
He cut me off. “It doesn’t have anything to do with cards. It has to do with that game you love so much.” I gulped again. “You see I like the Fighting Illini, I always place good bets on them. They’ve been a good team, undefeated and everything. But that game back in November. the odds were on you to win. So I took a gamble because that's what I do and you know what happened, a big bump."
I shook my head. I knew but I didn’t want to say it aloud.
“That bump was a Booster bump,” He said, clamping down hard on my shoulder. “There are ways of dealing with certain bumps. But I find that I can even them out without pounding on them too much. Do you understand?” I nodded; this wasn’t going to be good. “I have a proposition for you. You see I put a large sum of money on you that day. I thought I could win some of it back in cards but I wasn’t so lucky. So here’s what I’m going to do. By the end of the week, I have a deal coming up; one that requires the money you lost me. If you can come with the cash in two days I’ll call us even, but if you can’t…”
He didn’t finish. This was bad; this was really bad.
“How much?” I asked, afraid to hear the answer.
He smiled. “About a hundred grand.”
I thought I was going to pass out. How in the hell was I going to get a hundred grand in two days. It wasn’t possible. “That’s crazy. Where am I supposed to get that much money?”
He shrugged. “That’s not my problem. My problem is you and this.” He grabbed my left arm, giving it a good squeeze. It was my throwing arm, the Golden Booster as it was affectionately called around campus. “If you don’t get me my money, I’m going to break this arm in so many places that you won’t be able to grip a ball again.”
He let go of my arm and moved away. He wanted over to the door. The big black guy was actually his goon. He was holding out a coat, which Mr. Pinstripe slipped into. The jackass looked back at me with a smug look then left.
I walked over to an empty table and slumped in a chair. Joey came over a few seconds later, handing me a glass of something. I didn’t even look to see what it was. I just downed it in one shot.
“You look like someone just ran over your dog kid,” he said, sighing.
“I tried to warn you to stay away from the table, that guy’s bad news.”
I nodded. “Who the hell is he?”
Joey laughed. “You don’t know?” I shook my head. He nodded. “I suppose that explains why you sat down. That, my boy, was Henry Ballard.”
I groaned. Why hadn’t I recognized him? Everyone knew who Ballard was. He was some scumbag businessman; he owned half the city. Rumor had it that he was putting in a bid for the Senate. He was one of the slimiest creeps around and I was now in his cross hairs.
“Son of a bitch” I said, rubbing my hands into my eyes.
“You want my advice?” I didn’t really but I nodded. “Take some money. Play your game and see if you get lucky. You probably won’t get the money you owe but you’ll be able to make enough to disappear.”
“You want me to run?”
He shrugged. “People who cross Henry Ballard don’t usually walk out of these things alive. Even if you pay him the money, he’ll find another way to mess with you. Ballard holds grudges and they’re real bad.”
“Thanks Joey” I said, sighing. “I’ll think about it.”
He stood up and patted me on the shoulder as he walked away.
How had my day gone from fantastic to shit in only a few hours? I pulled out my cell phone; it wasn’t even ten pm yet. I groaned and got up. I wandered over to the table, ordered a shot of whatever and downed it in one gulp. Then I reached into my pocket and took out the wad of cash there. I’d avoid poker; after all, it wasn’t my game. I looked around the room and saw a hot Blackjack table. The people there looked amateurish. I smiled and walked over, sitting in the empty chair. I passed two hundred bucks in twenties to the dealer. She gave me my chips and cards and I began.
“Hey folks” I said, confidence returning. “They call me Booster and I’m going to take all your money.”
I cleaned up at the tables, as if there was any doubt.
I half walked, half stumbled out of the place. The only time I ever get really drunk is a bad game or when my life has fallen apart. Which means I’ve only been shit faced twice in my life? The first time being in my senior year of high school. Some son of a bitch linebacker hit me from behind. I landed on my arm, luckily nothing got broken. But the coach pulled me anyway because he couldn’t take the chance. They put in the fresh faced Junior second string to replace me. He blew the game big time; they actually booed the poor guy off the field. Me and a couple of the guys bribed my twenty-one year cousin to buy us a couple of six packs and we drowned our sorrow in Budweiser.
The second time I got hammered was a dark day in my life. My mother was driving home late one night and because it was a double---she works as a nurse part time----she was a bit tired. She swerved a bit and some jackass slammed into her. Her car flipped over and hit a telephone pole. Luckily, she survived but she ended up in the hospital with two broken legs, a couple of broken ribs and a concussion. The jerk who hit her only got a few bumps and bruises. I went out and got seriously drunk. That was last year. Mom’s still not one hundred percent but she’s doing better all the time. She’s the reason I started gambling, I needed to help pay her bills. She didn’t approve, of course, but she didn’t turn down the money either.
But tonight I was so drunk I could barely stand. Luckily, I didn’t have to work or else the boss would fire my ass. In case you’re wondering, I work in the Field Museum. It’s nothing fancy though. I’m a security guard. Most of the time I work the day shift but every once and a while I get screwed and end up on nights. Sometimes I take them to make some extra cash. Tonight was my day off. The boss usually gave me game days off, if not, he said I was “unfocused”. Who am I to argue with that?
I was so drunk tonight I could barely walk to the curb. But I managed somehow. I squinted, wondering if it was wise to try to walk home. I only lived a few blocks away. I usually took the Express to campus. Rick and I were roommates. We tried the whole dorm thing the first year but it was kind of a drag. So we both got jobs---he works as a teller in a bank---and decided to get a place of our own. It’s a modest two bedroom, big enough for two wild guys like ourselves. We respected each other’s space, too. Whenever I had a lady friend over, Rick was always nice enough to bail for a couple of hours. I did the same when his family dropped by. I liked his Mom well enough but his Dad was a Michigan State alum so I avoided him. With him it was always Spartans this and Spartans that. He didn’t care that I was the Booster.
I hailed a cab. It didn’t take long for one of the yellow cars to pull up to the curb. The driver gave a once over as I opened the door and stumbled inside.
“Lakeshore Drive” I slurred as I closed the door.
“If you throw up in my cab I’ll dump you on the curb.”
I waved him on. The Cabbie groaned and took off.
Rick and I made enough to live a little better than most college students. His parents chipped in too so we were able to score a place in The Tides, a tower apartment complex right on the lake. It’s really cool because it’s within walking distance to both our jobs and a bus stop that can take us to work and school. I know what you’re thinking, Lakeshore is far from campus but thirty minutes on the Purple Line isn’t too bad. A lot of students live in Evanston but Rick and I wanted to live in the city because there’s a lot more action here. If it meant taking a train to and from school, we were ok with that.
It only took a couple of minutes to get home. I paid the Cabbie; he mumbled something in Spanish and took off. I stumbled across the sidewalk to the front door. The Tides was huge, a giant gleaming building of metal and glass. I know it’s kind of swanky and it costs a pretty penny at almost three thousand a month but it was so worth it. We had a great view of the city and let’s face it; Rick’s folks are loaded. His Dad was an Illinois State Senator and his Mom a doctor. They only had one kid too, Rick. I guess he’s their pride and joy. His parents weren’t too happy about me moving in with him but Rick convinced them I was an up and up kind of guy. Besides, as I said, Rick and I chip in on the rent. Together we pay about fifteen hundred while his Dad does the rest.
I stumbled through the front door and the lobby. Everything was kind of a blur. I think I remember getting in the elevator and pushing the button for our floor. But the next thing I remember is falling face first through our apartment door.
I felt hands around my arms, lifting me up. I can make out a blurry figure, I think it’s Rick.
“You wouldn’t believe the night I had,” I slurred as he dragged me toward the bathroom.
“I bet,” he said, stripping off my jacket and jersey. “Did you score with the red head?”
I shook my head. “She blew me off.”
He smiled. “I like her already.”
I ignored the comment as he took off my belt and pulled my jeans to my ankles. I would have been pissed if any other guy did this to me but Rick and me are tight. I know he’s not queer. Besides, I trusted him. He dragged me over to my shower---I was now clad in my boxers---then he tossed me in. He turned it on full blast and when the cold water hit me, I screamed like a girl. Hey it was freezing. He left me there, sitting at the bottom of the shower. It helped a lot. I crawled out after ten minutes and threw up in the toilet.
Then everything went black.
When I woke up my head was pounding. It felt like I was back in high school and someone threw a ball at my head. That actually happened by the way. The Son of bitch got suspended and I ended missing PE for the day. The bastard thought he was justified too, all because I might have slept with his girlfriend. Which was preposterous because I never slept with her, it was a little petting and some fondling under the clothes. Harmless, really. But that has nothing to do with the situation now. Now my head felt like someone was banging on, possibly from both inside and out.
I groaned and sat up, wondering how I got into my bed. I threw off my covers, dressed only in my boxers. The sun was shining through my large window, too bright for my hung over eyes. I squinted and shielded my face, looking away. Last night was kind of fuzzy. I remembered Lenny’s; then striking out and there was something about the billiards. I rubbed my temples. Oh God, I pissed off Henry Ballard. My heart started beating faster in my chest and my hands started to get sweaty. It was thing to win a lot of money at the tables---ok, so a couple thousand wasn’t a lot but it was more than I went in with---but it was another thing to piss off a powerful man like Ballard.
And I owe him one hundred grand or else my football career is over.
I felt the bile begin to rise and ran into my on suite bathroom. I barely made it to the toilet before I threw up. I groaned and wandered over to the sink. I splashed water into my face and took a complete of deep, reassuring breaths. Looking in the mirror, there was a handsome Adonis staring back at me. I prided myself on my good looks; they complemented the rest of me really well. I stared at my wonderful self for a while. I truly was good looking. I had my mother’s golden locks---cut to perfection---and my father’s sparkling blue eyes. A couple of days ago I was at the tanning salon down the street so my skin was nice and bronzed. I smiled and peeled off my shirt, looking at my pecs. They were perfect too. I could bounce a quarter off my abs.
I finally tore myself away and went back into my bedroom. Everything about this place was white but very modern looking. Most of the apartments in The Tides were like this. We rented it fully furnished, neither of us had the spare capital to decorate it properly. Though Rick’s parents fronted him, so we had cash to buy things like a TV and a stereo---all top of the line of course. The only thing in my room that wasn’t here before were my clothes. I wasn’t a clothes hound by any means but I liked to look good whenever possible. Now I know what you’re thinking and I hate to disappoint you but I’m not a designer kind of guy. I can’t afford it. I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy, that is when I’m not out trolling.
I picked a pair of jeans off the floor, sniffed them and threw them on the bed. I did the same with a t-shirt; it smelled clean too. There was a pile of dirty clothes in the corner. I’d been too busy lately to get them washed but maybe I could toss them in with Rick’s stuff. I wandered out into the main room, looking to see where my wayward roommate was today. I looked at the clock on the wall and groaned, it was noon. Seeing that it was Sunday there was no school so Rick was probably at the library, studying like usual. He’s a real Egg Head when it comes to those things.
I wandered over to the bathroom and slipped inside, not bothering to lock the door because no one was home but me. I vaguely remember Rick throwing me in the shower last night. I think he stripped me down to my boxers to do it. I looked around the room and found a pile of my clothes on the floor. But my jersey wasn’t among them. Rick knew better than to leave that lying around. I stepped into the shower and turned on the water, allowing the hot blast to sooth my aching head. In the shower, I had time to think. Where in the hell was I going to get 100 grand? I didn’t know any rich people besides Rick and there was no way Senator Hunter was going to fork over that kind of cash. I had some money saved but it wasn’t nearly enough. I suppose I could go pro. There were some scouts already sniffing around me. But my mother would kill me if I threw away my college education.
I groaned. She made me major in History as a fall back in case my football career fell apart. I’m not an Egg Head like Rick but it was my best subject at school. I’m not saying I know everything but I know enough to get by if I need too. My mother is always like that, making sure all my bases are covered in case something bad happens. She didn’t want me to turn into my father. He was a ball player too. He tossed the pigskin around in high school but never made it to college. He tried for a minor league team but blew out his knee. My father was never the same after that. He took a job driving trucks and fell into gambling hard. But like I’ve said before he was one hell of a card player. He just didn’t know when to quit.
I shut off the water and stepped out of the shower. I grabbed a nearby towel and went back into my room. I got a clean pair of boxers, stepped into them and then put on my jeans. I looked at the clock on the wall. It was about twelve thirty now, I had a little time to kill before I needed to be anywhere. We had practice today, it usually lasted a couple of hours. Then I had some time to loaf around before I had to make my way back home and off to work. On Sundays, I get the long shift because I’m the rookie. I usually work from about eight at night to about two in the morning. Then the morning guard comes in to relieve me. I usually manage a couple of z’s before I have to hit class on Mondays. It’s kind of hectic but when you get paid like twelve dollars an hour, it’s worth it.
I finished getting dressed and wandered back into the main room. I walked toward the sofa just as the phone rang. I groaned. I wasn’t in the mood to pick up so I let the machine get it.
“Michael, it’s your mother. I’m calling to let you know that your cousin Daniel is in town and wants to know if you two want to do something.”
I groaned. Daniel was the son of my mother’s sister. He was a year younger than me. He was an ok guy but he was kind of annoying. He hero worshiped me big time, which was cool except he hung on me like a leech. I didn’t mind hanging with him when I was home but out here would be catastrophic. I smiled; maybe I can pawn him off on Rick. The two of them met once, they got along all right.
The machine beeped, telling me the message was recorded.
I thought about calling her back until my stomach grumbled. I couldn’t remember the last time I had anything to eat.
Sal’s is a little diner just down the street that Rick and I often eat at. We’re usually in and out because we’re both in a hurry to get to the train. But today as I walked down the street toward it, I was able to take my time. When I went inside, it was pretty deserted, which is strange, seeing as it was the lunchtime rush. The diner itself looks like an old Fifties diner, with revolving stools and cushioned booths. The waitresses wear bubble gum pink uniforms and Sal is usually dressed like a soda jerk. This is also the only place I know that serves Malts. When I walked in---the bell above the door announcing my presence---Sal smiles.
“Hey Mikey, was wondering when you’d get up.”
I wandered over to the counter, sitting next to the red head there. I paid her little attention at first.
“Sal, you a mind reader of something?”
He smiled. “Nah, Rip was in here earlier.”
In case you’re wondering, everyone calls Rick “Rip” except me. I’m not even sure what it means but he tells everyone to call him that. I tried for a bit but it didn’t really work. Besides there’s no way I can be like everyone else. I am Mike Carter after all, the One and Only.
“Can I have a pop and some fries?”
He nodded, scribbling down the order. “Not very nutritious for a healthy guy like you.”
I shrugged. “I’m not in the mood for anything healthy today.”
