Diamonds Are a Vamp's Best Friend (Part 2)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
Diamonds Are a Vamp's Best Friend
by Bek D Corbin
JADIS - April 7, 2007
Freight Train came down to breakfast wearing a fluffy terrycloth bathrobe. Apparently, this is what the title character on that sitcom The Nanny does, so Freight Train thinks that this is the appropriate way to come down for the morning meal. Grabbing a plate and heaping it high from the sideboard (fortunately, Mrs. Pierson knows about Whateley-grade teenage appetites, so she cooked enough for twenty), Freight Train plopped down and asked the table, “So, what’re youze guyz gonna be doin’ t’day?”
“Yes,” I cut in, “and remember to speak clearly and ENUNCIATE, and don’t talk into the microphones,” reminding my guests that this house was under FBI surveillance 24/7, whether we kids were in residence or not.
But before Freight Train could puzzle that out, Mal asked Vamp, “So, V-, er Alex, any new developments with T-er, X-O?” Oh this again. Mal is very keen to see what Vamp’s buddy X-O is up to. X-O recently learned that she could copy high tech things with her manifested metallic sheath (or ‘exo-skeleton’, if you must). And far more interestingly, if she copies a bunch of similar things, the designs merge into interesting syntheses, some of which are better, some of which are worse, and sometimes offer some really interesting new wrinkles. Mind you, she can’t separate the dinguses from her sheath, but they can still study her prototypes to see how they work. Some of the ways that she’s merged a few things has resulted in some very interesting new fundamental approaches, and in R&D ‘interesting new fundamental approaches’ is another way of saying ‘MONEY!’
My intelligence network tells me that X-O is being listed as a co-designer in no less than five very juicy new patents. In the Workshop, having a patent is kind of like having a record time in Track or Swimming. Boo-koo status. And Mal wouldn’t be a tech-head if he wasn’t interested in a whole new way of making things work. Vamp gave an aggrieved sigh and said, “Yeah, a couple of things have come up. Hopefully, they’re just speed-bumps, but how can you really tell about things like this? Well, first of all, the less worrying of the two, is that Tara’s found out that she can only remember so many basic designs at any given time.”
“Well, yeah,” Mal commented. “I mean, when you think about it, it’s sort of the basic reason why she can do those design merges. Her unconscious is filling in the blanks as best it can.”
“YEAH, but the problem is that Tara keeps forgetting things like her cell phone design and like that. She’s really bummed that she lost that lightsaber. But the way she’s going, she can’t have the stuff she wants in her day to day life, because she’s got to give those slots up to the R&D stuff.”
Mal let out a sympathetic grunt/whine. “Yeah, I can see how that would suck. What’s the other thing?”
“More of the same weirdness. We were talking about getting Tara into an Intro to Electronics course, figuring that if she knew what she was doing, she’d do it better? But it occurred to us that this ‘merge’ thing happens because Tara doesn’t know what she’s doing, so it’s a matter of her unconscious mooshing the patterns around in the whatever makes the manifestation happen to get whatever will do the job the simplest way.”
“But if she’s trained in Electronics,” Mal cut in, putting it together as he spoke, “she’ll know what to do, so instead of just tinkering with the pattern, her unconscious will try to do what it ‘knows’ will work, and come up with what a rookie wiremonkey would come up with.”
“Which would be tried and tested, but old news,” I added, seeing where it was going. “And there goes your big advantage, the elegant whole new approaches.”
“Pretty much,” Vamp said.
“But you don’t KNOW that,” Belphy sort of pointed out. “I mean, how could you know?”
“We’re not sure, either way,” Vamp admitted. “It’s a coin toss. If we don’t train Tara, then we’re running the risk that an understanding of the principles involved might improve the designs, and help Tara’s long-term career. But if we train her and it turns out that that screws up her innovation process, there’s no way to UN learn that, and she’s screwed.”
“What about my Neuralizer?” Belphy asked, rather keen on getting a foothold herself into the X-O action. “We could prime her with an initial exposure and-”
“It might,” Vamp allowed. “But it might not. The whole thing is this big abstract ‘who knows?’ Training her might have no affect on her innovation process at all, it might completely screw the process up, who knows? We won’t know until we actually DO it, and once we do that-”
“Either the cat is dead or it’s not and there’s no way of un-killing the cat,” Mal said, citing the classic Schrödinger’s Cat paradox.
“And again, there’s no way to be sure that your Neuralizer would fix that, until we opened the box, and found out. But if it doesn’t, then Tara’s still out of a cash cow that we could keep milking for years, by simply not giving her classes. Quintain wants to train her, so we can find out one way or another.”
“He would,” Mal and Belphy grumbled in near-chorus, as peeved that Quintain was going to try and derail X-O’s gravy train, before they could mooch a good ride on it as only a couple of tech-heads could be.
Noting the sour mood that had fallen, Bova looked at me and asked, “Jadis, why are you doing homework at breakfast?”
“I’m not doing homework for school,” I said negligently as I skimmed through the trade paperbacks on the table as I chowed down.
“Other girls like to start off the day with the latest dish on the hot boy bands,” Mal said, rolling his eyes in his favorite ‘my sister is crazy’ way. “Jadis likes to start the day with all the latest dirt on legal developments.”
“What?” I shot back, “You think that ratsass Garfield, or his misshapen buddy Timbrook are gonna cut us a break ‘cause we don’t know that some judge decided to reverse some other judge’s decision? Hah! If anything, Garfield’s going over every update, drooling at the thought that he can find some new twist that he can nail either one of us with.”
Charger shook his head and said, “You’re paranoid.”
“People keep telling me that,” I grumbled as I sipped my orange juice, “but I ain’t in JAIL, and that’s what’s important.”
“JAIL?” Freight Train chuckled, “Why would you be worried about jail? We got Diplomatic Immunity!”
“NO, Angie,” I corrected her carefully, “JOBE has Diplomatic Immunity. And Belphy has… some… standing, I’m not entirely sure what, that’s gonna be ironed out when you all get down to Karedonia. The rest of us, and that includes you too, Bova, DO NOT. And, come to think of it, Bova, we really do have to get you to the Belizean consulate, and make sure that they’re made aware of your sudden change. I mean, I think that they’ll believe you, after the way that you came up to Whateley, and the Administration should have at least sent them an informing letter, but it’s always best to have the paperwork on these things clear. Oh, and after what happened the LAST time we came through,” I gave Jobe the icy fish eye, “some people really should remember that Diplomatic Immunity is NOT a ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card! You can be ejected from the country, and declared Persona Non Grata!”
Jobe just gave me what I think is the female version of her old ‘Why are you bringing up old irrelevancies?’ sniff.
“JOBE, I realize that expecting you to be pleasant is like asking an octopus to tap dance, but I really think that you should wrap your head around the fact that you are still on THIN ICE! According to Shugendo, you still haven’t been officially recognized as being a part of the Imperial Family. Your official status is some nebulous ‘attached to the Karedonian Embassy’ nonsense. And after what happened the last time-”
“What happened last time?” Mal asked, a little put out at being kept out of the loop.
“Oh, her Imperial Nebulousness had a teensy little meltdown,” Belphy drawled snarkily. “When she heard that Emperor Daddy had given her up, the little princess went totally berserk and attacked various members of the Imperial family, committed Grand Larceny, and tried to stage a coup on the Imperial Presence.”
“I was UPSET,” Jobe wrapped what tattered dignity she could around herself.
“You were… UPSET…?” Mal looked at Jobe like she’d just pissed on the flag. “Did you just use the ‘I was upset’ excuse?”
Buzz shot straight up out of his chair. “This is a clear violation of The Guy Code!”
Charger was up on his feet and agreed, “Come! To the Man Cave! We must inform the Council of Elders of the International Fraternity of GUYS!”
As one, the three boys stalked out of the room, making grunting noises at each other.
“The Council of Elders?” Belphy echoed with mock dread. “Oh, you have gone and done it this time, Jobe! For this, the Elders may permanently revoke your license to whiz standing up!”
After breakfast, Vamp and I herded the Drow Swarm (plus Erzili) to the limo. I was pleasantly surprised to recognize the driver. “Hector? What, after last time, I thought that you’d know better than to accept this gig!”
The big Hispanic man shrugged and said, “My dispatcher is paying me time-and-a-half for this, ‘cause no one else wants the call.” I wondered what to make of that comment. Hector leaned forward and asked cautiously, “So, ah, is there any chance that this is gonna be like last time?”
I couldn’t be entirely sure of where he was coming from with that; on one hand, we had him driving all over three of the five boroughs, and he got a lot closer to superhero action than most civilians are really comfortable with. On the other hand, he walked away with a $30,000 ‘tip’ that neither his dispatcher nor the IRS knew about. “Well, I don’t think that there’ll be anything too weird, we’re just going to be doing a little shopping. Of course,” I admitted, “that’s what I thought last time. Hey, weird stuff like that doesn’t happen to us all the time,” I paused as the sad truth of the matter sank in for me. “Just… 100 times more often than your average citizen.” Hector gave me a wary look. “Look, if anything goes down, just hold up your end like you did last time, and I’ll see to it that there’s something in it for you.”
Hector gave me a wide smile and nodded, and opened the door of the limo for us.
Once we were rolling, Vamp looked around the limo and asked, “Is this ride clean? I mean, can we really talk in here?”
Belphy took out her cell phone and hit an app. “It’s clean. By the way, do you still need that Neuralizer that you borrowed?”
Vamp swapped over a file from that ‘phone’ and handed it back to Belphy. Then she hit a speed-dial number on her own cell phone and called the Whateley office and ran through a bunch of stuff until, “Mom? It’s Alex! How are you, did everything run through okay? Cool! Yeah, isn’t it GREAT? Just wait until the Chefs get back. I just wanted to be sure that you all got there okay… okay, cool… And how are YOU doing? I mean, over 25 YEARS and you just up and drop it all? Uh huh. Believe me, Mom, I do know exactly how you feel. I’ll be back there Sunday after next, and we can talk it all out. Oh, and before I go… Mom, when I get back, there’s an audio file that I want you to listen to. Yeah, I have an idea as to how we’re gonna finance getting started over, and schooling for the munchkins, and maybe a few Ivy League educations. NO, I am not sending Mark to Yale, just so he can learn how to drink! Sorry, you’ll have to wait until I get there. I don’t trust electronic communications around that place; if I sent the file, odds are that it’ll be sold to the highest bidder before sun went down. No, I’m not kidding; just ask around about the ‘Spy Kids’ if you don’t believe me. Cool. I’ll see you after break, Mom. Love you! Bye!”