The girl next to me snorted. I turned to her, ready with a come back but stopped as soon as I saw her. My face lit up with a smile. It was the girl from Lenny’s last night. I barely recognized her because she was wearing a white blouse and gray skirt. Her hair was up on the top of her head and she was wearing a pair of wire framed glasses. She looked nothing like the chick from last night. Which was great because this whole Librarian look made her about ten times sexier?
“Well, if it isn’t Bea”
She sighed. “That’s Miss Too Good For You.”
Sal laughed. “Stay away from this one, Bea, he blows through women as fast as he throws touchdowns.”
I ignored Sal as he set my drink on the counter in front of me. I looked Bea up and down. “I’m liking the whole school teacher look you’re rocking today. Was last night Let Your Hair Down Day.”
She huffed and turned to me. “If you must know I was waiting for someone last night before you so rudely butted in.”
I smiled, showing her my pearly whites. “Today, unlike you, I have to work.”
“Hey I work too.”
Sal dropped my fries in front of me. “Mr. Star here works at the Field up the street.”
Bea looked me up and down. “For some reason I can’t see you leading tours.”
“I’m a guard.”
She nodded. “That explains it then.”
I feigned being hurt. “What do you do all dressed up like besides crushing men’s balls in your bare hands.”
“She’s a big wig,” said Sal, sounding impressed. “Miss De Costa here works for Wayne Enterprises.”
Now I was impressed. Wayne owned the other half of Chicago, his and Ballard’s property sort of met in the middle. There was a notorious turf war going on there. It was the headline in the papers for the last few months. Well it was until a certain Giant superhero started making waves. Now the only thing that the papers seemed to want to talk about was Giganta and her super powered pals. Not that I was envious or anything.
“I’m not all that important Sal, I answer phones.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” said Sal “today you’re a receptionist but tomorrow who knows.”
“Hey take me for example,” I said, drawing the conversation back to yours truly. “In high school I was fourth string then because of a series of accidents, I was bumped up the totem pole and now look where I am.”
Bea rolled her eyes. “Typical” she said then picked up her cup of coffee, downing the rest of the contents. “It was a lovely lunch Sal; give my regards to your wife.”
She stood up, straightened her skirt and headed for the door.
“Hey Sal, can you box those fries for me. Ok thanks.”
She was half way down the street by the time I got my spiel down and was out the door to follow her. She moved pretty fast for a chick in heels. I caught up to her though and slipped in front of her. She didn’t look too happy but how could she not be, after all she was walking with me.
“You forgot to give me your number.”
“No I didn’t.”
I nodded. “An oversight I’m sure.” I reached into my coat pocket and took out the felt tip marker I kept there, in case anyone wanted the Booster’s autograph. “Here, babe. Write it down on my hand.”
I held out the pen to her but she brushed it aside. “You’re unbelievable.”
What the hell is this chick’s problem? Usually girls were throwing themselves at me. This girl just didn’t seem to get it, did she. I was Mike Carter; I was going to be super famous one day. She was gorgeous, there was no way I could let this one get away.
She walked a little faster, slipping by me. I groaned and walked in front of her again, walking backwards so I could continue to stare at this beauty. I continued to walk in front of her, putting up the best offense possible. But her defense was amazing. She even zipped and zagged like a pro. How in the hell did she even get dates if she played hard to get all the time.
“Are you going to leave me alone?” she huffed, trying once and failing to get by me.
“Only if you give me your number.”
She sighed, snatching the pen out of my hand. She didn’t scribble on my hand though like most girls. Instead, she reached into her purse and took out a white business card. She flipped it over, scribbled on the back and handed to me. I looked at the front first. There was a giant black W on it, her name: Beatrix De Costa below that. In tiny letters below, it said Public Relations. I smiled and flipped it over: 555-6392 Here’s my number, now get lost.
“Can I call you later tonight?”
She sighed. “I wish you wouldn’t.”
“Why did you give me your number if you don’t want me to call?”
She groaned. I smiled. This was my favorite part of the game. Women like her were rare. They were real pretty but they didn’t want to be asked out. It was like they were scared of men or something. Which was strange because she was all sexed out in Lenny’s last night? If she dint’ want to pick up men then what was she doing in a Sports Bar?
She walked to the curb, sticking her arm out to hail a cab. “I’m late for work.”
I held my arm out too. “Who works on a Sunday?”
“Wayne Enterprises never closes.”
“That must suck.”
“I like my work” she said as a cab pulled up in front of her. She opened the door and turned to me. “You’re not going to follow me to work and bother the hell out me, are you?”
I smiled. “I wish I could but I’ve got practice today. But I will call you later, that I can promise you.”
“I can hardly wait.”
She hopped into the cab and slammed the door. I watched as the cab drove off and sighed. She was definitely into me; I just had to convince her of it.
Off Season sucks. Its bad enough that the Coach busted our asses off in the fall but now he's got us doing the same thing in the spring too. Its madness. I think he's probably the only one who works his guys this hard. It was Off Season for Christ's sake and yet he still treated it like there was a game tomorrow. He really needed to lighten up a bit.
“Carter, you’re late.”
“Sorry Coach, I got caught up”.
I ran onto the practice field, the Coach put a hand on my chest. I’d only been a few minutes late but it wasn’t my fault. There was an accident and they weren’t letting people through. So I had to take the long way around to the train depot. It kind of sucked but at least I got here in time to change. It’s not my fault everyone else was finishing up as soon as I got into the locker room.
“Save it, Carter, I don’t care what her name was.” I groaned, he always thought it was a girl. “You’re on the bleachers.”
I nodded and ran toward the bleaches. The last time I ran them, I twisted my ankle because some jackass spilled water all over them. It put me out of three games last year. I’d never seen the Coach more mad in my entire time here. Not that that’s saying much. But when he told you to run the bleachers there was no arguing with him. So I took to the bleachers. I stretched before I started up them and scanned the metal benches, looking for any sign of liquid. When I didn’t see any, then I started my run. It was actually a lot easier than what they were doing on the field at the moment. I was never one for scrimmage drills. I’m the quarterback after all; I just need to throw the ball down the field. But I wouldn’t dare tell the Coach that, he’d have kittens.
I ran up down the first set and then moved on to the second. I was making good time, pacing myself. That’s when I saw him. I didn’t think anything of it at first. There were a lot of spectators that came to watch us practice. But as I got closer to him, I realized he looked real familiar. It wasn’t until I got closer that I realized where I’d seen him from. I stopped dead in my tracks as he stood up. It was the giant black guy, the one from Billiards last night. My heart was pounding like a drum. I took a step back. What the hell did he want?
“This doesn’t look like you’re getting Mr. Ballard’s money to me,” he said, his voice cold and threatening.
“No, this is practice.”
He took a step down the row, his stride covered the distance to me in seconds. He placed one of his huge hands on my shoulders. I tried to pull away but he socked me in the stomach. It felt like someone hit with a sack of bricks. I doubled up, coughing in pain. My rock hard abs were nothing compared to what he’d just done to me. I stumbled back as he took his hand off my shoulder. Then he guided me down, sitting me on the nearest bench.
“Don’t smart mouth me kid” he said, then threw a flyer at me. “We’ll make this real simple. Currently at that museum you work at there’s an exhibit displaying some of the world’s most precious jewels. One of them alone is worth one hundred easy. All you got to do is use your charm and swipe one for us. After that you’re in the clear.”
My eyes bulged out of my head. “Are you out of your damn mind? Do you know how security they have at that place?”
This guy was fucking crazy.
He smiled, showing lots of gold teeth. “You see the thing is, we know all about the security. In fact, we know a lot of things. Especially about your mother in Buffalo. She’s a sweet woman; you wouldn’t want anything to happen to her, would you?”
My anger flared. I gripped my hands into fists at my sides and jumped to my feet. Beneath me, the metal bleaches started to rattle for a second. The big guy looked scared for a split second but it disappeared quickly. “You leave my mother out of this. I’ll get you one of those stones. If anything happens to her, so help me God…”
I pointed my finger threateningly at his chest. He batted it away.
“Watch where you’re putting that thing boy, it might get broken.”
“CARTER!” Coach’s voice echoed up the bleachers toward us. “That doesn’t look like running. You can talk with your friends later. I WANT YOUR ASS MOVING NOW!”
The big guy smiled. “Mr. Ballard will be waiting at this address” He handed me a business card. “You have until midnight tomorrow, if you don’t bring us something, then I’m afraid your mother might have an accident.”
I clutched the card in my hand. What kind of lowlife scum threatens a woman still recovering from an accident. The big guy smirked and slowly walked away. I took my time to take a few deep breaths then turned back to the Coach. “Sorry Coach. Just talking about work.”
This was going to break my mother’s heart but there was no other way. I’m sorry, Mom. I took a deep breath and started running again.
“You look a green around the gills kid, Coach run you rampant again today?.”
I nodded at my partner, Frank, not sure what to say. I guess I was kind of nervous. Here we were, just the two of us, walking the dark halls. We did this three or four times a night just to make sure there was no one prowling about. It kind of made me laugh a bit inside because here we were looking for potential threats and I was one. My palms were sweaty as I held the flashlight, shining it up and down the hall. We were in the Ancient Americas exhibit; it was one of the newer ones. It boasted of having over twelve thousand artifacts or something like that. This was our usual route. We usually started at that creepy stuffed elephant thing in the middle and make our rounds from there. First it was the Americas then we worked our way south, passing the Gift Shop, crossing Stanley Field Hall and into the animal exhibits.
It was the same path night after night. It was kind of boring but it was orderly. Frank liked order and seeing as he was the senior guard of our duo, he was kind of in charge.
“Hey, what’s up with you, kid? Usually you like to brag about shit. You have a rough night?”
How do you tell someone that you’re supposed to steal something from right under their nose and also mention your mother’s life may depend on it? I sighed. “I got kind of smashed last night, lost some money at the tables, pissed off the wrong guy.”
Frank shook his head. “I told you to stay away from that shit, kid. Nothing good comes from that stuff.”
We passed by the giant Olmec Head statue and I shivered. That thing gave me the creeps. But not as much as that T-Rex skeleton, they had. It was the museum’s pride and joy, the most intact T-Rex skeleton ever or something like that. I took the tour once or twice, it bored the hell out of me, the guide was hot, though.
I stopped at the stairs, leaning against the door. I needed to get up there soon. We were only supposed to patrol the Main Level. The guys upstairs were just about to make the shift change and if I didn’t get up there now, I’d miss my chance. But that still meant I had to figure out a way to ditch Frank. I really liked the guy, he was good for a chat but he was dead weight. Especially tonight. If I didn’t ditch him soon there’d be no chance of me getting in the Hall of Gems tonight. I took a deep breath. I reached into the pocket of my coat, my fingers brushing against the business card inside. I pulled it out and looked at it. It was the one Bea gave me earlier. I brought it and my cell phone with me because I was hoping to get some time to give her a call but personal calls were frowned upon.
I reached into my other pocket and took out my cell.
“What are you doing with that?” asked Frank, shining his beam on my phone.
“Hoping to call this girl I met.”
He sighed and looked around. Our relief shift wouldn’t come for another hour. Then the two of us would be off to the break room to sit for an hour until they came back around and switched with us again. See, I told you it was boring. We did this routine for a couple of hours straight, first them, then us, then them, and us again. It went on and on and it was as boring as hell.
“Tony will have your ass and mine if he catches you.”
Tony was his supervisor, the boss of the guards if you will. He was a grumpy son of a bitch but he meant well and he knew his shit. I also knew not to cross the bastard. He might have been old and walked with a limp but he could kick my ass, no problem.
“I’ll slip upstairs; make the call from the bathroom. Tony will never know.”
Frank shined the light on his wristwatch. “You’ve got twenty minutes. Meet me over by that squid thingy.”
I smiled and nodded. “You’re the best, Frankie my man. Remind me to get you some tickets to next season's home opener.”
“Just give me the game ball with your John Hancock and we’ll call it even.”
I nodded. I pushed open the stairwell door and slipped inside.
I took the steps two at a time, my heart pounding in my chest. I couldn’t believe I was really doing this. I knew I said I would, but this was some serious shit. As soon as I did it, I’d have to disappear too. This place had security up the yin yang, especially in the Gems room. There were lasers and motion sensors and all that crazy shit. And it’s not like I have a bottle of wine to swap for the thing. Hey, I saw it in a movie on AMC the other night. Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn, God, she was a stone cold fox. So I’ve got a thing for old movies, so sue me. I did say I was a History major didn’t I? I kind of like the past I just don’t like people knowing I like it.
I pushed open the door to the Upper Floor, finding myself standing before the Brooker Gallery but I completely ignored it. The Hall of Gems was on the other side of the museum. Which meant there was a lot of space between me and there. It also meant there was a lot of space for me to get caught. Somewhere up here, two of my fellow guards were making their way about, just finishing up their shift. I looked at my watch; they still had a few minutes. I clicked off my flashlight and crept along the wall, disappearing into the Evolving Planet Exhibit. I crept around, hiding behind one of the displays. I sat and waited. It didn’t take long for me to spot the two bobbing lights.
I knew these guys, Joey and Hank. They were students like me, trying to make some extra cash on the side. How the two of them got to be paired together was beyond me. I was under the impression that younger guards were paired with senior ones. I sat and waited. The bobbing lights got closer and closer. When they swept over the exhibit, I ducked, hoping that the beams would miss me. Luckily, the two geeks were too preoccupied with other things. They were talking about that Giant superhero the whole city was obsessed about. That’s all they talked about in fact. It got kind of annoying, listening to them prattle on and on about her in the locker-room. The two of them needed to get real girlfriends.
I held my breath the entire time they swept by me. Finally, the two bobbing lights disappeared, the darkness slowly swallowing them. With any luck that would be their last pass. I waited a few more seconds then risked turning my light on again. I looked at my watch. Shift changes took about ten minutes. I cursed. I didn’t give me a lot of time to get to the Gems and grab one but maybe I could hide inside and wait it out. Frank had given me about twenty minutes but he was horrible with time. I always had to remind him when the shifts started and ended.
I took a deep breath and silently got to my feet. I made my way through the exhibit, moving as fast as I could. I almost crashed into a kiosk selling dinosaur souvenirs, cursing because I stubbed my toe on the corner of it. The rest of the way I half walked, half limped. I made good time, passing all these unfamiliar places. There were a lot of things up here that I saw on the tour I took but none of them really stood out. Except the Hall of Gems. The only reason I remembered it was because of the way the girl seemed to talk about it. She was real passionate about it, going on about each precious stone and the value of them. Because of her tour, I knew exactly what one I wanted. It was a blue stone, about the size of a fist; it kind of looked like a bug. The stone’s worth was estimated in the hundreds of thousands, more than enough to pay off Ballard.
I moved through the shadows, finally making it to the Gems.
I gulped when I saw what I’d be up against. There were lasers just like I thought. There were cameras too and I’m sure there were motion sensors in there as well. I sighed. How in the hell was I supposed to get past all that. I’m not Catherine Zeta Jones after all. I ran my fingers through my hair, groaning. Each of us guards had a card key that opened electronic locks and things like that. But there was no way I could use it to bypass all this security. I bit my lip, damn it I should have thought this through a little better.
I started pacing, clicking on my light to look at my watch again.
Damn, I only had about five minutes left. I was almost out of time. If I didn’t do something and quick, I was screwed. My mother was screwed too. I took a deep breath and clenched my fists at my sides. I cursed and took a step toward the room. The hell with this. I was one step away from the lasers when something happened. I’m not sure how to explain it but all the cases in the room started to vibrate. The glass rattled, the metal bases they were on slowly lifted from the ground. I watched, wide eyed as they floated in the air for a few seconds then slowly lowered to the ground. The rattling stopped. What the hell just happened? I took a step away, clenching my fists again. Only one case rattled this time, the base lifting from the ground, the glass vibrating violently.
It was the case with the blue stone. It floated up, the glass surrounding it shattered. I jumped, the breaking sounding like a gun shot. The case fell to the ground, making the loudest boom I’d ever heard. The stone rolled out of its holder and right into one of the red beams. The alarm that followed was loud and blaring. I took a step back, slapping my hands over my ears. A large metal door dropped down in front of the exhibit. I panicked, stumbling backwards, knocking into the rail. Something fell out of my pocket and hit the ground. I tried to grab it but the darkness swallowed it. I went for my flashlight but it was already too late.
I heard the sound of running and two beams cut through the darkness, dancing across the floor toward me. I turned before they could get a real good look at me. But I’m sure they knew I was there.
“Hey” said a voice; it sounded like Joey. “What the hell are you doing up here?”
I took a deep breath and made a split second decision. It wasn’t the smartest one but it was the only thing I could come up with. I ran. I charged the two of them. I slammed into both of them. They were frail little guys; I easily bowled them over. Hopefully neither one of them got a good look at me before I charged them. They hit the ground and I ran over the top of them. I didn’t even stop to see if they were all right. I needed to get the hell out of this place and fast.
I ran for the nearest elevator. I whipped out my key card. I knew I couldn’t go out of any of the known entrances but maybe I could use the loading dock. The guy there was old and lazy; he slept on the job all the time.
Damn it, that was really stupid. I cursed as the elevator continued its downward descent. I knew it was a bad idea from the beginning and yet that thought of my mother in trouble seemed to fuel my stupidity. Why didn’t I contact the police? I knew it’d get Billiards in trouble but there were more important things than illegal gambling establishments. Now I was screwed both ways. I rubbed the heels of my hands into my eyes and groaned. It was only a matter of time before they figured out it was me and then I was really screwed. What’s worse, I realized what I dropped back there. I didn’t notice it was missing until I stuck my hand into my coat pocket and what I didn’t find shocked me: my phone. I stupidly dropped my damn cell phone. Now it was lying there, in plain sight for all the world to see. It wouldn’t take a genius to figure out it didn’t belong there, that I didn’t belong there. I cursed again, feeling the bile rise up my throat. I forced it back down, hunching over a bit as I did so.
Maybe I can talk my way out of this. I am Mike Carter after all.
The elevator dinged and came to a stop. When the door opened, I was greeted by darkness and musty smell. I groaned. In my haste, I pushed the wrong button. This wasn’t the loading dock; it was the basement. They stored a lot of the old exhibits down here, artifacts from all over history. I’d only been down here once or twice. It was a huge twisting maze, filled with wooden crates and towering metal shelves. It kind of reminded of that place at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I took a deep breath and debated what to do next. I looked at the buttons, wondering if I could slip out of the loading dock now. I was pretty certain that the whole museum was on alert now.
I cursed again, I was so fricking screwed. By force of habit, I turned on my flashlight, shining it about in front of me. I held the door open with one hand and took a look around. The basement was kind of cool; it’d be a lot cooler if I wasn’t being chased. I scanned along the nearest stack of boxes, wondering if there was anything cool in there. I continued to move the beam along the row until I got it as far as it would go. When I reached the other end, realization dawned on me. There was a stairwell at the other end of this place, one with an exit that led right outside. It was for emergency use only, in case of a fire but it was there, nonetheless. I smiled and stepped out of the elevator, allowing the door to rumble shut behind me.
I walked along the little hall that the two stacks on either side of me created. They both towered over me, their contents secure in their boxes. I wondered f there was anything worth pawning in one of those. Ok it’s crazy but I’ve still got a real problem. Even if I went to the cops about Ballard now, they’d still take me in for attempting to rob the museum. It was a pretty serious offense; probably land me in federal prison for the rest of my life. I groaned. There’s no way I could do prison, I’m too pretty; I’d be someone’s bitch in ten minutes. I groaned again, there was no way I could go to jail. But what alternative did I have? If I didn’t get Ballard the money, they’d do something to my mother. Her safety was my top priority.
I moved along the stacks, my beam directly in front of me. I scanned it along the floor mainly, making sure I didn’t walk into something that I’d regret later. There were a lot of twists and turns in this place and very little light. If I made a wrong turn, I could get lost and that was bad. This place stretched the whole of the museum and one wrong turn and I could be stuck down here for days. Thinking about that made me shiver and made me all the more vigilant. My heart beat loudly in my chest and was a constant reminder that what I was doing was the stupidest thing in the world. But that was the story of my life. What you don’t think I know I’m a dick. Hey, I know. It’s just sometimes I get carried away. It’s not my fault. All my life I’ve been kind of good at football and there were a lot of people who took advantage of that.
I blame my Anjo coach for that. He sort of stepped into my life after my father left, my mother even dated him for a bit. Coach Dave became a surrogate father figure to me and for a long time I thought he was the coolest.
He had this philosophy to life. He always used to say, “If you have it then flaunt it.” It kind of stuck with me. He was the one who really pushed me into the sport. When I tried out for the team, he saw potential and encouraged me. He even practiced with me when all the other kids left. He not only cared about me but he treated me like a father should treat his son. But there was something off about him too. I didn’t realize it at the time but he was kind of a player. While he was dating my mother, there were always these other women around too. He called them his “special friends” and always made me promise not to tell my mother about them. Dave was a good looking guy and it amazed me that all these women kept throwing themselves at him.
I was crushed when my mother found out. My Mom was a fox when I was younger, she knew and a lot of the single men knew it. But after Dave, things kind of feel apart for her. She went into a depression. He took advantage of her and it ruined her. After they broke up, she pulled me out of Dave’s team. I went to another team. Dave kind of made it his life’s goal to make me miserable for some reason. But in the end I showed him up, our team pummeled his in the Championship. I think it made my mother a little happier.
Unfortunately for me, a little of Dave rubbed off. When I got older and into high school, I got tall and good looking. Hey, I can’t deny what’s true. Common sense kind of took a back seat to my ego. See I can admit it and yet it was like a monster. Women loved me and threw themselves at me, just like Dave. But unlike Dave, I didn’t make a habit of dating more than one girl at a time. Because I never dated any of them. I kind of fooled around a bit and moved on. I carried the philosophy all the way through high school and into college. It’s one of those things where you know you’re doing something wrong but you can’t seem to stop. Kind of like my gambling, it’s this addiction, something that you know is going to bite you in the ass someday but you can’t stop. Consider me bitten. After this was over, I’m never stepping into another gambling establishment again.
I shined the light on my watch and moaned. I’d only been down here a couple of minutes and it already felt like a few hours. It was kind of hard going, moving through the dark with only the dim light of your flashlight guiding you. The only other lights in this place were far off and they flickered, casting light sporadically into the place. As I stumbled along at my slow pace, I first heard them as they entered the room. For a moment, I thought it was my imagination, until I heard the tapping of their feet on the concrete. I cursed and snapped my light off, stopping dead in my tracks. Because the room was so large, their footfall and voices echoed all around me.
“You sure he came down here,” asked one of them, it sounded like Joey.
“Duh, where else would he go” That one was Hank.
Then a third voice spoke, which surprised me. “This is pointless; we should wait for the cops.”
I could recognize Frank’s from anywhere. I sighed. It never occurred to me that they’d drag him into this but why wouldn’t they.
“He could be gone by then,” said Joey, the three of them were moving through the stacks. “Besides this is the only other place left to go. We have all the other exits blocked. I know there’s a way out of here down here somewhere.”
“This is crazy,” said Frank, huffing along. “There’s no way it was Mike.”
“Hey we know what we saw.”
Shit, so they did see me. I took a deep breath and started moving again. They weren’t that far behind me. It was only a matter of time before the three of them caught up. I put some of my constant exercise into play and picked up my pace. I moved as quickly as I could, not daring to use my light anymore, in case they spotted it. I used the dim overheads as guidance. The flickering bulbs were enough to cast circles of light onto the area in front of me. I moved and wove, going from one mazelike pathway to another. I was moving pretty fast too. I got a little cocky and wasn’t paying attention. There was a patch up ahead where the light didn’t show. I figured it was a straight run so I kind of took it as fast as I could go.
I’m not sure why there was a box in the middle of the walkway. But I slammed into it going as fast as I could. The noise was loud and booming. I smashed right through it, getting tangled up and going onto my knees. It hurt like hell. There was some kind of vase inside. It shattered under my weight. I cursed as I pushed myself to my feet. There was no way that they didn’t hear that. As soon as I got to my feet, I heard them running as fast as they could. Luckily, the three of them were out of shape but I knew my luck wouldn’t last for long. I pushed my way through the wreckage and ran as fast as I could, abandoning any attempt to make sense of where I was going.
I was going along pretty good until I hit a dead end. I cursed, slamming my hands angrily into the stack. It shook a bit but luckily, it didn’t go toppling over. Imagine the mess that would cause. I took a deep breath and backpedaled. There was another path that branched off a few feet back. I found it without any problem and started down it faster than I thought I could run. I made a good pace again and others were slowing down. They were definitely out of shape, especially poor Frank with that beer gut of his.
I came to the end of this pathway, stopping at the stack there to catch my breath. Hey, I’m an athlete but I’m not a super man, even I get a little winded. I rested my hand against one of the boxes and something weird happened. The box got hot under my fingertips. I jumped back, surprised. What the hell? I stared at the box for a few seconds then shook it off. There was no way that just happened. I cautiously touched the box again. The burning was gone but it rattled slightly. Not happening, this is just your imagination. I shook off the crazy feeling and started to walk away, laughing. The box rattled some more, shaking everything about. I got about ten feet away and there was a huge crash. I snapped around, half expecting the others to jump on me. Instead, I saw the wooden box on the ground, busted to bits, its contents spilled about.
I cursed. First, I broke a vase and now this. I took a risk and snapped on my light, seeing what mess I made now. Most of the stuff was junk, broken shards of pottery and things like that. I bent down and started stuffing it back inside, making sure I didn’t break anything. I thought I got it all when my light caught a glint of something underneath the stack. I sighed and reached inside, my hand cupping around a round object. When I pulled it out, my eyes got as big as saucers. It was some kind of object, shaped like a football. It was about as big as one too and looked to be made of solid gold.
I hefted it in my hand, it weighed about a pound or two. Someone must have had a thing for gold shaped thingies. I laughed and made to shove it back in the box. But something sharp stabbed me in the finger. I cursed, dropping the stupid thing on the ground. It bounced and rolled away. I cursed again, sticking my finger in my mouth. It was probably a splinter of wood but it hurt like hell. I looked around with my light, finding the gold football a few feet away. I shook my head and walked over to it, picking it up. It felt lighter than before and warm. The warmth disappeared as soon as I cradled it and carried it back over to the box.
I’m losing my mind. I dropped it into the box and lifted the remnants of it, putting it back on the shelf. I started to walk away but something made me stop. I’m not sure what it was, maybe it was my need to save my mother. But that thing was made of gold; it probably cost a damn fortune. I cursed; there was no way I could take it. I shook my head and started to walk away but my conscience failed me. I snapped around and went to the box. I took off my regulation jacket, grabbed the gold orb thingy and wrapped it up. Ok, so I’m going to hell but my mother’s life depends on it.
After that, I seemed that much more anxious to get the hell out of there, especially seeing as dropping that second box really got the others running. I moved a lot faster, not stopping for anything. I wove and zipped through the pathways, finally finding that glorious exit I was looking for. I tore the door open, not bothering to stop as an alarm sounded. There was a flight of stairs leading up. I took them two at a time, running as fast and as hard as I could go. After about ten minutes, I found the exit. It too sounded an alarm but I kept running. I ended up in an alley behind the museum but I ran through it, splashing water from puddles, running as if hell-hounds were at my heels. Who knows, maybe they were after what I’d just picked up.
I got out into the street and flagged a cab. When it got there and I jumped inside, I finally took a deep breath. I sighed, wiped my sweaty brow and told the driver where to go. Then I unfolded my jacket and looked at my prize: the gold orb seemed to gleam and shimmer, radiating a brilliance that I’d never seen before.
I’m in so much trouble.
I didn’t go straight home; I’m not that dumb. I had the cabby drop me off at a corner near an ATM. Luckily I still had my wallet with me or else I’d be screwed. My clothes were back in the locker room at work, probably in an evidence bag by now. After withdrawing some cash, I went into the nearest thrift store. It was still open, what are the odds. I got some jeans, a shirt and a backpack. I dressed in the bathroom, stuffing my work clothes into the pack. I made sure the gold orb was wrapped up in my jacket; I didn’t want to take any chances. Before I left, I bought a hat and some sunglasses too. The girl behind the counter was gorgeous and a part of me wanted to flirt but I forced it way down. This was one instance where I didn’t want to make a lasting impression.
I left the thrift store in a rush and went to a local twenty-four hour convenience store. I was starving. I looked at my watch; it was about one in the morning. I tore into a burrito and slugged down my pop with reckless abandon. The guy at the counter looked at me like I was nuts but I didn’t care. I just tried to break into a museum display, got chased through the bowels of a mazelike basement and stole an artifact made of solid gold. I think that’s grounds for a little craziness. I dropped a twenty on the counter, told the kid to keep the change and left.
My conscience caught up with me. The guilt tore through me, wracking my body. But what choice did I have. They were going to hurt my mother if I didn’t get them the money. They were going to hurt me, too, but my mother was more important. I started pacing on the sidewalk, looking very much like a nut. Luckily, there weren’t a lot of people around. My conscience kept flipping back and forth, from doing the right thing to doing what I was asked to do. I had something that was worth a lot of money but at the same time, Ballard was a crook and needed to be in jail. But if I turned him in then he could easily retaliate. But the police thought I was some kind of thief. At least I’m sure they did now. I hadn’t exactly stopped to see if the news was broadcasting my image yet. But that was only a matter of time.