Vamp hung up with a happy smirk and we all gave her the ‘what was THAT about?’ stare. “uhm, that ‘Family Business’ that I took care of yesterday? Well, I sprung my mother from durance vile, and right now she’s at Whateley, waiting for the Staff to get back from their vacations, so’s she can get one of those ‘Witness Protection’ packages the school’s got.”
“You broke your MOTHER? Out of JAIL?” Freight Train gawped.
“Jail? No, just a dead-end marriage to this loser, who turns out to not be my father, THANK YOU, MOTHER MARY!”
“I don’t know,” Jobe groaned, “I don’t want to know…” then she turned to me and snarked, “Oh, don’t be jealous, Jadis! After all, some of us have mothers who are paragons of decorum and modesty… and then there’s Vamp… and then some of us only have awkward questions…”
“Oh, I didn’t know that you knew Bova’s mother, Jobe,” I purred back at her. “And speaking of awkward,” I pointedly veered off the one topic where Jobe actually might get in a hit, “Angie,” I said, intentionally not using her handle of ‘Freight Train’. “We’ve got to go shopping for clothes for you.”
“What?” Angie, Jobe and Erzili yelped as one. “What’s the matter with how I’m dressed?” Angie demanded.
“I thought that this wasn’t going to be another ‘we all get a ton of clothes on Jobe’s credit card’ trip!” Jobe snarled.
“Why does SHE get to go shopping, and not ME?” Erzili whined.
I cut them off with a shrill whistle. “LOOK, for this whole ‘Crown Jewels’ thing to work, the people at Tiffany’s have to take us seriously! Yes, we’re golden the second that they call it in and check us out, but first they have to think that it’s worth the effort of making a phone call! And Angie, what you’ve got on is fine for the street, but it will NOT cut it at Tiffany’s! So chill out, we’re just going to pick up a few outfits to perk up your profile.”
Angie hunched her shoulders a little and grumbled, “Yeah, well, this whole ‘girly-girl’ thing is a lot more complicated than I thought it was gonna be.”
“That’s why we’re here- at least, that’s why Alex and Bova and I are here, anyway. We’ll help you put together something that won’t embarrass us, and Jobe will pick up the tab.”
“WHY?” Jobe snapped.
“BECAUSE, Jobe,” I said with the kind of weariness that you shouldn’t be able to affect without raising a 3-year-old first, “Angie is going in there for YOU. She’s your backup. As in ‘this was the deal when you gave her the Drow complex in the first place’. Angie can’t afford the kind of clothes that she’ll need when she’s being seen with you, so YOU will have to pick up the tab. I mean, she’s dressed in Whitman Cottage hand-me-downs! And it wouldn’t hurt if we picked up a few things for Bova, either. She’s also wearing hand-me-downs, though I have to admit she’s doing a much better job of it.
“And Erzili? There’s nothing that says that you can’t get something too… You DID remember to bring your credit card, didn’t you?” I finished with an acid smile. She’s here on sufferance, and I don’t intend to suffer anything from Erzili Love, if I have anything to say about it.
“Okay, okay,” Jobe sneered, “I can tell that this is one of those famous Diabolik ‘coddle the minions’ things that you’re always on about, Jadis. But Angie!” she turned on Freight Train, “If I’m going to pay so that you won’t embarrass me, then don’t embarrass me!”
“WHAT?” Angie yelped. “How’m I embarrassing you?”
“This ‘Joisey Goil’ act you’ve been putting on! Angie, you’re from Evansville, Indiana!”
“How do you know that?” Angie yelped.
“You told us…”
“Several times,” Bova said wistfully. “In passing, but still…”
“Okay,” Angie whined, “but I gotta be from somewhere, and Evansville is, like, NOWHERE… I mean, it sounds like Smalltown USA, but it’s a PIT!”
“So? Say that you’re from Chicago! You’re big on being the Tough Chick, and Chicago’s a tough town. Or Philadelphia!”
“Yeah, but Jersey-”
“Angie, being from Jersey is a JOKE in New York!” Jobe whined. “Guys from Jersey are clueless, style-less Guidos!”
“Actually,” I cut in, “most New Yorkers don’t have anything against Jerseyites. For that matter, most Manhattanites, at least the ones who grew up here, don’t have much against folks from the outer boroughs. All that ‘Bridge and Tunnel Crowd’ hoo-rah is mostly out-of-towners trying to make a big noise about how sophisticated and elite they are, as they drive up rents in Manhattan.” I gave Jobe a withering glare.
Jobe was about to come out with yet another of those remarks that have made her beloved far and wide (Captain, I’m detecting severely high levels of sarcasm), so I headed her off with, “BUT, Jobe actually has a point. The ‘Mobster Accent’ simply will NOT do at Tiffany’s. Or most of New York for that matter. You’ll either sound like an idiot, or worse, a poser.”
“Why don’t you try the ‘Silent Sentinel’ act?” Bova suggested gently. “You just stand there, looking powerful and ominous, not saying anything, and not reacting to anything until something drastic happens. You have the height and build to pull it off, there’s a certain dramatic something to it, and best of all, when you figure out a better bit, you can just drop the silent act.”
Angie paused thought about it, sat back and sort of put on ‘silent badass’ poses and faces to see how they fit. She seemed to like it, because she kept it up all through the ride to Macy’s. We picked up a few outfits that had the proper balance of chic and professional badass, including that all-important pair of ‘I’m a bodyguard, don’t mess with me’ mirrored sunglasses. Oh, and of course, it was Macy’s so we had to check out the shoe department and there was this absolutely kickass pair of wedgies, and what with one thing and another, much gratuitous shopping was done, and despite my best efforts, Erzili managed snag a couple of Liz Claiborne outfits on Jobe’s credit card. I’m starting to see why Mal is acting like such a fool over her; that little bitch is dangerous.
Then I had Hector drive us to Empire City Guard HQ. The lady at the information desk recognized us, and we were shown into a side room-
-where we were met by five very stern-looking members of the Guard, and a swarm of red targeting dots appeared all over each of us. “Wow,” Jobe not-gushed, “Déjà vu, all over again…”
“What do you want this time, Diabolik?” Dr. Thunder snarled at me, her arms folded in a ‘you’re wasting my time, punk’ pose.
“Oh, just checking in,” I assured her.
“Like LAST TIME?”
“Hey, I didn’t see any of that coming!”
“Later, Bova.” I introduced the new members of our party, and made sure that they knew that Alex was in the Witness Protection Program. “After last time, I figured that we owed you a heads-up. I don’t really expect anything extraordinary-”
“That’s what you said last time.”
“As I was about to say, but I didn’t really expect anything last time, either.” I explained what was going on with the Drow, and Vamp’s thing with the Necromancer. “So… what COULD go wrong? Who knows? Hey, this is New York, things happen.”
I could sense Jobe warming up one of her trademark bridge-burning remarks, so having covered our collective asses as best I could, I got the crew out of there, before anybody (Jobe) could do anything that I’d regret.
When we were safely in the limo, Bova said severely to Jobe, “Well, someone was very naughty. They’re quite upset with you, Jobe. And they’re not happy with you, either, Jadis. I wouldn’t count on the Guard rushing to your rescue any time soon, either of you.”
“So, let’s just try and keep this week as pleasant and conflict-free as we can, shall we?” Vamp breezed, rocking the Kate Spade™ ensemble that she’d weaseled out of Jobe.
Hector pulled up in front of Tiffany’s© flagship store on Fifth Avenue, and opened the door of the limo in a classic cinematic move. The move was effective, as Alex was the first one out, and she seems to be constitutionally incapable of not vamping the hell out of a situation like that. She made with the long slender leg bit and the whole nine yards, and with her working the whole ‘Exotic Albino’ thing for everything it was worth, and then Erzili being just as bad in her own way, and then the frickin’ DROW, I felt like the guy sweeping up after the big parade at the end of those cartoons.
They carried that act past the doors into Tiffany’s proper, but the floor staff at Tiffany’s see better acts than ours on a slow day. Okay, maybe the drow were something new for them, but they didn’t let that crimp their game in the slightest. A trim, chic, elegant looking salesthing in her thirties glided up to us and asked, “Are you girls looking for someone?”
I cut both Alex and Jobe off, stepped forward and presented the sales thing with the bonded certificate. She looked at it surprised, and took it to one of the counters to verify. After she left, Bova asked, “What’s that, Jadis?”
“It’s a certificate for $80,000 worth of Tiffany’s merchandise,” I answered. “Last Christmas I returned a stolen matched set of diamond jewelry worth roughly $8 million to Tiffany’s, complete and in time for them to turn it over to the party that had commissioned the parure. Returning stolen jewelry is something that Tiffany’s likes to encourage. So, they sent me that certificate in way of thanks.”
“The certificate’s for $80 grand?” Vamp asked. “One Percent? And it’s for the retail value of their merchandise?”
“TELL me about it,” I grumped. “Still, under the circumstances, I could hardly hit them up for the usual 5% finder’s fee.”
“Well, that’s very generous of you, Jads,” Jobe remarked. “But I thought that the point of this exercise was to dip into the Imperial Pocket.”
“It is,” I agreed. “The point here is to get them to take us seriously enough to bother calling in to the embassy. That certificate gets us 80 thou worth of credibility, and I don’t have to spend a cent of it.” When the nice saleslady came back, sure enough she had a far less patronizing attitude. I introduced Jobe as the Imperial Fiancé and had her present the diplomatic credentials that Carson had arm-twisted Ralph into sending. “We’re here to assemble a set of Betrothal jewelry for the ceremony next week, and to commission full sets of Crown Jewels for her highness, her fiancé, her sister, the Emperor and Empress, and a few select ladies-in-waiting.”