In the end, my good Angel side won out. I went to the nearest pay phone and dialed 911. I told them that I had reason to believe that Henry Ballard was involved in some nefarious gambling plots; I gave some examples. Then I gave them my mother’s name and address, telling the dispatcher that I thought she might be in danger. When the woman asked for my name, I refused to give it to her. There was no way I was going to let Ballard connect this back to me. I’m not sure if the woman on the other end believed me or not but at least it was a start. I felt better after doing it and finally hailed a cab home. Sure enough on the way there, it didn’t take long for the museum incident to make the radio. There was an APB out on a suspect fitting my description, wanted in questioning for an attempted theft at the Fields Museum. It didn’t mention me, thank God, but it was only a matter of time. Just to be safe I had the cabby drop me off a block from home. When I got to the Tides, my suspicions were correct. There were two black and whites outside the building. I groaned. There was an officer outside talking to the doorman.
I took the alternative route. There was a back door I sometimes slipped in and out of from time to time. The guy there was named Eddie; he was a fan. He was standing outside when I approached, smoking a cigarette. He smiled when he saw me.
“Mike, where the hell you been. You’re missing all the action.”
“I was at work” I bit my lip. Why the hell did I tell him that? I decided to play dumb. “What’s going on?”
Eddie tossed his cig onto the ground and rubbed it out with his heel. “The cops are looking for someone here; they think they might be connected to some kind of robbery.”
I played dumb again. “No shit. Any idea who?”
He shook his head. “If I were to guess, I’d say it was the guy in 10B, he’s always kind of given me the creeps.”
I nodded. “You think you can let me up the back way, I don’t want to walk through the mess in the front.”
“Sure thing, bro” He took out his key and opened the door for me.
“Thanks, I owe you some sideline seats for the home opener.”
"Get me the phone number of a hot cheerleader and we'll call it even."
I slipped into the building, smiling at my ingenuity. I ran up the back stairs until I got to a proper floor. I slipped out the door and went to the elevator. I punched in a random floor number, biding my time. When I exited the elevator, I went to one of the hallway windows and stared out it. I had a perfect view of what was going on down below. Luckily, it was so late that there was no one in the hall. I stood by the window for what seemed like hours watching the police cars. Finally, two officers exited the building and got into their cars. I sighed, glad that that was over. I went back into the elevator and went to my floor.
When I got to the door, I realized I didn’t have the key. Damn Rick is going to be so pissed off. I knocked on the door, it opened real fast. Almost as if Rick was standing there waiting for me. He was dressed in his pajamas but I could tell I didn’t wake him.
“Jesus Christ Mike, what the hell did you do?”
I didn’t get time to respond. He grabbed the front of my shirt and pulled me inside. The apartment was dark. Rick pushed me over to the couch and dead bolted the door. I sighed, dropping the backpack on the floor and collapsed onto the couch.
“You won’t believe the night I had.”
“That seems to be the only thing you know how to say lately.”
I sighed, running my fingers through my hair. “Don’t start, I kind of fucked up.”
“You’re telling me. The police just left here, they think you’re involved with some kind of botched museum robbery.”
I smiled slightly. “I can explain.”
His eyes widened. “What the hell did you do?”
So I took a deep breath and told him everything. When I was done, Rick collapsed into the armchair across from me. This time he ran his fingers through his hair. He stared at me, not saying anything for the longest time. When he finally spoke, I heard the disappointment in his voice.
“I told you that that gambling of yours was going to get you in serious trouble.”
“Hey, it wasn’t the gambling. Ballard had me in his crosshairs whether I wanted it or not. He was gunning for me. I was going to pay him back one way or the other. That man is crazy.”
Rick nodded. “Tell me about it. He’s been one of my father’s biggest adversaries for a while now. He keeps trying to push some kind of land development deal in my father’s district but my father keeps vetoing it down. Why he wants land in the north of the state is beyond me. Some political analysts think he’s going to try to run against my father in the next election. The scary part is, he’s got a chance to win the thing.”
I groaned. That’s all this state needed, a psychopath in Congress.
“He threatened my Mom. His goon told me if I didn’t swipe one of the gems from the museum that they were going to hurt her bad.”
Rick sighed. “You should have called the police.”
“Duh, I know that, now.”
Rick got to his feet and started pacing. He did that when he was thinking. Finally, he stopped and turned to me. “The police have eyewitnesses placing you outside the Gem Hall and your phone. They’ve got enough credible evidence to at least bring you in for questioning. I might be able to convince my Dad to help but he’s not going to like it. But he may be willing to toss his hat into the ring if there’s a chance Ballard can see jail time for this.”
I opened my mouth, shocked. “You don’t have to do this, Rick.”
“No, but I’m going to.”
See, we’re real good friends, the best of friends. The only problem is if the situation were reversed would I do the same for him. I’d like to think so but my ego tended to get in the way a lot. I groaned. Why was I such an ass all the time?
I yawned, struggling to my feet. I grabbed the pack, hefting it in numb, tired fingers. “I’m going to hit the sack. Can you give me a heads up if the police try to knock down the door?”
He smiled and nodded. I started to trudge for my room when he asked the question I was hoping he wouldn’t. “What’s in the bag?”
I stopped dead in my tracks. After everything he said he was going to do, I couldn’t lie to him. But I couldn’t tell him the truth either. So I bit my lip and lied. “It's my work clothes. I needed to get out of them so I got this stuff at a thrift store. I didn’t want to look too incriminating.”
“You might want to get rid of them, then.”
I nodded. “I’ll do it in the morning.”
I grabbed the doorknob and opened my door. I kicked off my shoes, sitting on the bed as I did so. I stared at the pack as I dropped it at my feet, stripping off my jeans as I did so. What the hell was I going to do with that thing? I groaned and fell back on the bed, closing my eyes. Right before I drifted off to sleep, I swore a strange golden glow filled the room. I snapped my eyes open and looked around, thinking maybe Rick had turned the light on. But there was nothing. I groaned and went to sleep, thinking nothing about the pain in my stomach.
The beeping of the alarm clock woke me up. I groaned as I opened my eyes, fumbling about looking for the accursed thing. It was one of those loud and annoying ones that sounded like a school bell. You know the type. Well Rick bought me this one for Christmas last year because he was tired of waking my ass up all the time. This morning it was particularly loud and annoying. I groaned and sat up, giving up my blind attempt to find it. I groggily looked around, the blaring sound pounding at my head. For a minute there, it felt like I was hung over again. I finally slammed my hand on it. There was a squeak and it shut up. Finally, some peace and quiet.
I wanted so much to lie back down. that is until I realized what day it was. I groaned, throwing off the covers. Garfield and I have one thing in common, we both hate Mondays. I trudged out of bed, swaying a bit on my feet as I did so. Have you ever had a dizzy spell in the morning? I stumbled a bit, wondering if maybe I wasn’t drunk after all. I groaned, scratched my butt and dragged my feet out into the living room area. Rick was gone but that wasn’t anything new. He took a lot of early morning classes. He said he liked his afternoons free so he could study. Me, I liked the afternoon classes, partially because of my job but they also allowed me to sleep in late. Not that I was going to have much problems on the job front because after this morning---last night? ---I wouldn’t have one to go back to. I’m not sure if that made me happy or really pissed off. I suppose a little of both. For starters, it meant no money, which meant I wouldn’t be able to chip in on the rent. But on the happy side, it meant I’d have more time to pick up chicks. Ok, yes, I had a life changing experience but that’s not going to stop me. As soon as this whole museum thing blew over, I’d be able to get back in the saddle again.
Yes, I’m delusional in the morning. It’s too early to think about the bad things. Ok, so technically, it’s the afternoon but I’m still too tired to think about that stuff. Not until after my shower at least.
I walked into the bathroom, feeling a swaying on my chest that shouldn’t have been there. I was still too groggy to think about it though. Was it possible to spontaneously gain weight over night? I walked over to the toilet, pulled down my boxers and paused. It took me about ten seconds to process what was wrong and then I screamed. I screamed at the top of my lungs and what came out of my mouth was as shrill as the best Scream Queens could muster. Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit. I stuck my hands down my pants but there was no doubt about it. It’s gone. Little Booster had flown the coop. I panicked, stumbled backwards into the shower. I tripped over my boxers, falling on my ass.
As soon as I landed, something on my chest flopped up and down. I looked down and screamed even louder this time. On my chest, for the whole world to see, were two huge mounds. I closed my eyes, my breathing erratic and labored. This isn’t happening; this isn’t possible. I snapped one eye open at a time, squinting down. Maybe I’m dreaming. But when I opened my eyes all the way, they were still there. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. They were breasts. Breasts on my chest. How was that even possible?
I clamored to my feet, kicking off my boxers. This had to be a joke. I laughed out loud, not registering the fact that even my laugh was different. Rick was getting me back for last night’s stupidity. The breasts, they had to be fake. The vagina down below too. Not that I knew it was one but lack of you-know-what usually means the other thing, right? There were shops who sold this kind of stuff, I mean for guys who wanted to be girls. Not that there was anything wrong with that. But Rick had a wicked sense of humor. I reached up and cupped my breasts; they had to be close to D cups. They were lifelike prosthetics. I gave them both a good squeeze and this sensation went crawling through my body. It was incredible. How in the hell did he pull that off? It kind of scared and excited me at the same time.
I gave them a tug and screamed again. It hurt like hell. Ok, so he glued them on. They sell that stuff too. I tore the shirt over my head and looked down, hoping to see the seams. There were none. In fact, they looked life like, even the nipples. I reached up and tweaked them, sending another wonderful sensation through my body. Oh God. I shuddered, nearly falling over. What the hell did Rick do to me?
I ran over to the mirror, maybe I couldn’t see the seams looking down at them. But as soon as I looked into the mirror, I nearly fainted. What in the hell? Staring back at me was not my normal, gorgeous self. Looking back at me was a drop dead gorgeous chick, with sparkling blue eyes, long blonde hair and most kissable lips I’d ever seen. Looking at her made me want to screw her brains out. I reached up and touched my face. The girl in the mirror did the same. How did Rick pull this off? I’ve heard of some wicked pranks but this was absolutely ridiculous. The worse thing was I couldn’t see any seams. I tried tugging on my boobs again but it still hurt like hell. Realization seemed to dawn on me just then. But it wasn’t possible, things like this don’t happen.
I stepped away from the mirror and felt light headed. Guys don’t change into chicks. The world rushed around me as I collapsed unconscious to the floor.
“Mike” The voice was dull, like a low thumping in my ears. “Mike, where the hell are you?”
I opened my eyes, groaning. For a second I didn’t know where I was until I looked around. Then I remembered. I was in the bathroom. I sat up, realizing that I was naked. Then I realized something else too. I groaned; looking down at the fake breasts attached to my chest. Yes, I’m still convinced this was some kind of cruel joke perpetrated by Rick. I groaned again. That was the voice I just heard. I used the bathtub to push myself to my feet, scooping up my shirt as I did so. I turned and looked at the mirror, still unable to fathom how he was able to pull such a thing off.
I pulled the shirt over my head and walked to the door, opening it slowly. Rick was in the living room, sitting on the couch. I took a deep breath, clearing my throat in the process. He snapped around and looked at me. At first, his eyes roved up and down then he turned away as if embarrassed about something. What the hell was that all about?
“Oh God, I’m sorry” he clicked off the TV and got to his feet, still not looking at me.
“Dude, this isn’t funny,” I said, putting my hands on my hips. Whoa, he even did something to them to make them appear bigger. HE was really going all out.
“No its not” he said, looking away. “Mike is…”
“Really pissed off” I finished.
He nodded, finally looking at me. “I’ll bet. Being cooped up in here must be crazy. I bet he didn’t even read my note.”
“What note?” I asked, walking into the room.
Rick snatched the note off the table, holding it out to me. His face went red and he turned away. I rolled my eyes. Boy was he really loving this. I snatched it from his hand, scanning it quickly. It was him telling me not to leave the house and not let anyone in here. I crumbled it up, tossing it aside.
“Like that’s going to stop me.”
Rick sighed. “Did you just wake up?”
I shook my head. “Yes and no. I kind of woke up in a fog. I stumbled into the bathroom and discovered this” I waved to my body, shaking my head. “I wasn’t happy.”
“I’ll bet” he said “uh, where are your clothes?”
I laughed. “I didn’t put any on yet.”
“That’s a relief,” he said, sighing. “For a minute there I thought he took them with him. He’s done that before.”
What the hell was he talking about? “Are you referring to yourself in the first person now, Rick?”
He looked at me again. “You know my name?”
“Duh” I said. What the hell was wrong with him? I’m the one who just fainted and hit my head. “You did real good work with this by the way. How the hell did you pull it off.’
All the color drained from his face. “Oh God, it was a date rape drug!”
“You drugged me!”
He took a step back, holding up his hands as I advanced on him. “I didn’t do this, he did. I wasn’t even here all morning. I still can’t believe he slipped you one during the day though. Usually those things are done at night, in a night club or something.”
Who the hell was this “he” that he kept referring too? Speaking from experience---hey it happened only once and I was young. “You can give them any time of the day but it’s better at night when the girl is real drunk…”
No, I didn’t rape her. I slipped her the pill in her drink and she passed out in my car. But I chickened out. I think it was that pesky conscience of mine. When she woke up, I helped her back to her house, told her parents she got a little drunk. The next day I sent her a huge bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates. I sent her flowers and chocolates the whole month. I never did anything stupid like it again. Hey, I’m a player, not a monster.
Rick walked over to the couch again and sat down, burying his head in his hands. “Look let me call you a cab, it’s the least I can do. When Mike gets home, I’ll kick his ass for you.”
Wait, what? “What do you mean when I get home?” I said angrily. “I’m right here, you dick head.”
Rick snapped around, staring at me. He stared for a long time and then he burst out laughing. He laughed for a while, nearly falling off the couch. I finally glared at him, which shut him up real quick.
“What kind of idiot does he take me for?”
“It depends you jack ass on what kind of idiot you take me for” I walked over to him, looming over him, my hands still on my wide hips. “How in the hell did you pull all this off anyway. The boobs and the vagina are good but the hair, the face, and even my voice. It’s absolutely incredible. I didn’t think something like this was even possible.”
He stared at me as if I’d grown a third head. “You’re a real good actress. I’m not sure why Mike is fucking with me but you can tell him the joke’s over.”
He stood up and patted me on my shoulder.