“Or, at least, we’re here to see what sort of offerings your designers can produce,” Vamp cut with smoothly. “To begin negotiations and so forth. We will, of course, be dropping in with Cartier’s and Faberge and maybe one or two others, to see if their designs appeal more.”
The salesthing looked at the diplomatic credential ID, and then took in Jobe. To be honest, I think what really sold her was Jobe’s reflexive, completely natural demeanor of ‘Well? Why aren’t you scurrying about frantically trying to accommodate my every whim?’ For once, Jobe’s inborn arrogance actually worked for us! The salesthing took us to a side office, and showed us catalogues of their more high-concept work. By ‘high concept’, I mean ‘very expensive’. The two very unobtrusive yet unmistakable plainclothes guards that stayed with us worried me a bit. Not as much as they bothered Freight Train, who got into an ‘I’m tougher than you’ staring contest through their mirrored shades with them.
That potentially nasty little scene (I mean, it’s Tiffany’s! God alone knows how tough those two guys really are!) defused itself when the salesthing came back in with a very well, if conservatively dressed man with that polished and accommodating, yet carefully not obsequious manner of someone who deals with high-powered, high-maintenance clients for a living. He introduced himself as Raleigh Holden, a senior client liaison, which is Fifth Avenue for ‘I’m going to sell you something really expensive’. Holden oiled out some soothing platitudes about our beauty and so forth, all of which pretty much meant, ‘what can I sell you, and don’t bother talking about the price tag’. Jobe replied with a string of pretentious blither that pretty much meant, ‘I don’t have any clear idea as to exactly what I want, but I’m sure I’ll know it when you pick it out for me, this is the first time that I’ve made a major purchase without my parents doing it, and I don’t worry about price tags; that’s what I have accountants for’. Which was just what Holden wanted to hear; he had a LOT more experience in dealing with customers like her than Jobe has in dealing with salesmen like him.
I just quietly gritted my teeth and reminded myself that it wasn’t MY money that Jobe was throwing around. From my point of view, the entire thrust of this exercise was to convince Gizmatic that he shouldn’t regard me as one of his flunkies, while not queering whatever deal Dr. Dad was trying to cut with his Imperial Imperiousness. Jobe told Holden that she was there to begin negotiations for a set of crown jewels, and Holden acted like it was no big deal. And he wasn’t completely woofing; Tiffany’s has designed crown jewels for the French and Spanish courts, and maybe a few others I haven’t heard about. It was going quite nicely, and I only twigged that something was going wrong when Holden brought in a team of three designers.
Okay, a word of explanation may be necessary here: Tiffany’s & Co. is really in the business of Snob Appeal. And while the majority of their income comes from mass market sales, they are sharp enough to realize that their mass market sales are driven by their reputation for being World-Class jewelers, and by the buzz generated by their sales of high-end jewelry and such to the true elite. In other words, their mass market sales are generated by the snob appeal that’s generated by their sales to people who aren’t impressed by the Tiffany’s brand name. So the design of the jewelry is just as important to their business as the precious metals and stones. Tiffany’s wares are often exhibited in art museums as examples of world-class design. Tiffany’s uses its prestige to recruit the very best designers working, and they’re sharp enough to treat them at least as well as they threat their Marketing and Sales departments. Which elevates them far above several other industries in common sense. The point being that Tiffany’s designers are paid as well per hour as associates at top law firms. Even if these are junior designers, Holden wouldn’t waste their time bringing them in if he was just going to pat the halfwit drow girl on the head and sell her a few over-the-counter pretty-sparklies.
To my escalating dismay, the three designers were absolutely delighted with the drow, and they were very enthused about the idea of designing crown jewelry for Elven Royalty. Please! Technically, Jobe is now of elven… blood… I guess… and she’s legally royalty. But she is NOT ‘Elven Royalty’. Believe me, that is an express ticket to more sick twisted bad craziness than I personally want to see, even at a distance, from behind blast shields. Jobe insisted on a spider theme, of course (I have no idea why Jobe is so stuck on spiders; hell, it was a spider that got her INTO this mess in the first place!) but Doree, the female of the triad (though calling Negus ‘male’ was pushing it a mite) plowed right over that. Who knows? Dr. Dad might lose out with whatever he’s pushing Gizmatic for, but maybe at least Jobe will come out of this with a nodding acquaintance with taste!
They were coming up with very sweeping, organic lines that made me think that they were channeling a tad too much J.R.R. Tolkien. They were nattering about which would go better against the drow’s matte black skin, silver or gold or platinum, when Siraj took in Jobe’s violet eyes and gasped, “Of course! It must be destiny!” The three did one of those silent conferences where you really have to know what the hell they’re not talking about to get their point, and they bustled us off (or at least the drow; Vamp, Erzili and I had to keep up, and hope that nobody remembered that I was the daughter of Dr. Diabolik, loose in Tiffany’s) past a couple of security doors, and into one of the jewelry workshops.
In stark contrast to the opulent sales room, the designers’ workspaces are all business and very professional. Their jobs are vastly complicated by the fact that the raw materials that they work with for the custom jobs are precious metals and stones, which have to be kept in a world-class security area. As we were passed through a very tough security area, Negus commented, “It wasn’t this anal before, but last Christmas some jerkwad with ice powers broke in and ripped off not only, like, twenty bags of loose stones, but this absolutely gorgeous tiara set that I had designed!”
“REALLY?” Jobe said with what passed for ingenuousness with her. “Isn’t that fascinating, JADIS?” she gibed, knowing all-too-well that ‘Mr. Cool’, a local supervillain who’d been taken with me because I saved his ass from getting whupped, had pulled that job and left my name ‘Jadis’ spelled out in diamonds and ice, with two large topazes dotting the J and I.
“JADIS?” Negus bleated, and flinched as he looked me in my two golden eyes, which matched those two topazes (which was, of course, Mr. Cool’s rather trite point).
“I returned the stupid tiara,” I growled.
Siraj had the controller open up a specific drawer, and wearing thin latex gloves he reached in and produced a large, Marquis-cut amethyst. And by ‘large’, I mean the points would reach from one top of my palm to the bottom. It’s not large in general terms, but in terms of precious gemstones, that’s fucking HUGE! I tried to estimate its carat weight, but bumped into an annoying gap in my education. It was set within a large engraved golden hoop, with the points of the stone connecting at the top and bottom.
“Ooohhh…” Jobe cooed, “It matches my EYES!”
And right there, before my unbelieving eyes, Jobe Arthur (or Anne, now) Wilkins fell in love with a chunk of purple quartz.
It was weird, and believe me, I have seen weird. One minute, Mister ‘I’m so trendy in my $50 beard trim and oh-so-bohemian scarf’ was showing Jobe this big amethyst, that I’ll admit really does suit her eyes, and all; the next Jobe is all gushing like a schoolgirl. Which, okay, she IS, but she’s always been too wrapped up in her own genius to go for things like that.
As Jobe waxed rhapsodic, I leaned over and whispered to the willowy black guy with the shaved head and obvious synthetic ruby in his ear, “What’s that doing here? I mean, amethyst is quartz! What, you got some cubic zirconium you’re gonna push next?”
‘Negus’ (if his parents really named him that, then he got all the asskicking in school that they had coming) smirked and said, “Not quartz. It was the first thing we checked. That’s corundum; it’s a purple sapphire, just a hair under 400 carats, with only three very distinctive flaws.”
My ruby red eyes snapped open. SAPPHIRE? That BIG? “You’re KIDDING,” I gasped. “You’re letting a kid handle a sapphire big enough to ransom a small nation? What’s it called? A rock that big has to have a name. Who owns it?”
“No idea,” Doree admitted in a hushed voice. “They found it in the workshop when they closed up last night, and no one will own up to it. In our expert opinion, that thing is currently the third largest purple sapphire, and the seventh largest sapphire period, in the world. It should have a name, a history, the whole nine yards, but as far as anyone knows, it just dropped out of the sky and onto a worktop.”
“No history?” I asked, incredulous. “Yer kidding! Something like that would have a name, a place and date of mining, a list of ownership from the ground right up to this second, and probably a couple of murders on record!”
“No clue. And the Security Chief was having a Gestapo fit, trying to get someone, anyone to come clean on how the thing got in here. And you’re right, something that big with so few flaws would have some sort of history, and the firm is very picky about the stones we handle. It’s got to have a clean history. Nothing. And it’s not like the old days, when you all had to go on was written documentation; these days, every major stone is X-rayed, MRI’d and sonogrammed and mapped to a fare-thee-well, and the specifics stored on international databases. But NADA. Nobody’s ever heard of that stone. I have 15 bucks riding on a bet that says that it’s part of some Nazi loot that someone finally got around to opening up.”
Jadis had been dividing her attention between this and Jobe fussing with the amethyst. But when she heard that last bit, those yellow eyes of hers snapped wide open, and they darted back and forth frantically. I practically heard the dime drop and things click into place. Now, the Beast has a reputation for playing things close to the vest; if she’s picked up on something, there’s damn little chance of her letting the rest of us in on it until whatever it is that she’s twigged to has played itself out. And then she’ll probably talk our ears off explaining it, if what I’ve heard is true.
The three designers brought out some silver (or at least silver-ish) wire and they started experimenting with forms and shapes on Jobe’s face, using the sapphire as a central part of the design. I thought that they were coming up with some pretty killer stuff, but they’re artists, and artists are never really satisfied. Jobe started making noises about talking with Faberge and Cartier’s before making any commitments, and then it got very involved. Somehow, over Jadis’ indignant objections, documents were signed, and Jobe walked out of Tiffany’s with the seventh largest sapphire in the world.
Or rather, Jadis did. She had them put it in a very plain armored carrying box, arranged for two more such boxes for Freight Train and Bova to carry, and didn’t let the box with the sapphire out of her PK claws. While Erzili and the Drow were chattering away gaily, Jadis was very quiet, very focused. Now, I’m not an empath, but I was picking up that Jadis was either very mad or very scared and working very hard to keep a lid on it, or she was furiously trying to figure something out.
When we got back to the Diabolik’s townhouse, Jadis immediately took charge of all three lockboxes. “Hey!” Jobe demanded, “Why are YOU taking this? It’s MY sapphire!”
“Because they took MY 80 thousand dollar certificate as a surety, pending the full transfer of funds from your father!” Jadis snapped back. Then she had Hernandez, the guy in charge of security for the townhouse, take all three boxes to some Max Security safe they had somewhere in the house.
“So, yer back,” Buzz said dully as we trooped in. “Wha’cha been doin’?”
“Shopping!” Bova said, posing in the Donna Karan number that Jobe had bought her.
“SHOPPING?” Buzz said in a voice of dread. He glared at Jobe. “And you went… willingly?”
“It’s not such a-”
“THIS IS A CLEAR VIOLATION OF THE GUY CODE!”
“Oh dear,” Belphy said, “Jobe, at this rate, you may lose your license to pitch overhanded!”
Then it got really weird. For some reason, Jobe got it into her head that she wanted to go out clubbing. That’s not the weird part. I mean, it IS Spring Break, even if we’re still high school froshes and we just got sprung from the granite-lined icebox that is New Hampshire; it would be weird if she didn’t want to go out and blow off some steam. No, the weird part is that after having a lot more fun getting gussied up to go out than someone’s who’s panting to get his manhood back should, Jobe up and takes the notion that she wants to take the sapphire out clubbing with her. She wants to take the world’s seventh largest sapphire- which hasn’t been completely PAID for- out on a round of the clubs. Which was weird, but the really weird thing is that after only about an hour or so of Jobe whining at her about this lamebrained scheme, Jadis gave in!
As Jadis, the Drowettes and I were just about to leave, Sapper came down, slobbing around in a sweatshirt and yoga pants. “Hey! What’re you lot doin’, all dolled up?” she demanded.
“Hey, what do you do, after you get sprung?” Freight Train asked, forgetting her ‘stern silent sentinel’ act and shaking her money-maker, really working the sheath dress she was wearing, “You go out, find a slammin’ joint, and blow its doors off!”
“And you didn’t invite me?”
“I thought that you came down here to spend time with your boyfriend,” Jadis said with an acid smirk that could have etched glass. “You know, my brother?” Erzili opened her mouth to argue, but caught the look in Jadis’ eye. She shut her mouth, stuck out her lower lip and trudged up the stairs.
“You, ah, got a problem with Erzili, Sh- er, Jadis?”
“Now that you mention it,” she said in a very matter-of-fact tone of voice, “YES.” I immediately filed that under ‘I don’t need to know; it’s none of my business’. But still, I’m sort of disappointed in the Beast.
We got into the limo, and were off to find out whether the Big Apple’s storied nightlife lived up to its rep. And, of course, since a hot club can’t be in anything so pedestrian as a building that was actually designed to be a club (though, New York’s equally storied rents may have something to do with it), the club that we were driven to, called ‘The Vault’, was set up in an Old School bank. Y’know, the kind with the marble floors, big arching lobby, granite counters, and like that? The kind that actually LOOKS like a bank? Check this out: the ‘snob appeal room’, the place that you gotta wait in line to get into, once you’ve waited in line to get into this place? Yep, it’s the actual vault that they gutted and fitted with a bar and shit. Odds are, once this place has used up its value as a nightlife venue, they’ll completely tear the building down.
I vamped us past the Door Kings, no problem. Okay, the Drow were no problem, but one of those guys seemed to have a bone to pick with Jadis. Once we were inside it was, well, just tap into any of a dozen ‘frantic nightlife’ images that you’ve got. Let’s be honest, one cramped, poorly-lit room packed with too many people and a sound system that’s 20% louder than is safe for unprotected human hearing, and charging $15 for drinks that cost maybe $1.25 each is just like another.
I snagged a few drinks at the bar (like anybody carded) and ferried them over to the crew. Jadis accepted her vodka gimlet with grace, Freight Train and took her Steamhead beer with the air of an experienced guzzler. Bova, Belphy and Jobe were already out on the floor, had conquered the dance area in the name of the Underdark, and ruled it with an iron hand. And Belphy? For someone who’s supposed to have the mind of a pompous corpulent whiner, that girl can DANCE! She boogied on down like it was her God-given mission to bring Disco back from the dead.
Then Jadis reacted like a hunting dog that just scented a raccoon. Or maybe just smelled a rat. She tapped me on the hand, and pointed to where Jobe and Bova were dancing. I looked. It was hard in the uneven constantly shifting light, but there definitely was something a little… off… about the dancers around Jobe and Bova. Jadis tapped Freight Train on the hand and pointed for her to assume what I took to be a supporting position. It took Angie a minute for the ideas to process, but then she was on her mark and actually acting like a bodyguard. Freight Train started dancing and made her way over to Belphy. As she was doing this, I tried to do likewise to Bova, and get her wise the sitch. But those dancers, who’d done a very nice job of isolating Jobe and Bova, wouldn’t let me in. And I just couldn’t break through somehow.
This didn’t slow Jadis down in the slightest. She walked up to that circle of dancers with a sort of ‘these boots were made for kicking ass, and you’re in my way, butt-munch’ ‘tood, grabbed two of the dancers by the shoulders and just shoved them aside with more force than a girl of her size and frame should really be capable of.
Then, when she had the room, she sort of stalked over to where Jobe was dancing with a guy with the sort of intensity that makes you wonder how serious she really is about this whole ‘I’m going to change myself back into a guy, any day now’ thing. Mind you, the guy she was dancing with really did deserve the kind of intensity that she was giving him. Tall, broad-shouldered, ruggedly good looking, wore good clothes without being all Metro about it, and he moved very well. Unfortunately, he was moving one hand way too close to that humongous sapphire around her neck, even though his eyes never left her face. Jadis walked up to them, gave them both a cold look and then gave the guy a smack upside the head that looked like it would stop a moving car. The guy went to the ground, but he came right back up. He just didn’t look anywhere near what he looked like when he went down. Instead of the GQ demigod, he was shorter, broader, and wore a black leather trench coat over a red collar of some sort, and he wore a broad brimmed black fedora over a red stylized mask that was half devil and half Guy Fawkes. There was no ‘aha! Dr. Lucifer, we meet again!’ but Jadis was definitely not asking him to dance. She gave Jobe, who was still dancing, a snap upside the head with a finger, *pang!* that rattled her cage enough that she snapped out of it.
The Devil in Black copped a ‘tood and snapped his fingers. Suddenly seven or eight or so of the dancers around them suddenly weren’t a bunch of gyrating hipsters.
The hipsters now looked like they couldn’t decide whether they were devils or ninjas. They wore blousy, so dark red that they were almost black, overalls, and featureless horned masks that were a shade or two lighter red than the rest. They reached into their overalls and pulled out these sticks with devil-heads. With a flick the devil-heads wreathed in flame.
Okay, it looks like Jadis forgot to send out the memos, yet again. But I was picking up just fine. Supervillain. Henchmen. Nasty thumping sticks at very best. I may not have the years of experience in these things that Jadis has, but I have been around the block a time or two, and Boston has some very nasty blocks. In a situation like this, keep it simple. Get the fuck OUT. I lowered my own special brand of darkness onto as much of the club as I could, and grabbed Freight Train. Angie reacted by almost ripping my arm out of its socket, but she recovered when I hissed into her ear. Then, with that over, I led her over to where the Devil-guy was doing the ‘what happened to the lights?’ mambo, while Jobe was looking around like she was figuring something out. Jadis was talking into her phone, and I heard her say something about ‘Hector’, telling him to get the car ready. Then she snagged Jobe by the ear and dragged her in the direction of Belphy and Bova. There were some stumbling efforts to grab us, but we were quick, and apparently the Drow do well in the dark.
I got us out the side door into the alley. “Good one, Alex,” Jadis said. “You just earned your keep. Let’s just hope that that wasn’t simply a ploy to get us out of the club into his alley-” then three guys in black suits with fedoras over blank faces and sunglasses blocked the mouth of the alley, guns drawn “for a-” looking the other way, there were more of them “-trap.” Looking up, we spotted five guys on the fire escape overhead wearing serious ninja gear, complete with spooky mirrored masks, weapons drawn. “Crap.”
One of the faceless guys on the inside stepped forward, reached into his breast pocket and pulled out an ID folder. He opened it, and held it forward. Cautiously, Jadis stepped forward and looked at it. Then she did her ‘She-Beast’ number, and put up that scary-ass demonic look of hers. Still, she was gentle with them. She just pulled the guy’s arm out of its socket, not ripped it off at the shoulder.
“And then we got to the limo, and Hector drove us here,” Jadis finished explaining to the two grumpy looking NYPD detectives. Well, it was One O’clock in the morning.
“WHY are you telling us this?” the shorter one asked. “I mean, what do you really expect us to do?”
“Not much,” Jadis said flat-out. “I just don’t want you saying that I should have reported it.”
“And why did you use the FBI to report this?” the other one asked.
“Because it’s Saturday night, and I didn’t want to waste five hours plowing through your anti-crank system.”
“Okay, do you know who this man with the devil mask was?”
“No,” Jadis said decisively. “Hey, I don’t know every weirdo with a mask in New York! Especially not the supervillain crowd. With them, all I usually have to worry about are the noobs or the wannabes, trying to prove how badass they are. The Pros know better than to mess with my father.” Jadis paused for a moment. “Now that I think about it, I don’t think that they knew who we were.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “The tactic they used would have been just fine for a bunch of regular chicks out clubbing.”
“And I hear that the bodypaint fad is still working its way through the New York club scene, so we weren’t that obvious,” Belphy pointed out.
“And the guys in the alleyway broke and ran as soon as they figured out that we were mutants,” I continued.
“Wimps…” Freight Train muttered, disgusted at the thought of losing out on a good scrap.
“Well, _I_ was certainly scared to death!” Bova said, not quite fluttering her eyelashes, but not by much
“What sort of ‘tactics’ were you talking about?”