I groaned. Before I towered over him but now we almost saw eye to eye. How in the hell? Rick was five nine, it wasn’t possible? The color drained from my face this time. I took a step away from him, my heart pounding in my chest, my palms sweating. I felt light headed and stumbled, nearly falling over the glass coffee table as I sat on the couch. It wasn’t possible. Looking at Rick now, I knew without a doubt that he had no idea who I was and if that was the case then all of this was real…I couldn’t breathe, I started gasping for air.
He jumped to his feet and was at my side in an instant. He did his best to comfort, grabbing my now dainty looking hands, gently stroking them. His next words sealed the deal for me: “Miss, are you all right?”
Something popped. I’m not sure what it was but I started to cry. The last time I’d ever cried was at my father’s funeral. I tried to be a man but I couldn’t help it. My mother tried to reassure me it was ok to cry when one was sad but men didn’t cry. My father told me that once. We were in the garage and he cut his finger with a screwdriver. I asked him if he was hurt and he said yes. Then I asked him why he wasn’t crying and he told me “Real men don’t cry.” Ok so my father was kind of an ass but I took that philosophy to heart as well. So my mother wasn’t a very good judge of character when it came to men but at least she tried to do right by me.
I finally found my voice, struggling through my sobs. “You think I’m some girl that Mike hired don’t you?”
He smiled. “At first I thought you were one of the bimbos he usually brings home with him” he said with a laugh. I wanted to punch him but he was half right. I brought home the dumb girls because they were easier to fool.
“I’m not a bimbo,” I sobbed, unable to control it. What the hell was wrong with me? “I’m not some girl that Mike hired either. I am Mike.”
Rick laughed. “You’re still acting on about that.”
“I’M NOT ACTING!” I screamed at the top of my lungs, my voice shrill and girly.
He sighed, wincing slightly at my scream. He nodded but I could tell by the look on his face that he didn’t believe me. He was a man of science and facts. The only way he’d believe me is if I showed him proof. So I took a deep breath and tried the logical approach first:
“They call you Rip, not because you got torn off your surfboard on vacation and nearly drowned in a rip tide like you told everyone here. They call you Rip because you split the seat of your pants during your first dance with a girl in sixth grade because your pants were too tight.”
The look on his face was genuine. But he shook his head. “I’m going to kill Mike. He swore he’d never tell anyone that.”
I groaned. “I didn’t tell anyone that, you dumb ass.”
“That doesn’t prove anything.”
I groaned. There was only one other thing I could do to prove I was me. I pushed away his hands, wiped the tears from my eyes and stood up. I took a deep breath and turned around, lifting up the shirt to show him my butt. He turned away at first until I cleared my throat, causing him to look. What he saw confirmed I was telling the truth. There were only two people in this world alive who knew what I showed him: Rick and my mother. Ever since I was born I had a birthmark on my butt, it wasn’t very big but it was kind of embarrassing because it was in the shape of a teddy bear. Rick saw it last year when we were in the pool house showers at his family’s estate. The two of us were getting dressed and my towel slipped. He’s the only one besides my mother who knew of its existence and I swore him to secrecy on threat of his life.
I heard an intake of breath then he fell backwards in his chair. I dropped the shirt and turned to him, smirking. He stared at my face then looked up and down my whole body. I let him get a good view before I say back down on the couch, huffing, blowing a strand of hair from my face. There was no way I was going to get used to all this hair.
Neither of us said anything for a long time. He kept staring and I just sat there, wondering which one of us was going to break the silence. At least I stopped crying, thank God.
Finally, he broke the silence: “I don’t understand.”
I sighed. “That makes two of us.”
“You’re really Mike?”
“Do I have to flash you again?”
He shook his head, blushing a bit. “You’re definitely Mike all right. The question is, how did this happen?”
I stood up and started pacing. He watched me, his eyes the only thing moving. I tried to ignore it but it was kind of creepy, especially when they went from one place to the other. It was only two places too: chest and legs. Finally, I got sick of it and stopped; tugging on the end of my shirt, wishing to God it was a whole lot longer. My pacing was an attempt to come up with an answer but I had nothing. I turned to him, searching his face for some sign that his brain was functioning. I knew exactly what he was thinking. Hey, I saw myself in the mirror; I knew how hot I looked. But this was neither the time nor the place for that. In fact, it was never going to be the time or place for that. At least not with him or any other guy.
“You’re the smart one Rick” I finally huffed. “What do you think?”
He didn’t say anything for a while. He had that look on his face he sometimes got when he was doing homework. At this particular moment, it was there for a while. That look always used to annoy me because it made him look like he was so much better than everyone else. When it finally went away and he spoke, I’m not sure if I was relieved or not.
“I have an aunt who works at STAR Labs a few miles from here. She’s a geneticist; she knows her stuff really well. I think maybe I should give her a call and see if she’d be willing to see you.”
All I could do was nod. Rick talked about STAR Labs a lot. In fact, it was his dream job. He could spend hours talking about this and that. They were apparently one of the leading research facilities specializing in everything. It was definitely the ideal work environment for an Egg Head like him. If anyone could tell us what was going on it would definitely be them. The question was would they be willing to even see me. I mean how often do guys change into girls. Maybe they’d think I was some kind of freak and not want anything to do with me. Or maybe it’d be the complete opposite and they’d want to dissect me. That one sent a shiver up my spine.
“You sure calling your aunt is the best idea?”
He nodded, walking over to the phone. He picked it up, holding his hand up to silent my protests. I watched as he dialed the number and got her voice mail. “Aunt Jenet, its Rick. I’d really like you to give me a call when you get this message. My friend has a problem and I was wondering if maybe you could help him with it.”
He hung up the phone. “You think she’ll call back?”
He shrugged. “She’s intrigued by problems so I think this will pique her curiosity.”
I nodded. Then I shifted my body, trying best to figure out how to sit. I am, after all, only wearing a shirt. I tried a few different poses but no matter what I tried, the shirt wasn’t really that long and no matter how I sat, certain things down below were hard to hide. I caught Rick looking and trying not to look. I think it was making both of us embarrassed. Finally I got to my feet, fed up with trying to find the proper way to sit.
“I think I need some clothes.”
“Can you wear any of your old stuff?”
I shrugged. “I doubt it.”
He sighed. “I guess I can go out and buy you some more.” He looked me up and down again, looking kind of nervous. “Umm, what do you think your sizes are?”
I looked down and smiled. I was usually pretty good at sizing women up; it was a gift. I looked at my boobs then turned and looked at my butt, finally taking a long look at my hips. I turned to him and rattled off the measurements. He looked flustered at first but then grabbed a pen and paper. He scribbled down what I told him. Then he grabbed his coat and house key, making his way toward the door.
He turned to me before he left. “Don’t open this for anyone.”
I rolled my eyes. “Duh.”
“And stay away from the TV.”
“You won’t like what’s on it.”
I sighed but nodded. He smiled and left. I waited until I heard him walk down the hall toward the elevator before I ran over to the coffee table and picked up the remote. I clicked the TV on; Rick had it on one of the local news channels when I walked in earlier from the bathroom. I groaned as I saw the scene. It was an exterior shot of the Field; there were a bunch of police cars and news vans parked outside in front of it. There was a huge crowd too. The volume was down but I didn’t need not turn it up. The pretty brunette newscaster, Rose Jenkins---she was really hot---was talking. I didn’t need to know what she was talking about to know it was bad. What shocked me even more was when a picture of me flashed on the screen. It was my work ID photo.
I turned the volume up to catch the last bit: “Michael “Booster” Carter, Northwestern football hero, is wanted for questioning. The police will neither confirm nor deny if Carter is their main suspect but a figure matching his description was seen fleeing the scene of the crime.”
Crime, what crime? I didn’t steal anything.
Then something else flashed on the bottom of screen. FIELD MUSEUM THEFT. PRECIOUS STONES STOLEN FROM GEM HALL. What the hell was this? I didn’t steal anything. I mean I tried to steal it but I failed. Joey and Hank would testify to that. What the hell was going on? I angrily grabbed the remote and shut off the TV.
“SON OF A BITCH!” I shouted, letting it all out.
There was a metal pencil holder sitting on Rick’s desk. It rattled about and flew across the room, slamming into the far wall. I jumped in panic. What the hell was that? I looked around the room, maybe it was a gust of wind.
I shook my head. I think I need to go back to bed. Or…I looked back toward the bathroom. I smiled; maybe a nice hot shower could help clear my head.
I stepped out of the shower, grabbing the towel off the toilet.
Did you know that it feels much better to pat this body than to rub it? I tried rubbing a few seconds and it was kind of harsh on my skin. But patting my body dry with the towel, it felt fantastic. I know I shouldn’t probably be thinking this but this body had all this wonderful feelings. When I first stepped into the shower and the hot water hit my body, it was like an orgasm times a thousand. The feeling was so overwhelming I nearly fell to my feet. It took everything in my power not to play with myself. I’ve heard about how girl orgasms were supposed to be ten times stronger than but I thought it was a lie they told to get more pleasure out of sex.
Boy was I wrong.
As I finished toweling off, there was a knock on the door. At first, I thought it was the bathroom but it was too distant. The knocking repeated. I groaned. I could swear Rick left with his key. I took the towel and involuntarily wrapped it around my body, like most women did. I opened the bathroom door and skipped across the room to the front door. Yes I skipped, don’t ask me why? I didn’t bother looking through the peephole when I unlocked the deadbolt and pulled the door open. Man I wish I had. I gasped, so did the guy on the other side. His eyes quickly snapped away, looking anywhere except at the girl draped in the towel who stupidly opened the door for him. I cursed. I just broke the only rule that I had.
“Sorry to disturb you, miss” he said, his voice soft, his head turned slightly away.
I looked his up and down. There was no doubt who he was. He was dressed in a gray suit and there was a slight bulge on his left side. I groaned, this was all I needed. “How can I help you, umm Detective?”
He reached into the inside of his coat, took out his wallet and flipped it open. His early embarrassment disappeared, replaced by a serious stone cold confidence. “Special Agent Broderick, FBI.”
Damn it. It was a Fed, this was all I needed. What’s worse was that he was a pushy Fed. He didn’t even bother to wait for me to invite him in. He snapped his badge shut and brushed me aside, stepping into the room. He even shut the door behind him. All I could do is follow him in and watch as he glanced around a bit, nodding here and there. This guy was already pissing me off.
“Can I help you?”
“I’m looking for Michael Carter.”
“He’s not here.”
The FBI Agent continued to walk around the apartment a bit; looking in the bathroom I vacated then walked over and peered into my open bedroom door. Who the hell did this guy think he was? I followed closely at his heels, so close that when he turned around he nearly ran me over.
“We both know that’s wrong, Miss” he finally said, pushing me aside again. “Mr. Carter didn’t show up for class this afternoon and I know he came here last night after the officers left. In fact, according to building security, he came here while the officers were present. He slipped through a back entrance and hid on one of the lower floors until the black and white left.”
I inwardly cursed. I forgot this place was high class enough to have cameras everywhere. I bit my lip, thankfully he didn’t notice. “He was gone when I woke up.”
Broderick looked me up and down. He was an older guy, probably in his forties, a couple of inches taller than me. There was a little steel gray at his temple and worry lines all over his face. This was a guy who spent too much time on his job. Clearly, he had his own methods too and they were a little invasive if you ask me.
“You the girlfriend?”
I sighed. “Yuck, no” Shit, now what. I bit my lip again. “I’m his sister.”
Where the hell did that come from?
He turned and looked me up and down. “I guess I can see the family resemblance. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions, Miss Carter.”
“Its Mi...My…Myka, actually.” Great let’s just keep digging that hole. “And actually I do mind. This isn’t my place and I don’t appreciate being interrogated by complete strangers, especially wearing only a towel.”
Maybe if I play the bitch I can get rid of the bastard. Hey, as long as I had the body I might as well try to use it.
He smiled thinly. “You’re not embarrassed to be seen dressed like that or else you wouldn’t have answered the door.”
I groaned. Who the hell was this guy?
Then he launched into the questions. He didn’t even bat an eyelash at my comment. First, he wanted to know all about Mike---I mean me---hey, it’s hard when you’re pretending to not be yourself. He asked stupid questions at first: like where I was, what I was doing last night, that sort of thing. But he knew all that already so I think he was trying to trip me up. Then he wanted to know about me. Luckily, for this jackass I was quick on my feet this morning. I made up a fake story for my fake sister. Apparently, I was a senior in high school, visiting from back East. I arrived yesterday morning and would be staying with my brother and his roommate for a few days while I look at possibly coming to Northwestern next year.
Hey, I thought I was pretty good.
Broderick one upped me. “So if I call your mother and ask her about you being out here, she’ll confirm all this?”
I bit my lip. I never actually thought the jackass would follow up on any of it. “Of course. I’m not sure if you’ll get her because she’s really busy but you can try.”
“And your brother. When was the last time you saw him?”
I shrugged. “We bumped into each other briefly yesterday morning.”
“Briefly? He didn’t pick you up at the airport. You being his baby sister and all?”
Who the hell was this guy? “I’m a big girl; I don’t need my brother holding my hand everywhere I go.”
He dropped that line of questioning. “So you haven’t seen him at all since you “bumped” into him?”
“I haven’t seen him but we spoke briefly on the phone. He called me from practice and told me he wasn’t coming home in-between there and work because he had some errands to run.”
Boy, I was digging myself deeper and deeper, for both my identities. But thankfully, Broderick didn’t seem to pursue it. He asked me some more little questions and looked around the room once more. I think he thought I was hiding myself somewhere---how weird is that to think that this guy was looking for you and you were standing in front of him. He asked to check the bedrooms just to make sure that “Mike” wasn’t hiding anywhere. But I humored him and opened both doors, following him in as he looked. He checked under the beds and in the closets.
“You’re sleeping in your brother’s room?” he asked, looking at the backpack on the floor.
I nodded. “Mike is taking the couch while I’m here. Well, he would if he slept here.”
Shit, why did I say that? Broderick didn’t pursue it. He just nodded and allowed me to show him out of my room. He took another quick look around the living room and was done, finally.
“Well Miss Carter, if your brother shows up I want you to give me a call” He reached into his jacket and took out a business card. “It's very important that I talk to him as soon as possible. There are some things he and I need to discuss and soon.”
I took the card and smiled. “I’ll give it to him as soon as I see him.”
He smiled back and I led him out the door. I watched him walk to the elevator and waited until he got on before I shut the door and dead bolted. I leaned my back against it and slumped to the floor. Holy shit, that was too close. I sat there for a while, not caring that I was still dripping wet and wrapped in a towel. I didn’t move until I heard Rick’s key in the lock. I jumped up and as soon as he opened the door---bags in hand---I wanted to jump in his arms and cry. Don’t ask me why? Instead, I sighed and walked over to the couch, sitting on the end of it.