“Well, the guy with the devil mask was using pretty sophisticated masking illusions,” Jadis said. “And he was using some sort of mindfuck effect on Jobe. He had her pretty much under his influence.”
“No he didn’t!” Jobe sputtered. “I knew what he was doing, all the time! I was just… stringing him along, trying to find out what he was after!”
Jadis ignored her and continued, “And the guys in the alley had this.” she showed them the ID folder that that one guy had flashed at her. Gesturing for one of them to not look, she flashed the other cop. He spaced out, and had to be reminded of what we’d said since he came into the house. “It’s the magical version of the ‘Neuralizer’, the ‘flashy thingie’ from the Men in Black movies. My guess is that it causes most things in short-term memory to be forgotten.”
“So… they walk up, flash that at you and… exactly WHY do you think you were targeted, Miss Diabolik?” Jadis pointed at the necklace still around Jobe’s neck, and explained about the world’s third largest purple sapphire. “WHAT? What in the name of GOD are you doing, carrying something like THAT around with you like some… trinket? What were you thinking?” he yelled at Jadis.
“Yes, JOBE?” Jadis asked acidly in Jobe’s direction. “What WERE you thinking? Why WERE we taking that thing along, when the safe, sensible SANE thing to have done was lock it up in a safe? Well, you MUST have had your reasons… what were they?” she finished with a ‘gotcha’ smirk. Well, Jobe wasn’t having that, and after about five minutes or so of Jobe being, well… Jobe, the two detectives were not only cutting Jadis some slack on it, but silently considering her for some sort of commendation.
The taller detective broke off from Jobe and asked, “Any ideas who the perps were, or distinguishing marks, or anything like that?”
Jadis shrugged. “There was something that I saw on the tool belts of the ninjas, something that looked like a crest, or possibly an amulet of some kind.” She sketched out a design on a pad, consisting of a upheld hand with a crescent moon on the palm with a triangle inside that, and one of those Egyptian eye things inside that. “I really doubt that it’s a talisman or amulet,” Jadis said. “It’s a hodgepodge of popular ‘occult’ symbols, the Khamsa, the Wiccan moon, and the Eye of Thoth. It’s enough to say ‘spooky’ to most people, but it doesn’t really DO anything. And a couple of them had a logo of a W inside a crescent moon with a crown over the W inside the gap of the points of the moon. But maybe your Occult Crimes squad can come up with a hit on that.”
“Miss Diabolik, the NYPD doesn’t have an Occult Crimes squad.” Jadis just favored that with the ‘yeah, right’ smirk that it deserved, and Mr. Hernandez showed the two cops out the door. Mrs. Pierson made a few snippy remarks about underaged girls in a nightclub, but past that, there wasn’t much of the hollering and hellfire that would have happened if Sherry, let alone I, had tried this back at home- or, at least that tacky little cage that O’Brien kept me in for 14 years. And in an odd way, I wasn’t sure whether to be envious of She-Beast or sorry for her. I mean, for all his spite and bile, I knew that the old rip cared, one way or another.
But that wasn’t on my mind as we were going up stairs after a long night- or at least a short knight with a lively ending. I stopped Jadis and let the others go up. When they were out of sight, I asked her, “Tonight, what that guy did to Jobe was subtle. You’re sharp, She-Beast, but to catch that, you would have had to be looking for it. Did you know that that was going to happen?”
“I had an idea that something would happen,” she admitted. “Not that, and I wasn’t expecting that crew in the alley, but I figured that something would happen.”
“How? Why?” Hey, these are crucial, need to know, Alex’s ass is in the wringer too, questions.
Jadis locked eyes with me and said, “Vamp, WHY would Tiffany’s let the world’s seventh largest sapphire out its door with only a $80,000 surety and a handshake over the telephone?”
As I struggled with that one, Jadis continued, “And WHY would the world’s most famous jewelers- no matter that Faberge says- sell a major stone… that doesn’t belong to them?”
Okay, I may not operate at Jadis’ level of habitual paranoia, but I DO pick up. “Wait a minute… that bald black guy at Tiffany’s… Negus (what a name!) … he said that they found that stone at someone’s workshop, and they had no idea where it came from. But Tiffany’s reputation is WAY too important to them to sell a stone that they couldn’t prove they had a right to sell! Especially if they only found it last night! There’s no way that they could have done a decent owner search!”
She-Beast nodded that I was getting the picture. “The only way for a rock like that to simply drop out of nowhere into Tiffany’s workrooms is that one of their people was working on it, probably making a new setting or something. I’ll lay you odds that one of the Jewelry Business’ quiet little dirty secrets is designers and stonecutters doing work off the books for the Black Market. Now, Vamp: what sort of people would obtain the previously unknown seventh-largest sapphire in the world, and not only not inform the world of it, but sneak it into Tiffany’s to have it reset?”
I mulled that over for a bit. “Well, almost any Black Hat could come into possession of something like that and keep it on the down-low. The IRS gets real curious about acquisitions like that. But the Mob, Drug Cartels, Terrorists, the Black Market… they’d all want to have something that big cut into dozens of smaller stones. They’d get a lot less, but it would be hella easier to move, it wouldn’t make any waves, and they’d be a lot easier to smuggle across borders than that boulder. The only people that I can think of with egos that would demand keeping it intact- aside from the Goodkind, of course- would be some Hollywood types, some old school Mafia dons, and maybe some supervil- omigaaawwwddd…”
“Possibly their exact words, Vamp. I checked online: the Rockefeller Sapphire sold at auction recently for a hair under 3 Million dollars. The Rockefeller weighed in at about 62 and change carats. Jobe’s rock is just under 400 carats. But it’s an unknown stone, and lurid histories matter for the big gems, so let’s be conservative and cut the multiplier down to five. So, that stone is worth at least 15 Mil. But Tiffany’s let it out the door for a 80 grand gift certificate. The only reason they’d do that is they knew what it was, who it was connected to, and they wanted the damned thing out of their store. No matter whose lap they dumped the hot rock into.”
“Now, now, Jadis,” I chided her, “Look at it from Tiffany’s’ point of view: this big ownerless chunk of hideously expensive purple rock falls in their lap from out of the blue, and logic says that some supervillain is behind it. Brown trousers time. The very next day, the daughters of DR. DIABOLIK and GIZMATIC come waltzing in the door with a frickin’ gift certificate, shopping for jewelry, and talking about crown jewels. So, they figure that the gem’s real owners have come for it, and this is the supervillain idea of subtlety. So they say, ‘oh very good. Here’s your hot rock. Would you leave now? And please don’t break anything’.”
“You make a persuasive case, Vamp. But it doesn’t scan that way. For one thing, if that was the case, then Tiffany’s would be keeping the whole thing as mum as they possibly could, so that nobody would be able to accuse them of trafficking with supervillains. Instead, they took all those glamour shots of Jobe and the other drow, and there was a lot of talk of PR, exposure, and Print vs. Television campaigns.”
“They’re trying to let whoever’s the stone’s real owner is know who’s got the stone, and that it’s NOT at their place,” I said, seeing where Jadis was going. But that cast some light into a gloomy situation. “So, where’s the problem? The stone’s real owner knows who’s got it, and he knows that he can’t just smack us around for it. So he’ll contact the Syndicate and they’ll send an intermediary to handle it, and it won’t be any problem!”
“It isn’t that simple, Vamp.”
“Aw, C’mon, Jadis! Why can’t it be simple? Just once? For novelty’s sake?”
“Vamp, there is nothing simple about Jobe’s reaction to that gemstone. Jobe Wilkins does not get all hot and bothered about jewelry. If it doesn’t replicate and recombine in ways that she can tweak, or help her recombine and tweak things that replicate, then she’s not interested! And that bit about ‘ooohhh… it matches my eyes!’ Gimme a break! That is NOT Jobe! That’s not even Jobe pretending to be girlie as an act! The only way that Jobe Wilkins would react that way to a rock, even a precious gem, is if she was being mentally influenced in some way. And given the distance, my guess was that someone was tracking that stone magically, and used it as remote focus to affect Jobe, so she’d remove the gem from Tiffany’s.”
“Ah,” I saw her point, “And the bit about Jobe wanting to show off her new bling at a nightclub?”
“Why would Jobe give a ratsass about clubbing? That is SO not her scene. So I played along with it to find out who was yanking Jobe’s chain. I used one of the decoy synthetic amethysts that Tiffany’s made up, and created a linkage between it and the sapphire, so whoever was pulling the strings would think that the stone was moving.”
“Okay, so why does that mean that we can’t call the Syndicate and have them handle this?”
“Vamp, whoever that guy was, he’s got his hooks into Jobe. And once he realizes exactly who and what he’s got on the line, he’s not gonna just say ‘whoops, my bad, sorry about that.’”
“No,” I admitted, “That’s not how those supervillains that I’ve seen operate would react. So, any idea what devil-face will try, once he finds out who Jobe is?”
“The mind boggles. The thing is, no matter how aggravating Jobe is, she’s still a Bad Seed. I don’t let Bad Seeds get shafted. It sets a bad precedent.”
“So, what do we do?”
“As much as it pains me to say it, but we’re gonna have to wait until Devil-dork makes his next move, see what we can do, and try to keep the collateral damage to a minimum.”
The Hooded Hunter in Darkness paused atop the building next to the Diabolik townhouse and studied it carefully. There had to be a chink in the building’s defenses. Even a frothing paranoid like Dr. Diabolik couldn’t cover every possible inch of that house-
Then a figure bounded from the roof of the building on the other side, gently landing on four automated stilt-like legs, and walking spider-like across the rooftop. The figure gingerly tapped at the rooftop with a probe, like a blind man finding his way with his cane. But the mighty Nightlord knew an expert burglar when he saw one. While he may despise the man’s larceny, he might use that illicit skill towards the Greater Good. Silently, the Mysterious Master of Shadows leapt to the roof, just behind the intruder, who was intent on his instruments. Watching carefully, Nightlord saw as the probe found one excellently hidden hatch worked into the roof. Spiderlike hands artfully worked with tools that were little more than wires to coax open the hatch. But then a much larger hatch in the roof opened up, and the spidery thief was yanked into the building, legs and all. On pure reflex, Nightlord leapt back to the safety of the neighboring building. A few moments later, there was a pneumatic noise and a human-shaped figure wrapped from head to toe in duct tape was spat out the side of the building into a dumpster in the alley between the two buildings, followed in close order by each of his four robotic legs.