“You look like someone punched you in the face,” he said as he set down the shopping bags and shut the door behind him.
“You and I have a problem.”
“Just stick out your tongue, sweetie?”
I did as I was told as the pretty red headed scientist stuck the tongue depressor in my mouth. I hated these things; they always had a funky taste to them. I crossed my arms, showing I was unhappy with the treatment so far. Not that much had happened. Rick and I had only just arrived about twenty minutes ago. As soon as we walked into the shiny glass building, we were rushed off to a small examination room. I didn’t even get a chance to look around. Even now as I sat on the cold cushioned slab, in my paper gown, I still couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. But the whole ride over here---all two hours of it---Rick was gushing like a little kid on his way to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory or something. When we finally pulled up, he actually let out a sigh.
I bet you’re kind of confused huh? Well I guess I can bring you up to speed a bit. After Agent Obtrusive left, I quickly filled Rick in on what went on. First he scolded me like I was a child then he picked up the phone and made a few calls. I’m not sure who they were to but when he got off, he promised that Broderick wouldn’t be bothering us again. I guess it pays when your Daddy is on almost every Committee from here to Washington. After that, he picked up the bags and threw them at me, kind of embarrassed about them. One of the bags had normal clothing; the other was filled with under garments. I’m not sure which one made him more nervous.
I carried them into my bedroom and dressed. Suffice to say I don’t need to bore you with the details. But bras are much harder to put on then to take off and trust me I’ve taken off my fair share.
After that, his aunt called back. Apparently, she had some free time the following afternoon---right now actually---and we made an appointment. The rest of the night, the two of us sat in awkward silence, at either ends of the couch. We watched our normal shows, I caught the highlights on Sports Center and then we went to bed. This morning was even worse. As a guy---see I’m kind of adjusting---I slept in t-shirt and boxer shorts. As a girl, it was no different except I replaced the boxers with panties. Hey, as long as I’m a chick I’m going to be sexy about it and what’s sexier than a hot chick wearing an oversized male shirt and panties. I don’t think Rick agreed with me, though. He went all different colors when he saw me this morning. I made matters worse when I ate breakfast in nothing but a towel.
It was kind of fun watching him squirm all morning. My morning fun was over now.
“You’re such a sour puss,” said the doc, finally pulling the depressor out. I opened my mouth to complain and she stuck a digital thermometer in. “And you say you woke up like this yesterday morning?”
I nodded. Rick answered for me. “He was a perfectly healthy, six foot something college quarterback, Jenet, and now look at him, err her.”
She smiled, nodding. “Have you guys been paying attention to the events on the news lately?”
“You mean the museum theft?” asked Rick, becoming very defensive.
The red head, his aunt Jenet, shook her head. “I’m not talking about that recent” She gave me a stern look. “I was talking more along the lines of all those superheroes that have been cropping up lately.”
I groaned. Here we go. Did I forget to mention that Rick’s kind of a fanatic? I did say he was a Physics major, right? Well Mr. Science here finds it really fascinating that normal people can suddenly start exhibiting powers out of the blue like that. He was convinced it had something to do with cosmic radiation or some shit like that. Me, I could care less. All I wondered is why none of them had used their powers for something cool. All those talents and none of them decided to make a quick buck. What the hell was up with that?
Jenet pulled the thermometer out of my mouth, looking at the display for a second before setting it on a nearby table. “Are the two of you familiar with American Dream?”
God were we ever. “She’s the hot blonde chick in the red, white and blue, right?”
Rick groaned. Jenet ignored my comment. “Yes, that’s the one. She’s government sanctioned. She’s on Uncle Sam’s payroll and everything. I’m sure you’ve heard the PR. But what you and most of the public don’t know is the real truth. The Meta gene is extremely rare and only affects a small fraction of the population. Most of the people infected are seemingly healthy and very normal until the gene takes effect and changes them. American Dream, Terra, Giganta, even this new girl in California, the Blue Beetle, all of them were one hundred percent male before the changes took place.”
Rick’s jar dropped. Mine followed a split second later. “You’re shitting me right?”
She shook her head. “It's not known to the public, the government wrapped it up pretty quickly. It’s a strange phenomenon but it’s becoming quite common with the Metas I’m afraid. There are probably several more out there and several more waiting to transform. We’re not sure why the change turns some of them into women. We’ve been studying the blood for a few months now and so far it seems to be perfectly normal, aside from the mutagenic properties of it of course.”
I groaned. Most of that went over my head and it sounded pretty simple. Hey, I’m not Science Guy. I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that that chick in the tight stars and stripes suit was once a dude. I jacked off a couple times to her pictures. I’m not sure, if I was going to be sick or if that somehow made me gay. Well, not now but before I mean. I mean she was a dude, hell they were all dudes. I groaned, running my fingers through my hair. I stopped and it was as if a light bulb went off over my head. Oh god…
“You think I might be a Meta too?”
Jenet sighed. “It’s a very big possibility. I’m going to need to take some blood to be sure but all signs seem to point in that direction.”
I smiled really big. How fricking cool was that? “Does this mean I have superpowers?”
Rick groaned. I looked at my hands, wondering what I could do.
“Once again, there’s a big possibility” She sounded excited when she said it. I think she noticed that we noticed it. “I’m sorry; it’s just that we here at the Lab have been waiting for this opportunity. Most of the samples taken from the others have been shipped off to other places. You’re the first, I mean potential first.” She sounded so giddy. “Dr. Hamilton is going to do back flips.”
Rick became the voice of reason. “That’s great for him and for you but what the hell does this mean for Mike. There’s no way I’m going to let you turn him, I mean her, into a lab rat.”
I smiled and slapped him in the shoulder. “Thanks for getting my back, buddy.”
“We have no intention of doing anything of the like to her. She is a great commodity, if she’s willing to allow it, I’d like to run a full spectrum of tests on her.”
I jumped off the bed. “Hey, do whatever you want. Poke me, prod me, hell you can even use an anal probe. Just figure out what’s wrong with me and then whip up an antidote to fix it. I’ve got a big game this weekend and there’s no way I’m doing it wearing a sports bra.”
No one laughed. I thought it was kind of funny.
“I don’t think you understand, Miss Carter” I let the “Miss” part slide. “This is a strange and new phenomenon that we k now little to nothing about. We couldn’t even begin to grasp what’s going on inside that body of yours.”
I nodded. “What does that mean?”
Rick rolled his eyes. “It means that there’s no cure for what ails you.”
I felt lightheaded and dizzy. I stumbled backwards and forward. Rick caught me in his arms and that’s when I puked. I shouldn’t have eaten that huge breakfast this morning. Rick groaned, Jenet pushed a button on the wall asking for maintenance and my dizziness only seemed to increase. I felt extremely woozy and then the whole world rushed around me as I dropped to the floor, greeting my friend Mr. Darkness once again.
I opened my eyes and looked up, seeing a bright light shining across my face. I absently reached up and batted it away. When the light was gone, I saw Jenet staring down at me. She smiled and stepped away. Rick was there a split second later. He looked worried. He grabbed my hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. I quickly pulled it from his grasp. It was bad enough he looked at me differently already, there was no way he was holding my hand.
I groaned and sat up, rubbing the back of my sore neck. “What happened?”
Jenet handed me a Dixie cup full of water, which I downed in one gulp. “You fainted, sweetie.”
I groaned again, crumbling the cup and tossing it away. “I guess that means I’m a real girl then.” I laughed, neither of them did.
I shrugged and looked around the room. I was no longer in the exam room and I wasn’t on an exam bed. I was on a real one, with a real blanket covering me. The room looked kind of like one you’d find in a hotel. There was a TV mounted on the wall, a chair in the corner, even a small couch along the wall. The walls were painted a pale blue and the floor actually had carpet. The exam room was a drab white and the floors were linoleum. Whatever this room was, I don’t think it was meant for people to see. Or if it was, it was by people who didn’t get out much.
Jenet seemed to read my mind. “After you fainted, we moved you from the Lab to our dormitory. Most of us who work at STAR actually live right here at the facility. This is one of our guest dorms.”
“Does that mean I have to stay here?”
She shook her head. “Only if you want to?”
The offer sounded tempting but I couldn’t run away from the city for long. Sooner or later, I’d have to face the charges brought up against me; even if Mike Carter wasn’t the man he was a couple of days ago. It was going to be very interesting convincing anyone that I was me, though. There was a little mirror on the wall and when I looked into it, the same blonde haired beauty stared back at me just like before. I shook my head. There was no way anyone would be able to connect my new self to my old one, that’s for sure.
“So when do you take my blood for the tests?"
Rick cast a sidelong glance at his aunt. It wasn’t a happy one.
Jenet cleared her throat, pushing her wire frame glasses up her slender nose. “We’ve already taken some blood while you were unconscious. But there are a few other tests we’d like to run, just to be on the safe side.”
I sighed but nodded. “Bring them on, doc.”
“Are you sure?” asked Rick, acting concerned for me again.
“I’m not a frail glass angel, Rick” I threw off the blanket and slowly slipped off the bed.
I stumbled and he made an attempt to grab for me. He only stopped when I shot him a nasty look. This thing of his that he had going with me was going to stop and soon. But I’d confront him about it later; I didn’t want to embarrass him in front of his mother’s sister. I looked Jenet up and down, her much younger sister. She was mid thirties tops. The oldest I’d ever gone was fifty and there was nothing over the hill about her. Looking at Jenet, I could have had a fun time with her. Who knows, maybe she swings both ways. I winked but she ignored me.
“I’ve got us set up in a lab down the hall.”
“You have labs in the dorm?” asked Rick as Jenet used a keycard to open the door.
“Sometimes we get inspired. There’s a few labs like the one we’re about to go to. They’re on every floor. Most of the time they’re left vacant but every once in a while someone gets a brainstorm in the middle of the night. They’re fully stocked for just about any occasion.”
She led us down the hall. It had white walls and no decorations. It felt like a hospital corridor. At least the floors were different, hardwood instead of tile. It was kind of cold on my bare feet though. I tried not to let it bother me though, as Jenet quietly led the way. When we came to the lab, she swiped her card through another card thingy by the door. There was an electronic hiss and the door popped open. When it was fully opened, I got my first look inside. I was surprised by what I saw. I was expecting something out of Frankenstein. But it actually looked fairly normal, kind of like the chemistry lab back in high school except there were less counters and no balding Mr. Green.
This lab wasn’t very big but it was jam packed with scientific stuff. Don’t ask me to describe any of it to you because I couldn’t even if I wanted to. The room was sterile smelling though and everything was white. There were two people inside both wearing white lab coats, a man and woman. The guy was tall, real tall, like NBA player tall. He had a shock of red hair and was holding a gold pop can in his hand. I read the label, Gingold. I groaned; I hated that shit. It was some high energy Sports drink. Some of the guys on the team drank it before and after practice. It was supposed to increase flexibility or some shit like that or so the ads say. Me, I thought it tasted like chalk. Don’t ask how I know what chalk tastes like. The woman was shorter than the guy, much shorter. They were like polar opposites. She had black hair, cut to her chin and black framed glasses. The two of them were standing close, their hands almost grasping. I noticed wedding bands on each of their hands.
Jenet cleared her throat. “Rick and ummm Mike, I’d like you to meet Drs. Ralph and Sue Dibny.”
I nodded. Rick walked forward and shook their hands. He was such a nerd sometimes.
Ralph cleared his throat and came forward. He took my hand and shook it without asking but I didn’t mind. It amazed me how much larger his hand was to mine. “It’s a real pleasure to meet you and not because you’re Booster, or I mean, were Booster.”
I smiled. “I’m still me just repackaged. You can say I’m Little Booster now.”
The two of us shared a laugh. The others didn’t join in. I smiled at Ralph. I kind of liked him; I could see the two of us becoming fast friends. His wife on the other hand, she was cute but she was a cold fish. She kept staring at me, giving me the evil eye. I’m guessing she wasn’t Miss Popular in high school and here I am looking like the fricking Homecoming Queen. I smiled at her but she huffed, turning away. I shuddered, suddenly feeling really bad for Ralph.
Jenet cleared her throat. “So shall we get started?”
She pointed to a chair at a nearby desk. I walked over and sat down. Ralph looked around the room, trying to find something. I think he found it because he reached out of those long arms of his half way across the space and grabbed it. He came back with a stethoscope and a smile. Jesus, this guy was like Elongated Man or something. I’ve never seen anyone with arms that long. I looked at the gold can and grinned. Maybe that stuff made you more flexible than I thought. That still didn’t mean I was going to drink that shit though.
Ralph started off the tests. He acted like a normal physician at first, doing all the things that Jenet already did. Then he asked if he could take some blood. After that was finished, he proceeded to get a DNA sample---making me run a cotton swab along the inside of my mouth---and then snipped a little bit of my hair. Hey, whatever helps them understand me more? Ralph chatted to me the whole time he did his various things, asking me all sorts of questions. None of them were invasive. As it turns out he was a big football fan, not necessarily a Northwestern fan but I won’t hold that against him. Ralph was kind of talkative but that was fine by me, seeing as everyone else was being kind of quiet.
After he was done, I can’t even begin to describe all the things he did, it was his wife’s turn. Her tests were invasive and apparently required me to strip down to my birthday suit. She made the guys leave for that part. How strange is that, not being included in the guys anymore. When they were gone, I had no qualms about pulling the flimsy gown over my head. As soon as I did so Sue huffed. She started pinching and prodding me and wasn’t very gentle about it. One she started poking me with sharp needles, I finally took offense to it.
“You’re pissed because you think your husband is going to trade up to a better, shinier model.’ I snapped, causing her to drop her needle in shock.
Hey, I was blunt and didn’t give a damn. Her Mengele impersonation was driving me nuts.
“Mike” snapped Jenet, apparently shocked I’d say something like that.
“You’re mistaken,” said Sue quietly as she bent down, picked up her needle and threw it away. She then went over to a cabinet to get another one.
I sighed. Why did women do that, pretend to hide their true feelings. “No, I’m not. You’ve been giving me the evil eye since I walked into the room.” She gasped. “Let me save you the trouble, lady. I’m not attracted to your husband; in fact, I’m not attracted to guys at all. The only one in this room that’s ringing my bell right now is Doc Klyburn so you have nothing to worry about.”
Jenet blushed. Sue smiled. She was a lot nicer after that. I’m not sure what her tests entailed but she filled a couple of needles with strange stuff, stuck me in a couple of places and recorded the results. Then she hooked me up to some machines and recorded the results. She wasn’t nearly as talkative as her husband but she did ask me a few questions. She mainly wanted to know how I felt, so I was as honest as I could be. I mean how else do you think a guy would feel after waking up as a woman. Suffice to say I didn’t give her a “kittens and rainbows” answer. The rest of her questions were about my health from beforehand and of course, being an athlete I was in peak physical shape. I might be a chick now but I’m still Booster.