It struck the mighty Nightlord that patience was definitely a virtue in crime fighting. If nothing else, he might learn more about how to breach those defenses by others who might assay the lair.
JADIS - Sunday, April 8, 2007
I woke when the church three blocks over rang its bell. Really! I had a hard night late last night, and the last thing I need is to be woken up at the ungodly hour of 9! But the fucking devil that Dr. Dad had locked away inside my head hates church bells, and it wouldn’t let me sleep. So, I was wide awake, and I couldn’t just laze around, because I knew that if I did, that between Mal, his flunkies, Jobe and Freight Train, if I didn’t get down to breakfast, I’d be lucky to get cold cereal to eat. I ran a brush through my hair, pulled on a draping off-white sweater and electric blue leggings, and went down in hopes that they hadn’t let Freight Train at the sideboard first.
I lucked out. Mal’s crew was making significant inroads on the food supply, but Jobe and Freight Train hadn’t come down yet, Belphy was being quite reasonable with her caloric intake, and Bova was making do with toast and some tea, waiting on the Imperial Presence.
Knowing when to get while the getting’s good, I put together a good solid plate of vittles. But before I could sit down to eat, there was a ring at the door, followed in close succession by several more rings that took on a rather demanding tone. Bova gave me a ‘this is your house’ look. As no one else was getting up, and I really couldn’t sluff it off on Mrs. Pierson or Hernandez, I got up with an annoyed grunt and took my plate with me. Hey, with this many mutant appetites around it may not be here when I got back.
The doorbell was screaming like a three-year-old having a tantrum. I opened the door and the situation didn’t improve much. A scrawny, weasel-faced woman with a blonde bowl-cut bob, whose over-trendy black-on-bright-yellow Balenciaga™ outfit didn’t do a DAMN thing for her, stormed in like Cruella DeVil, with a cigarette in one hand and the NYT Sunday edition in the other. “Where is she?” she snapped.
“Who are you, and why haven’t you put out that cigarette?” I asked civilly.
She glared icily at me, took a drag off her cigarette and made a rather puerile power play by trying to stub it into my breakfast. I didn’t play along and deftly avoided her coffin nail. “_I_ am STEPH,” she said through an exhaled plume of smoke in my face, as though she expected a crash of thunder to accompany her name.
“Wonderful,” I grumped. “Why don’t you come back, when you can afford a complete name?”
“Multiple targeting lasers for a cross-pattern with a 93% coverage of the foyer,” she noted clinically, looking around the entry room, “recessed ports for at least 8 weapons, hutches for 6 guard units, pop-up turrets in the floor for gel or gas dispensers, I assume drop placements in the ceiling, reinforced chandelier for the cliché ‘surprise drop’, armored drop gates for the interior doors…” she trailed off, as though summing up the situation in her mind.
“Mediocre,” she decided.
“You’re a door-to-door deathtrap salesman?”
“JOBE!” ‘Steph’ screeched up the stairs.
“What IS that racket?” Belphy asked, coming out of the breakfast nook.
“Jobe! What IS this nonsense?” Steph demanded, jabbing a finger at the NYT.
“Oh Crikey,” Belphy reeled, “Who let YOU in?”
“Oh,” Steph sneered at Belphy’s British accent. “It’s the knock-off. Where’s Jobe?”
“Belphy, do you know who … this… is?” I asked.
Crossing her arms and establishing her space (proof that she IS getting the hang of this being female thing), Belphy growled, “I’m sad to say that I’m sort of related to it. That’s Jobe’s… cousin, I’m not sure which kind, Stephanie, the burglar alarm saleswoman.”
“I’m Steph,” the personage in question said mulishly.
“Oh, Stephanie,” I said, pegging her now. “I didn’t recognize you without Jobe’s vomit all over your faceplate.”
“What’s going on?” Bova asked, coming in.
“Oh Christ, he’s making MORE of them?” Steph demanded.
“Yes,” I twitted her, “soon there will be drow in every strip mall in America!”
“I’m in Hell,” Steph drooped.
On that all-too appropriate note, Jobe came traipsing down the stairs in a lacy dressing gown over her silk negligee, with Freight Train following one step behind. “What’s all the noise?”
“Jobe!” Steph snapped. She paused and turned to me. “That IS Jobe, isn’t it? I mean, how many of those things did he MAKE?”
“I put my foot down at two of that model,” I assured her.
“And the human race is grateful,” she assured me back. Then, sure of her target, she resumed, “Jobe! What’s this nonsense?” she shook the NYT at Jobe.
“Stephanie?” Jobe bleated. “What? They delivered your copy of Artsy Poseur Monthly here by mistake?”
“This!” Steph rattled the NYT at Jobe and opened it up, shedding most of it as she came to the Fashion & Style section.
Picking up the front page, I realized, “Hey! This is OUR paper! I haven’t had a chance to read this yet!”
Steph unfolded the Fashion & Style section and pointed at Tiffany’s full-page ad starring Jobe looking soulfully (and with a totally unmerited air of innocence) into the camera with that tangle of silver framing that purple sapphire on her brow. “How could you do this?”
“Okay, the lights were a little bright; but I’m a Wilkins, I endured!”
“All publicity arrangements in New York for the Empire of Karedonia are supposed to go through ME!”
“Since WHEN?” Jobe demanded.
“Since she realized that she could use this to drag herself, and that… whatever it is over in St. Marks, out of obscurity,” Bova said wryly.
“Why did you make two Brits?” Steph asked.
“I’m Belizean,” Bova said stiffly. “And she didn’t make me, she just changed me. For which I am grateful,” she said with a prim nod of the head in the Dread Matriarch’s direction.
“Whatever!” Steph waved that aside. “I have Richard Davis Powers willing to squeeze you in for a few hours of shots.”
“But it’s Sunday!” I objected, “Who does glamour photography on Sunday?”
“Someone who wants to make the most of a Three-Day-Wonder.”
“It’s Nine-Day-Wonder,” I corrected her.
“WHY am I supposed to waste hours of my irreplaceable youth arching my back and pursing my lips for some artsy nitwit in a glass closet?” Jobe snarled.
“Is it a Venetian glass closet?” Vamp asked as she came down the stairs in a long scarlet satin dressing gown.
“And what is THAT?” Steph demanded, pointing at Alex.
“THIS,” Vamp replied, not even breaking stride, “is someone who knew that the salesgirl was lying when she said that that outfit would look good on anyone.” Steph glared at Alex as she vamped her way down the stairs and sashayed past us, silently proving that having no curves whatsoever wasn’t necessarily a liability. “It’s called panache,” she purred as she prowled past us toward the breakfast nook.
Steph looked like she was about to go off, when Bova held up her end by asking sweetly, “Now exactly why does Princess Jobe have to go sit for that photographer? After all, it’s not like she needs the money, or that we have a product or cause that we’re promoting.”
Steph ignored that and thumped the paper with one nigh-taloned designer fingernail. “What’s this about Karedonian Crown Jewels? We don’t have any crown jewels!”
“A TRAGIC shortcoming in an Empire, don’t you think?” Jobe riposted. “Fortunately, I had the foresight to realize that Karedonia should have a set of gems to match her status as the jewel of the Antilles.”
“You might want to re-word that last bit, Jobe,” I sniped. “Anyone with the reputation for voodoo like Haiti has is no one you want to dis.”
“Why didn’t you go through ME for this?” Steph demanded.
“Because I wanted something that actually looked good.”
Steph was gearing up to really go off, when there was another, more civilized buzz at the door. All too willing to avoid Wilkins-on-Wilkins nastiness, I went to see who it was. I had a brief ‘ta-DAH!’ moment, like the camera that films the movie that is our life should pull back for a big intro shot, when I opened the door. In the front was a very chic, very attractive woman, one of those ‘ageless beauties’ who could be anywhere from 30 to 70, and you’d only know how old by going back and reading old Society gossip blogs. Her shoulder-length honey blonde hair was done in one of those deceptively simply styles that only really good stylists can pull off. She was wearing a lovely deep blue Peter Som™ pantsuit. Arranged behind her were a short, crisp-looking woman in an office suit, and two people who could have had ‘trendy bohemian’ flashing over their heads in an MMO.
They steamed into the foyer in battle formation. The artsy guy with the not-quite high-and-tight hairstyle and the carefully nurtured stubble mistook my plate of breakfast for some sort of hors d’oeuvres (or maybe he was just being bitchy) and languidly reached for some of it. I snatched the plate away. MINE!
I was about to ask the leader exactly who the fuck she thought she was, barging into my house like that, when Stephanie (if Jobe wasn’t buying into this ‘Steph’ crap, then neither was I) gasped, totally gobstruck and acted as though the woman who’d just walked in was her old best friend in Art School, who’d been reported as missing somewhere in the Himalayas. “SABELLA!” she gushed and just barely kept herself from wrapping herself around the intruder. ‘Sabella’ just looked at Stephanie with an ‘and YOU are?’ look. “I’m STEPH…” she tried, a tad wilted. “From… ‘Felicity’?”
The other trendoid, the black chick with the weird flat-top/ dreds-down-the-back ‘do whispered something in ‘Sabella’s’ ear, and she purred, “Of course… Steph, the Context Orchestrator…” Then, having patted the little halfwit girl on the head, she turned to Jobe, who was still standing on the stairs. “And you are Imperial Princess Jobe of Karedonia.”
Jobe struck a pose and was about to say something that my experience suggests might start just the sort of international incident that would completely blow Dr. Dad’s chances with GizDork. So, having twigged as to who this was from Stephanie’s reaction, I stepped up and cut in, “And, Jobe, allow me to present to you Mrs. Sabella Griffin- your divorce from the last one IS final, isn’t it?- socialite, patron of the Fine Arts, perennial on the A- list, denizen of the front row at all the very best fashion shows, activist for only the very best causes and like all that.” I placed myself between the Griffin and Jobe. “I’m Jadis Diabolik,” I said in a way that stated, ‘This is my house, you know who my father is, there’s nothing that you can do to me that isn’t already being done- or at least tried- by people with real power’.
The Griffin gave me a look that said that it might be interesting to put that challenge to the test, but she had better things to do.
I gave her a look that said that if any of her crew tried anything funny in my house, that her getaway house on Cape May was as good as a crater.
High-and-Tight picked up on this, and like a good samurai, went to face the challenger for his daimyo. Or guru. Or Sensei. Whatever, the whole samurai bit doesn’t really fit here, gimme a break. Maybe he really was high. Or Tight. Or maybe just peckish. He stepped forward and took one of the four last bites of my breakfast and popped it in his mouth.
I shoveled the last three bites into my mouth, swallowed and broke the plate over his head. Then I said, “Now, get out, before I have you arrested for Trespass, and Destruction of Private Property by breaking this valuable plate with your little ball-peen head.” I picked him up by the back of his pants and carried him to the door, where I chucked him out like a dog that had made a mess on the rug.
Having established myself as the alpha bitch on this patch, I shut the door and arched an imperious eyebrow at the intruders. Stephanie gave me a whimpering look that said, ‘Please! This woman could make or break my career just by walking in my door, or a single sneer in my general direction!’
A Wilkins with the humility to admit that she actually needed someone. In honor of the minor miracle that I’d just witness, I relented. I shot Griffin a look that said, ‘Make your pitch, but it had better be good.’ Griffin gave a gracious nod and smile, acknowledging that I was in charge- here. “I’m arranging a special benefit on Friday-”
“So what?” Jobe sneered. “Rich women like you are always throwing benefits for dyslexic seals or autistic junkies or whatever. It helps you gloss over the annoying fact that you’re useless parasites whose only real skill is marrying rich and powerful men.” Classic Jobe. Truthful, accurate, on the money, and completely without anything even vaguely resembling tact. I gave Griffin a look that said, ‘You’d have to put up with this all week.’
But you don’t get to the top of New York’s A-list by being an easy mark. Even as the two members of her entourage snarled like guard dogs, Griffin let Jobe’s remark slide off her back. “It’s a benefit for victims of supervillain violence. A cause that I’m sure that you all can feel some sympathy for.”
“Oh, the Beast feels all kinds of sympathy for those losers,” Jobe droned. “Even when they come at her with fire axes. The simple, logical thing to do would be to send them to the hospital, where the techs could MRI their brains to see if there’s some congenital defect that makes them do stupid things, but no, she just takes the axe away and enables their victim behavior.”
Would someone please remind me WHY I keep saving this asshole’s bacon?
“The centerpiece of the affair will be the Karedonian crown jewels,” Griffin continued without a pause or hitch.
“The Karedonian Crown jewels?” I echoed. “Displaying the crown jewels, a physical representation of the wealth that Gizmatic has managed to gather, despite the efforts of some of the greatest heroes in the world? At a benefit for the victims of Supervillain violence? Gizmatic may not have racked up the body count of m-er some supervillains, but he wasn’t exactly famous for protecting bystanders, either!”
“Of course!” cooed the remaining trendoid. “Shove a poor crippled child who lost an eye or leg- or even a parent- under the nose of the AdMass, and they yawn, because, well, there’s so MUCH of that in this violent world. How are the victims of supervillain violence really that different from people who’ve been crippled by land mines, or sectarian violence, or even traffic accidents? If anything, they’re annoyed by being guilt-tripped and hit up for money.”
“But!” Griffin cut in, no doubt by some sort of pre-arrangement, “If they are drawn in, seduced by the beauty, the wealth, the glamour, and subtly reminded of the human costs? Not bludgeoned over the head with it like those Christian Appeal commercials with their Keane-eyed starving waifs, but simply reminded in a matter-of-fact way that they can’t reject, even as it doesn’t ruin the mood of the party. If anything, it will give the Righteous Indignation addicts something to harp on about, and they’ll wind up making our contribution pitches for us, even as they set themselves up to be obliged to make major donations themselves.” She finished with an acid smirk.
“Problem,” I put in, wanting to stop the train wreck that I saw chugging down the track before the engine built up any steam. “WHY would rich, influential people come to see the Karedonian crown jewels? Or should I say Karedonian crown JEWEL, singular? Because that sapphire is the only jewel they’ve got, just at the moment. So far, the rest of the crown jewels are just a bunch of drawings by Tiffany’s designers.”
“We were going to go to Faberge or Cartier’s Monday,” Belphoebe said. “We wanted to get the best selection of jewels possible, for the betrothal ceremony down in Karedonia Saturday.”
“BETROTHAL Ceremony?” Griffin echoed, “PERFECT! We’ll announce a competition between Tiffany’s, Faberge, and Cartier’s, maybe Harry Winston, Belenky Brothers, DeBeers… oh, and throw in a few of the hot new designers as well, they need the exposure. Erin Domesex, Alice Waese, Jenette Lai Thomas, Michelle Mason, like that…”
“Not Alexis Bittar?” the trendoid asked.
“No, leave him off the list,” Griffin mused, checking out Belphy.
“You know, he’ll be pissed.”
“Know? Eshu, I’m counting on it!” Griffin turned to me and said, “Miss Diabolik, the artistic temperament has one redeeming aspect: it makes a wonderful handle on them. Alexis Bittar got his start hawking jewelry on the streets. He’ll let out a scream that they could hear in Atlanta, if he’s left out. He’ll scream and turn the competition into THE jewelry event of the season, just by having a tantrum to be involved.” She studied Belphoebe for a moment. Then she took the NYT Fashion & Style section from Steph’s numb fingers, and held up the full-page Tiffany’s ad. “Right at this minute, everyone’s buzzing about Princess Jobe. She and her…” she took in the drow, “…court, will be THE sensation of the week. I’ll make sure of it! You girls are going to be at every hot event in New York for the next five days. Arledge! Contact Paulo Ciano, and arrange a photo shoot! Hopefully, Paolo won’t hold working on Sunday against me.”
“I’ve already made arrangements with Richard Davis Powers to do a shoot at One,” Stephanie put in.
The Griffin considered it. “Well, it’s better than someone’s kid brother with a Brownie, I suppose…”
“And exactly WHY am I supposed to go along with this?” Jobe sneered.
“But BOSS!” Freight Train sputtered. She tried to convince Jobe that this was a GOOD thing, that she should jump on it while the opportunity was there. Jobe just brushed her off. Belphy was really jazzed, but the Dark Matriarch could have been a statue carved in onyx. The Griffin looked at me. I gave her a bland look that said that this was none of MY business, she could peddle her papers by herself. By then Vamp had come back into the foyer with a plate of breakfast, and been updated by Bova. She cleared her throat as ‘Eshu’- that would be the remaining trendoid- was spinning some utter bilge. Once she had everyone’s attention, Alex slinked her way up the stairs and whispered something in Jobe’s ear. Jobe’s ears perked up and she said, “Okay, I’ll DO IT!”
As Stephanie hustled to ingratiate herself with The Griffin, I sidled up to Vamp and asked, “How’d you get Jobe to go along with that?”
“I just pointed out that the more publicity she got, the less Emperor Daddikins could ignore her,” Vamp smirked. “And it doesn’t matter whether King Wilkins shines it on or not; Mrs. Griffin may not be from Boston, but I’ve seen that bitch’s type before. She’ll keep Jobe running around in circles all week, so she won’t have any time to get up to anything destructive.”
“Well… it’s a shot…”
Okay, I admit it, while I put on a display of sophisticated blasé disinterest, underneath it all, I was as jazzed as Freight Train and Belphy about doing a real live modeling photo shoot. Hey, gimme a break, I’m only 15!
GOD was it boring. Fashion photography is not about seizing the moment. It’s about anal-retentive OCD attention to lighting. Every time that whichever of the drow changed pose, there were a thousand teeny-tiny little adjustments to be made to the lighting, which had to be checked and double-checked. No wonder models have the reputation for being dopers they do; getting blasted is probably the only way that they can get through this crap.
Powers, the shutterbug that Stephanie had talked into doing the shoot, was exactly the sort that ‘Steff’ would consider her contemporary, a willowy ex-twink with a prima donna attitude and a Richard Avedon fixation. Powers was working the whole ‘photographer as suffering artist’ shtick, and being as big a prima donna as he could get away with. But give Mrs. Griffin her due, she handled his tantrums like a Second Grade teacher. A very experienced, highly paid Second Grade teacher.
Powers had the entire Drow Nation, all four of them, and he was trying to figure out which combination in what position worked best with what lighting to make that outfit look best. Even Freight Train, easily the most enthusiastic of the bunch, had a look that suggested that she was looking forward to the heady, reckless thrills of Algebra class back at Whateley. Belphy was sketching something out with her finger, and given her technological skills and the look on her face, I doubted that she was working on a better massage table. Bova was looking giving Jobe a worried sideways look. And Jobe was looking at Powers like she was ready to spit deadly acid at him.
And I’m not 100% sure that she can’t.
Even Erzili, who had been kind of miffed that she wasn’t going to be photoed, had a weary ‘I gave up Sunday morning TV for THIS?’ look to her.
Jadis was calmly telling Powers that if he didn’t want to wake up in a month looking like something out of Hieronymus Bosch, that he should seriously consider rewording his last comment to the Imperial Tantrum. Powers was revving up something that he would probably really regret later, and the Griffin was stirring her stumps to head off a possible wombat-ifying. So far, life as usual, if that word really applies to Whateley kids.
Then there was an ear-rattling sound like someone trying to shred sheet metal in a garbage disposal. A large fire suddenly broke out in the central area between the set and the cameras, and the vilest, most nose-raping smoke you could imagine filled the room. I had a brief glimpse of the Drowettes all reacting to the noise by clutching at their ears, and then the smoke got in my eyes.