After Sue’s tests, she told me to put the gown back on. As soon as I did, the guys were allowed back into the room. Ralph actually had to duck slightly when he walked in. God he was tall. He smiled at the three of us.
“All done, ladies?”
“She’s all set. I think we have everything we need,” said Sue, walking over to her husband, squeezing his hand gently. “If there’s more, we’d like to see you if that’s ok?”
I nodded. “It was kind of fun, especially seeing as I got another day off from classes.”
The grownups laughed. Hey, I’m far from grown up.
“I think it’s safe to say that you’ll be excused from classes for at least the rest of the week,” said Jenet, the other two scientists nodded. “Unless you want to come out and tell everyone who you really are.”
I wasn’t so sure about that. Mike Carter was a wanted man now and I don’t think I was ready to deal with everything that entailed. Besides, not being me had its advantages too. I needed to find out who set me up for starters. You thought I forgot about that, huh? There’s no way I’d forgot that someone looking like me actually robbed the museum where I failed. I had a pretty good idea who was behind it, but I had to figure out how. I also had to figure out how I was going to tell my mother about this. Yesterday I kind of avoided it, partially thinking that there was a cure for it. Now that I knew that was unlikely I’m not sure how I can explain things to her. She worshiped me; she loved having the football hero for a son.
Now…I’m not sure what I could do with a body like this.
We left the lab after that. Jenet took Rick and me back to the first exam room I was in. She made Rick stay outside while I got dressed. It felt kind of strange putting on these new clothes but I was surprisingly adapting really quickly to it. Yesterday I was kind of a wreck about all this but this morning it seemed almost natural. I’m not sure if I was scared or not. There was something else different too. I couldn’t quite place it but I felt more alive than I have in years. My head didn’t feel as jumbled either, like a great weight was lifted from it. I’m not saying I was thinking like a chick but I wasn’t exactly thinking like myself either. It’s really strange to describe but it almost felt like I was becoming a different person.
Jenet walked with us to the front entrance. She hugged Rick first, telling him to stop being such a stranger. Then she turned to me, giving me a hug too. It kind of surprised but it was nice too. The last time someone hugged me was a couple of years ago and it was my mother.
She pulled out a business card and handed it to me. “If you have any questions or even if you just want to talk, you know where to find me.”
“Thanks doc” I took the card and slipped into my front pocket.
Rick and I left the building, walking toward the parking lot. We passed a pair of younger guys in lab coats, one of them wolf whistled at me. I turned, flipped my hair and put a little sway to my walk. Rick turned every shade of red imaginable. Hey, if you’ve got, you might as well flaunt it, right.
“You’ve got to be shitting me,” I said, shouting at the TV.
I’d only been home for about an hour. Once again, Rick played my great big protector and told me under no circumstances was I to leave the apartment or answer the door. Hey, I’m not making that mistake twice. But he said nothing about not watching TV. So after he left to do some studying at the library, the first thing I did was go to the television. I went right to the news, after all, I was headline making at the moment. Sure enough, I wasn’t disappointed. Rose was at it again, this time she was at NU, interviewing some of my teammates. She was talking to one of the tight ends, Marcus; he was a good friend of mine. Or least he used to be. He was currently selling me up the river, telling her and probably the millions of viewers watching, that I was the biggest jackass imaginable. But that wasn’t the worst part.
“So you’re telling me that he stole your girlfriend?” asked Rose, trying to clarify what Marcus just said.
The giant sandy haired oaf nodded. “She was the love of my life and that bastard swooped in and took her from me.”
I groaned. It was bull of course. Becca, Marcus’s “life long love” was a cheating minx. She actually approached me, all hot and heavy one night in a club about a month ago. She was kind of drunk and really horny. I tried to push her off because there are certain unwritten rules, one of them being to leave the “girl” of your teammates alone. I tried my hardest to get rid of her and when she finally got the clue, she went off in a huff. A day later, she started spreading rumors that we did a lot of nasty things in a motel room off the thruway. Not that I wouldn’t have, she was hot but I didn’t dip into another man’s honey. At least not a man who weighed three fifty and could snap me like a twig. Marcus and Becca broke up after that. But he didn’t blame me for it; at least I thought he didn’t.
Now he was “Benedict Arnold”ing me all over the news. What a jackass.
It didn’t stop there. Rose moved on to some of my other teammates and sure enough they sold me up the river too. Each one of them had a horrible story to tell about me, painting me as some kind of diabolical monster. Most of them were about women too. So much for team spirit or whatever. These guys were supposed to be my friends and what do they do as soon as I’m implicated in a crime, they all turn against me. It pissed me off.
It got worse when she interviewed the Coach.
“Coach Danfield, you being Mike Carter’s coach, you must have noticed something wrong?”
The Coach sighed. “Carter was a good kid but it’s usually the good ones that go bad.” He ran his hands through what was left of his hair. “He had this way about him, you know. He walked around like he was God’s gift to the world and that everyone should do what he said. I guess must good players have an ego but Carter’s is something else. I’ve never seen a player demand as much as he did.”
“YOU SON OF A BITCH!”
I lost it. I jumped to my feet, clenching my fists at my sides. I’m not sure what happened. But the everything metal in the room started to shake. When I say everything metal, you have to understand that Rick kind of has this modern style. Most of his furniture is made of chrome and glass. So when I say everything, I mean everything. Then something else happened, something crazy. First, it was the chair in the corner; it rose about two feet in the air. Then it was the glass-topped coffee table, after that everything else started to hover too. Some of the pictures came off the wall and other little knickknacks rose from where they were sitting. There was this metal vase sitting on a bookcase---a gift from Rick’s mother---it rose so high that it touched the ceiling. At first, I didn’t know what was going on and then it clicked. I was doing this; I was the one making all these things float. I panicked after this. As soon as I did, everything dropped. The coffee table shattered, the chair made a loud thump and the odds and ends were scattered everywhere. I dropped back down on the couch, shocked. I stared at my hands; palms spread wide open.
What in the hell just happened? I grabbed the remote and absently clicked off the TV. Then I ran my hands through my hair. I did that, I made those things float. I’m not sure if I was scared or excited. The implications of what I just did were staggering. Jenet said it was a big possibility that I was a Meta but that pretty much proved it, didn’t it? I wanted to smile but I was too shocked to do so. It’s not every day that someone turns into a whatever I just did.
I continued to stare at my hands, wondering if something like I just did could be controlled. I mean I did it in a fit of anger but could I do it without.? I took a deep breath and stood up. I looked around the room, trying to find something small enough to practice on. The vase. It was small enough and it floated higher than anything else in the room. I took another deep breath and pointed my finger at it. I closed my eyes and concentrated. Come to me, you bastard. I felt something, something deep down from within. There was a tingling sensation that traveled down my arm to the tip of my fingers. When I opened my eyes, I saw the vase hovering a few feet from the floor. It was the coolest thing in the world. I snapped my wrist slightly and the case started floating toward me.
How fricking cool is that?
I started to play around with it, floating it here and there. After a few minutes, I gently lowered it to the ground. Ok the vase was easy now something else. I looked about again, my eyes falling on the bookshelf. I concentrated on one of the books there. It was hardcover and pretty lightweight. I put all I could into, trying to will it toward me with my mind. But no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t bring the book toward me. I sighed; maybe it was a fluke. I snapped my wrist and something else flew into the air. It went right at my head; I had to duck to avoid it. When it smacked into the wall behind me I snapped around to see what it was. It was that damn pencil holder of Rick’s. Who the hell had a metal pencil holder anyway? Then it dawned on me. I groaned, looking around the room. Metal, everything that floated earlier was metal. I pointed my hand at the pencil holder and concentrated on it. Ever so slowly, I lifted it off the floor then gently lowered it again. Holy shit, I’m Magnet Chick. I quickly started lifting other things too, all of them metal, all of them things that had floated when I got angry earlier. It was the coolest damn thing in the world.
I’m a Meta; I’m a Magnetic Meta girl. I smiled. How cool was that.
There was a sound behind me. I snapped around quickly, turning toward my bedroom door. The door was open from earlier; I never close doors around here. What I saw made all the color drain from my face. It was that golden thing, the one I took from the museum. In all the crazy stuff that had been going on lately, I completely forgot about it. My eyes widened and my mouth dropped open. The golden football size orb thingy was floating in my doorway, a little red light blinking in the center of it. At first, I thought I might be seeing things or maybe I somehow floated it with my newfound powers. Then it did something I didn’t expect. It floated through the room, stopping in front of me, hovering a few inches from my face.
Then the craziest thing in the world happened, it spoke:
“Goldstar? Is that really you?”
I wanted to scream. I mean how often do floating gold things talk to you? Instead I kind of stood there, staring in shocked awe at the golden orb as it hovered in front of me. There was no way this was possible. I blinked but it didn’t go away. So I closed my eyes, counted to twenty inside my head and opened them again. But the damn orb thingy was still there. It didn’t speak again but it continued to hover in front of me, the little red light did get kind of bigger though. It moved, too, looking me up and down. I looked down too, trying to see what it saw that was so fascinating. I was a wearing a pair of skinny leg jeans---Rick bought them because a lot of girls around campus wore them--- and a white t-shirt with a picture of the NU Wildcat on it. Rick got that because he thought it would make me feel more natural.
I found my voice finally. When I spoke, it was soft and barely audible. “What the hell are you?”
At first, the orb said nothing. It continued to look me other with that red eye. “You don’t know who I am?”
I shook my head. It sighed. “I was afraid of this. It would appear that you resemble her a great deal but after scanning you, I have found some genetic differences. They are minor but they are there. It’s strange because you two are very similar, perhaps relatives. Tell me what is today’s date?”
I took a deep breath. What the hell was this thing? I answered in my soft voice again: “It’s April 15th.”
“And the year?”
This thing was joking right. “2011”
It sighed or at least it sounded like a sigh. The thing had a strange voice. It was kind of mechanical and British, almost like the brother in Frasier. I’d like to say almost C-3P0 but not nearly as stuffy and annoying but it did have the whole gold thing going for it.
I asked my first question again. This time it answered.
“I am a BX9 Security Drone, property of the Time Corps Police Force, designated number 0098765. My previous partner, Goldstar, called me Skeets.”
Most of that was crap to me except the last part. “Did you say Time Corps?”
“Yes. I am a representative of a police force that monitors temporal anomalies. My partner and I were tracking a dangerous criminal AI calling itself Brother Eye. It created an illegal time portal and disappeared into it before we could apprehend it.”
I nodded. Again, it was geek to me. The time travel part I got but the rest of it, I felt like I was talking to Rick when he got all nerd on me. “And your partner is this Goldstar?”
“Yes, she and I followed Brother Eye into the temporal portal but something happened. The portal was unstable and depolarized before we could calibrate to it. There was a massive disturbance of some kind and the two of us were separated.”
I nodded. I think I was slowly starting to follow this thing. Finally. But it still sounded crazy. But I suppose it wasn’t anymore crazy than a normal healthy nineteen year old male changing into a chick over night. So time travel and floating gold robot things, not so crazy after all. But the fact that it was talking to me, that’s what I was having a problem with. A couple of days ago this thing was nothing more than a motionless gold football and now, who knows what it was. I know what it said it was but that meant very little to me. For all I know I could of slipped and hit my head and this is all just some crazy illusion.
The thing, Skeets, floated over to the window. It hovered there for some time, looking I think. I slowly walked up behind it, trying to keep my distance. I’m not sure if I trusted this funky thing. It hovered and looked for some time then it turned to me.
“This city is Chicago, is it not?” I nodded. “In my time it is called New Gotham. Most of this area is still here but it’s considered a highly underdeveloped zone. Most of the buildings in the twenty fifth century are three times taller than your tallest one here. This is most strange indeed.”
“The 25th Century?”
It didn’t answer. Instead, it floated over to the desk in the corner where Rick’s laptop was sitting. “Do you still use the Internet in this century?” I nodded again. “How primitive. I need to use this console device to access the network. I am afraid that I have been in hibernation for far too long.”
It didn’t wait for my say so. Instead, a small hole opened in the side of it and a whip-like cord came out. It snapped through the air and stuck into the front of the laptop. Skeets started to glow and hum, vibrating slightly. It didn’t last for long. We had Wi-Fi but this was crazy. I’d never seen anything like it. When it was finished, it stopped humming and the cord snapped back into it. Then it floated over to me again, hovering close to my face like before. Didn’t It know anything about personal space? I took a step back, hoping it wouldn’t follow. It didn’t.
“I have finished updating my internal databases. I am now up to date on all the comings and goings of the past three or four centuries, where most of your relevant data is stored. Though my own historical databases were once extensive, they seemed to have been damaged some in the Jump. I can still recall some things but most of my database is corrupted. The accumulation of knowledge is quite important to me.”
I nodded and smiled. It was a fake smile and nod. I had no idea what the thing was talking about. It definitely picked the wrong guy…err…chick to talk too. “Are you telling me that you surfed the whole web in a matter of seconds?”
“Yes if you mean that I have thoroughly copied and downloaded every bit of relevant data I could find.”
“What are you looking for exactly?”
“Goldstar of course.”
“Did you find her?”
He made that sighing sound again. “I believe I have. It is most tragic indeed. Apparently, the time portal threw her into the Dark Ages and she was believed to be a witch. The primitives of the time captured her and burned her alive. If I had emotions or tear ducts I would mourn for her.”
Damn, tough break. I felt bad for the little dude but it was hardly my problem. “So what are you going to do now?”
“Continue our mission of course.”
I nodded, leaving it standing by the desk. “Good luck with that. You can open the door by yourself can’t you?”
I walked over to the couch, dropped down on it and snatched up the remote. I flicked on the TV, avoiding the news this time. There was no way I was going to make that mistake again. I found some cartoons. There wasn’t much on during the mid-afternoon. As much as I wanted to talk more to the gold dude, it was too freaky to worry about. After all, its partner was dead; she died a long time ago. That was hardly my problem. The only thing I cared about when I grabbed it was selling it. Now that it was apparently alive and floating about, I could hardly do that. As cool as it was, I couldn’t keep it either. There were too many problems with that plan.
It floated over to me, dropping down in front of the TV, blocking Sponge Bob.
“You do not wish to assist me?”
I laughed. I couldn’t help it. This thing was a crazy robot from the future. The faster it was out of my new luxurious hair the better. “Look, your name is Skeets, right? Look Skeets, I’d love to help you out but frankly, I’m not sure where this involves me. I found you gathering dust in a museum basement. I only took you because I needed cash and thought I could get a fortune from you. I’m sure you’re grateful that I liberated you but I’m not in the mood to get involved in your mission. I have my own problems to sort out.”
Skeets moved closer to me, too close. His red eye thingy started to glow and this strange red beam emitted from it, hitting me right in the eye. I tried to swat it away but it was no use. The beam stayed there for a few seconds. It kind of tingled a little and then went away. It pissed me off. I felt my anger rise a little bit but forced it back down. I’m not sure I wanted to get angry again, especially after what I did earlier.
I opened my mouth to tell it what I was thinking but never got a chance. I heard the key in the lock before the door opened. Skeets must have heard it too because I only looked at the door for a second and when I snapped back to tell it to scram, it was gone. How in the hell did it move that fast? I looked about a bit but it was really gone. I shrugged and shut off the TV as Rick walked into the room. He was carrying a pile of books, looking exhausted. I did my best not too care. He looked at me and smiled, setting the books on the little table near the door.
“You wouldn’t imagine the mob outside the building right now; I had to fight my way through. Tom actually had to help me.”
Tom is the front door man. I guess I never mentioned him because I didn’t think he was relevant.
I nodded and looked about, wondering where my little gold friend disappeared to. “Are they still trying to find a sound bite about the museum?”
Rick looked at me like I’d just grown a third boob. Hey, that would be kind of hot, like that chick from Total Recall. “You haven’t been watching the news?”
I shook my head. I was avoiding it ever since I went all Magnet Girl.
He abandoned the rest of his stuff, snatched the remote from my hand and clicked on the TV. He flipped to local news and what I saw made me groan. It was an exterior view of some bank, police cars and news vans swarming the building. There were a lot of people there too. I looked down at the words scrolled across the screen: CARTER STRIKES AGAIN. What the hell is this? I dropped onto the couch while Rose Levin stepped into frame. She was beginning to look less hot and more like a nuisance every time I saw her, especially when she dragged my good name through the mud.
“This is Rose Levin, outside the municipal bank on Lakeshore.” I groaned; that was down the street. I even had an account there. “At one o’clock this afternoon, college football phenom Michael Carter walked into the building behind me, armed with a small pistol and demanded a large amount of cash from one of the tellers. The young woman bravely faced down the troubled youth, pushed the silent alarm and waited patiently while police arrived. Mr. Carter, sensing the inevitable fled the scene in a rush. We will have video of the whole incident momentarily.”
“What the fuck is this?”
“You tell me,” said Rick, sighing, slumped in the chair. He glanced around the messy room and back at me. But something told me he wasn’t talking about the apartment.
“How the hell should I know? You and I were still on our way back from the visit with your aunt. Unless I can spontaneously change genders and be in two places at once, I don’t think it was me.”
Ok so I did spontaneously change genders but there was no way I could multiply myself. Rick stared at me for a few seconds, his eyes narrowing. Then he sighed, looking more relieved than ever. I think the stress was getting to him. It was getting to me, too. It’s not every day that you rob a bank and are not around for the actual robbery.
“I thought maybe you had some power that…”
“I don’t have any power you jackass.”
Ok so I decided at that second not to tell him about my new found gifts. I didn’t want to freak him out anymore than he already was. He looked like hell. I don’t think he slept much last night. His hair was disheveled and his clothes looked a little rumpled. Rick was a clean guy and well groomed too. He always took the time to take care of his personal appearance. Besides being a bit clingy and overprotective as of late---i.e. the last day or so---he was always a cut up kind of guy. The guy sitting in the chair across the room was anything but. I think both my situations were getting to him more than they were me.
“So if it wasn’t you, then who…”
I cut him off. “How in the hell should I know. It’s just like the museum. I’ll admit to wanting to steal the gem, hell I almost did but those dorks caught me in the act. I took off after that, ran through the basement to get out there. Whoever robbed the museum did it after I left but somehow pretended to be me. The same thing must have happened here, too.”
“But why you?”
I was thinking the same thing. Everyone loved me or so I thought. I wasn’t so sure about my fucking teammates and the Coach. At least Rick still thought of me as a bud, even if he thought I actually robbed that bank. But seriously, not all those who pretended to like me hated me enough to frame me like this. There was only one person who was really pissed at me and that was Ballard. But it still didn’t explain why Ballard would pull this shit. I figured he’d try something, but why go to all the trouble of telling me to swipe the gem and then send someone else to do it after I failed. Then pull a bank job a day or so afterwards. It didn’t make any sense. I know he was pissed, but he needed to get over it already. That gem he took---whichever one it was---was more than enough to pay off my debt to him. Unless he held a bigger grudge than I thought. I groaned, rubbing my temples. This guy has serious issues.
“It’s got to be Ballard,” I finally said.
Rick slowly got to his feet, walking over to the phone. “I’m calling my Dad.”
I watched as he picked up the handset and called his old man. The two of them started to talk; Rick wandered over to his bedroom to do so. Me I sat on the couch, pulling my legs up into my chest, wrapping my arms around them. It was kind of a girly thing to do I know but I wasn’t feeling particularly manly at the moment. I continued to stare at the TV, watching the scenes unfold. It was muted now; Rose was talking to people, apparently eyewitnesses. It didn’t make any sense. Why would Ballard want to besmirch my name like this? He got what he wanted, didn’t he? But the bigger question was how did he do it? How in the hell did he make someone look like me?
I wracked my brain but couldn’t come up with a thing.
Rick came walking back into the room. He looked like someone poisoned his drink. He moved kind of slow, setting the handset gently on the receiver as he did so. He looked at me and I could tell it was bad news.
“The old man doesn’t want you anywhere near me, does he?”
Rick sighed and nodded. “He thinks that my association with you might somehow reflect badly on him. I tried to talk him out of it but he threatened to cut me off and pull me from school.” Rick sighed, dropping into the chair. “I either play along or its bye bye Northwestern.”
That fucking sucked. I knew the old man hated me but this was ridiculous. Rick was a good friend, probably my best one. I’m sure you might have guessed it but I don’t have a lot. I have loads of fans and pretenders but when it comes down to it, Rick is the only guy who truly befriended me. He didn’t care that I was a football God. He liked me for me and though we were two different people, he treated me like a person.
“You went along with it?”
He sighed. “I don’t want to but he’s not giving me much of a choice. I have until tomorrow morning then he’s sending a car for me.”
I nodded, tears flowing down my cheeks. I sniffled. God damn female hormones. I wiped my face but it didn’t help. I struggled to my feet and stumbled over to him. He stood up slightly and wrapped his arms around me. My mind was a mess and my emotions, don’t even get me started. When he held me, it felt good and not at all the way I wanted. Usually when friends hugged, it was as friends.
Specifically we were two dudes and we used to hug like them. But him hugging me now felt so much different. The strange part, I kind of didn’t want it to stop. When it finally did and he pulled away, my nipples were kind of hard and my lips sort of moist.
I pushed away quickly. My heart was beating a bit. There was no way I was going to let that happened. I liked chicks, I liked chicks a whole lot. I closed my eyes and visualized a hot blonde in a string bikini. I sighed. A sight like that would have given me major wood. But my nipples tweaked a bit and I got a little wet down below. But something happened. The blonde started to transform into me and behind her a man appeared, wrapping strong arms around my waist. When his face came into view, I blanked it out and snapped my eyes open. NOT GOING THERE!
Rick was standing there, staring. I laughed. “What are you waiting around here for, go pack?”
He nodded sadly. “The apartment is paid up until the end of the month; I can front some cash if you want to stay longer…”
I shook my head. “Just go pack you dumb-ass.”
He nodded again and stumbled off to his room.
Me, the tears started flowing again and this time I couldn’t stop. Rick turned from his doorway but I couldn’t let him see me cry again. I snapped around and ran into my bedroom, throwing the door shut behind me. I dropped onto the bed and cried into the pillow.
“I hate to interrupt,” said a mechanical voice. “But you and I need to talk.”
I groaned, grabbed a pillow and threw it at the floating nuisance.
“I do not think this is a good idea,” said Skeets, hovering near my head.
At least I think he was. He was hovering somewhere nearby but apparently he had a Stealth Tactical Cloak, sorta like in Star Trek. That’s how he disappeared so quickly when Rick came into the room. He explained it all to me after he dodged the pillow I threw at him. Then he listened to my wallowing sad story. Ok I didn’t really wallow but it was close to it. Not only did he have the Cloak but he had a bunch of other cool little gadgets hidden inside that football-sized body of his. One of them was a Voice Replication function, something that I was really interested in.
“You’re the one who wants my help, right?”
He sighed. “Yes, but how does your helping me have anything to do with you getting in there.”
The there that he was referring too was Wayne Enterprises. The two of us---me visible, him not---were across the street from the towering skyscraper, both staring in awe. It was the only thing I could think of when I came up with my plan. Oh that, right I haven’t explained it yet. Ok so here it is: We need to find Ballard and the only one who might know where his whereabouts is Wayne. I know it’s a long shot and I probably won’t get to see the man but I did have a connection.
I looked at the business card in my hand and smiled. You better be working today, Bea. I held the card in the air. “Can you see this?”
“Yes, I’m cloaked, not blind.”
I turned and looked at the building again. It was a gleaming beacon in a rather dismal looking area of town. Ok, not really dismal but not exactly the best place to be. Thomas Wayne built the building here back when the city was going through some hardships of its own. It was during a time when the economy was struggling and people needed something to look up too. So Wayne Spire---not to be confused with the other famous Chicago landmark---was erected. Now it was hardly the biggest building in the city but it was definitely an eye catcher. Especially with the large W sculpted on the top of it.
“Hurry up and make the call, don’t screw it up or I’m sticking you in the closet tonight.”
So he made the call. It was kind of weird, hearing my voice again. He copied it from the Voice Mail on my cell phone; luckily, I hadn’t changed it yet. That’s what his Voice Replicator thing did. Once he heard a bit of speech, he could copy it after only hearing a few lines. It was kind of freaky but when he demonstrated it earlier by copying my voice---my new one that is---I was hooked. That’s when my plan fell into play. I’d get him to imitate Mike and call Bea, asking her to look up the information for us. If anyone had info on Ballard, it was Wayne, his chief rival.
Skeets tapped into my Blue Tooth so I could hear both sides of the conversation.
“Hello?” I sighed; Bea’s voice was heavenly.
“Hey babe” Skeet’s imitation was uncanny. “Guess who this is?”
“Are you out of your mind?”
“I don’t think so”
I smacked my forehead. He may have been a super advanced robot from the future but he definitely needed a crash course in modern human behavior.
“Look you shouldn’t be calling me. If your number appears on my phone, a Wayne Enterprises employee, then that could look bad for everyone involved.”
“I’ll make it brief. I just need you look up someone for me.”
“What am I, 411 now?”
Skeets sighed. Even the sigh sounded like me, the old me I mean. It was kind of creepy. “I just need you to look for someone. Your boss knows him, Henry Ballard.”
“That name is kind of blasphemy around here.”
“I’m not asking you to call the guy into the office. I’m looking for him, it’s kind of important.’
Bea groaned. “Ok but only if it gets you off the phone.”
I smiled, giving Skeets two thumbs up. At least I thought I was giving it to him, this whole invisible thing was driving me nuts. But I couldn’t exactly walk through the streets with him, people would definitely freak out.
The two of us waited for her to come back on the line. We waited ten minutes but she never did. Just when I was thinking she screwed us over, I saw her coming out of the building. I cursed; this wasn’t a part of the plan. She was expecting me---the Mike me---not the hot chick. I slipped further into the alley we were standing in, hoping Skeets would follow. Bea walked to the curb and looked around, holding a slip of paper in her hand. She looked good, real good. She wasn’t dressed as much like a school marm today, her hair actually down. I smiled. Did that mean she was trying to look good for me?
I bit my lip. “Call her back. Tell her to walk across the street and over here.”
I’m not sure if Skeets called her back, but a few seconds later, I saw Bea pull a cell out of her pocket. Skeets told her what I told him. Bea looked both ways and waited then crossed the street in a bit of a run. I slunk back further into the alley. I’m not sure how I was going to explain all of this to her. I suppose I could pretend to be my sister again. But what good would that do. It would be another lie to another person. I’m not sure I could do that again. Hey, listen to me, I actually sound like a real person. Who would have thought that was possible.
“Mike?” she asked, looking about. She groaned. “Carter, where the hell are you. I only get a twenty minute lunch break.”
“Back here, babe,” said my voice, coming out of Skeet’s mouth or whatever it is he had.
Bea shielded her eyes and peered into the alley. She groaned and marched inside. I took a deep breath and stepped forward. When she saw me, she rolled her eyes. She looked around me at first but when she didn’t see anything, she put her hands on her hips. She looked kind of pissed. I guess I couldn’t blame her.
“Don’t send your bimbo. I don’t have all day.”
“I’m not his bimbo, Bea,” I said, my voice small and insignificant. I sighed. “I’m Mike.”
She stared at me for a few seconds. She looked me up and down, her eyes lingering on my feminine bits for a second. Then she looked at my face. “Nice try” she finally said, scoffing. “I talked to Mike on the phone. Where the hell is he, I don’t have time for these games?”
“I’m serious,” I said, stepping forward. “I’m Mike Carter. You remember meeting in the diner, right. Well that night I went to practice, then work. Things happened at work. When I woke us the next morning I looked like this.” I waved my hands over my body.
“I don’t…” her voice trailed off. Then her eyes got big as saucers.
“Are you a Meta?”
I nodded. “I took some tests for it this morning.”
“This doesn’t make any sense,” she said, shaking her head. “I just talked to you on the phone and there was no way you were a girl.”
“Skeets, you can come out now.”
He suddenly materialized beside my head. When he did, Bea let out a startled gasp. She took it a lot better than I thought she would. In fact, she took it a little too good. She didn’t even freak out when I told her I was a Meta. In fact, she looked too calm for it. What the heck was going on?
She looked at Skeets. “This thing mimicked your voice?”
“Yes” Skeets said, still speaking in my Mike voice.
“That is so freaky.”
“Tell me about it.”
“So what does this have to do with Ballard?”
I sighed and gave her the short version. She nodded and listened. When I was done, she shook her head.
“You’re a real idiot, you know that.”
I nodded. I’d been thinking that a lot lately. But something was different now, something I couldn’t quite place. I think I might have mentioned it before but I felt different. I still felt like me but I was a different me. Bea stared at me for the longest time, not saying a thing. She wrapped her arms around her body and toed the ground.
“That feeling you’re feeling right now will go away in a few days. It’s a little jarring at first but it passes and then you find inner peace or the closest thing to it.”
“How would you know?”
She smiled. She raised her hand, palm up and the most amazing thing happened. Her entire hand burst into green flame. “Because you’re not the only freak around here.”
To Be Continued