Which was nowhere near as nice as the song makes it sound.
Now, fire and I do not get along, unless the fire is a nice, well-behaved thing that stays in the fireplace or bonfire. This one was not. It was sending up big nasty sheets of flame, and I couldn’t see anything, not that I was in any shape to move. Mind you, I heard a lot of feet beating it out of there. Struggling to get an idea of where the door should be, I looked around and had a brief flashback to Catechism Class as a horned demon, black as sin and as bestial as the Great Beast himself loomed out of the smoke.
Fortunately, I managed to keep a rein on my bladder until it registered that this was Jadis’ ‘beast form’. I struggled up to her, dang near coughing up a lung. *Vamp!* she said with that weird resonating, not quite grating voice she had when she was like that, *There’s a fire extinguisher over there. Get it, while I see if I can put that fire out without it*
Well, it may not have been a heartwarming outpouring of maternal concern, but at least it was directions. I staggered over in the general direction that Jadis indicated, and fell over a chair. Luckily, there was a coat draped over the chair, and I covered my nose and mouth with that. Stuffy, but better than breathing that smoke. I found the fire extinguisher and fought my way back to the fire. Jadis was gingerly trying to reach into the flames for some reason, but kept pulling her hands back at the last second. I squirted the fire with the fire extinguisher, but it didn’t do shit.
*Odd…* She-Beast said, *I can’t touch them. Flames shouldn’t burn me through my beast-skin, but these are getting through. They’re not spreading and catching other things on fire, and the fire extinguisher isn’t working… it’s some kind of magical working… but why… OH CRAP!* She grabbed me by the hand and dragged me out of the studio, into the street where the others had retreated. The Griffin, Powers, their entourages, ‘Steff’ and Bova were standing all in a bunch, but they weren’t looking back into the studio. Rather, they were all looking up. As the fact that an 8-foot tall (I’m guessing) demon had come out of the smoke just registered and started to trigger the expectable hysteria, when Freight Train’s body dropped from above, hitting the sidewalk hard.
“Jadis!” Bova screamed as she broke from the protective circle toward us, “JOBE! They grabbed Jobe and Belphy!” she indicated upwards.
Freight Train got up with a snarl, only her outfit worse for the wear. Give the PITA her due, Jobe really does build ‘em Tonka tough. Angie crouched and was about to jump right back into whatever, when Jadis dropped her beast-skin and stopped her. “Angie! Who is it? How many? What do they have?”
“What?” Angie startled, “oh, ah, they got… armor! And… guns! And they got Jobe and Belphy!”
Jadis let out a loud groaning sigh of disappointment, went ‘beastly’ again, and headed up to the rooftops, with Freight Train in close pursuit. The civilians gave us this weird look, and The Griffin looked like she was warming up to say something. But then Jadis yelled down from the rooftops, “VAMP! GRAB BOVA AND GET HER UP HERE!”
Steph had a blank moment, started to say something, reconsidered it, and said in a concerned tone of voice that wouldn’t have fooled a 6-year-old, “Oh, yes, please DO get dear cousin Jobe back safely!” Why do I get the impression that she’d been thinking of offering us money to NOT find Jobe?
I grabbed Bova and power jumped us all seven stories up to the rooftop. Well, almost. Freight Train reached down and grabbed me and pulled us up onto the rooftop like we were a couple of purses. SMALL purses, too. Jadis was looking intently around and said, “They were smart enough to learn from last time. They have Jobe and Belphy, and they didn’t stick around in case we caught on to their diversion. No sign of them. They must be lying low, or they’ve gone into one of the buildings. Bova, how good is your mental connection to either Jobe or Belphy?”
“Well, my connection to Princess Jobe is, of course, the stronger-”
“Don’t hedge words with me, Bova,” Jadis said with a ‘don’t waste my time; I don’t have a lot of it to spare’ tone of voice. “Where are they?”
“That way,” Bova pointed, “and Jobe’s really pissed. I think they’re being restrained somehow.”
“I’d be amazed if they weren’t,” Jadis gave the ‘follow me’ wave and started across the roof. “They’re upping their game after that amateur hour showing last night. Guys, expect that they’ve done some homework since last night, and they know something about the Drow and me. Vamp, you hold back with Bova, and make sure that nothing bad happens to her. Odds are they’ll use some sort of sonic device. If that happens, Bova and Freight Train will be in a world of hurt; you cover Bova, I’ll cover Angie, we take it out PDQ. Bova, did you think to grab Belphy’s bag of tricks?”
“Yes, but I-”
“You’ll have to do,” Jadis cut her off. “If you can, get it back to Belphy and let her wail with it. But in the meantime, just find something that you recognize and can use.”
Jadis was about to get more commander-in-the-field, but Bova cut her off. And why not? Jadis does it enough to everyone else. “Here! They went down here!” she pointed at a projecting stairwell. Not needing an order, Freight Train kicked in the door, and Jadis just barely managed to pull her back as something dropped mysterious gray balls, about the size of golf balls onto the stairs. Barely breaking stride, Jadis picked up Bova and jumped down the stairwell over the balls, and Freight Train did likewise with me. We burned rubber down the halls, until we came to a door that had been kicked in off its hinges. We went in, where a bunch of very spooked looking civilian chicks were hanging out. They just looked at us and pointed at the wall, which had been broken through.
We started through the hole, but Bova yelled, “Not there!” she pointed at a door on the other side of the room. “Jobe is through there!”
The four civilian chicks all reached for something, but Bova reached into Belphy’s purse and pulled out something vaguely pistol-like. She pointed it at the who’s-kidding-who-not-really-civilians and they stopped dead in their tracks. Freight Train did her number through the locked door, and Bova covered our exit.
“We’re catching up to them,” Bova said.
“We can expect those decoys to alert the snatch team,” Jadis said. “We can expect them to have split off a sub-team to form an ambush, while a skeleton crew gets Jobe and Belphy into a car. We can’t afford to let them slow us down, so-”
“RIGHT!” Freight Train yelled, and she put the pedal to the medal, and charged ahead of us right through the next door.
“That… wasn’t… what I had… in mind…” Jadis grated out. Still, it had a certain ‘Fortune favors the bold’ zing. The ambushers weren’t expecting it, or at least they hadn’t had time to set up anything really nasty. Angie just bulldozed right through them, scattering them like bowling pins. Unfortunately, while Angie can get up to 60 mph or so at a full charge, like her namesake freight train, she has real problems stopping once she gets up to that speed. She didn’t just charge past the gunmen, she went right through a brick wall.
On the upside, we could see through the hole in that wall, to where guys in mufti were lugging two girls in full-length Kevlar straightjackets down a staircase. “Vamp! Bova! We can’t afford to be flanked! Get those doinks guns away from them, and then get back to us! Take them out if you can, just disarm them if you can’t!” With that, she dived through the wall, putting up her beast skin as she did.
There were five gunmen in partial composite plate armor over flex suits, dark red main body with purple trim. Not the most eye-raping combo out there, but somebody still needs to consult a design consultant. They were already starting to get up, but most of them had dropped their weapons, some very serious-looking assault rifles with some under-slung goodie, and- get this- some sort of comic opera-looking polearms. We kicked the polearms away from the goons as they got up, and Bova snatched up one of the assault rifles. She pumped the under-slung whatever it was, and a pastel pink blob appeared on the face of the goon she was firing at. “Oh. Capture Gel,” I said. “But how did you know that it was that, and not a shotgun or a flame thrower or even a grenade launcher?”
“I didn’t,” Bova said simply as she chambered in another round and gooped up another goon.
I kicked away one of the assault rifles and grabbed for another one just as the goon managed to get a good grip on it. Showing very good form, he kipped up to a low crouch to try and wrestle it away from me. So, instead of pulling, I pushed, turning our tug-o-war into a bull-rush, pushed him over, flipped to another crouch of my own, and used his grip to throw him backwards. You will forgive me if I gloat ever so slightly as I recall one of the few nice things that any teacher has ever said to me. I was in Mr. Ito’s Basic Martial Arts class, and I’d just used a nasty little bit that my victim sparring partner loudly proclaimed was cheating. Mr. Ito looked at the bleeding wound minor boo-boo, pish-toshed any need for evacuation to the infirmary and asked me what I thought I was trying to do to the other student. To which I very sensibly replied, “Trying to hurt her.”
To which Ito-soke exclaimed that finally he had a student who actually UNDERSTOOD what the martial arts were really about. Of course, from there, he went on to rip apart my form, but really, does that take anything away from that lavish, if all-too deserved praise?
Oh, where were we? Oh yes, Bova and I were outnumbered and outgunned. Anyway, we gooped up the goons as best we could and headed for the door- yes, there was that handy hole in the wall, but just jumping into whatever mess that Jadis and Jobe were hip-deep in is something that, well, Freight Train would do.
The stairs went down into what I immediately identified as an upscale eatery, one of those duplex things with tables on a mezzanine, so you can look down on your fellow diners as they indulged in biscotti worship. The crowd seemed to be enjoying a late brunch, one of those champagne and pancakes affairs. Or they would have been enjoying it, if a small riot hadn’t broken out between two girls, four guys, and a huge, extremely belligerent cactus- well, that is if cacti came with four long flailing tentacles and a large fanged maw. Now, the sensible thing for the diners to do would have been to immediately evacuate the place, and let the fight go on without them. But then, we are talking about New Yorkers, and as any good Bostonian knows, for all their gassing about how sharp, savvy, and sophisticated they are, most New Yorkers lack the simple basic sense to move someplace actually civilized. Like, say, Boston. No, they’d stood in line for hours to pay $100 for a meal that any halfwit college kid could have whipped up with a bottle of Bollinger’s® and a box of Bisquick™, and by God, they were going to get that meal, urban havoc be damned!
Jadis was in her full She-Bestial glory, trying to prune that satanic succulent, and Freight Train had her back to the door that the three goons in mufti where trying to get through. Two of the goons had telescoping polearms with glowing heads out and were jabbing furiously at Angie, who was doing a very good job of keeping them at bay with her feet. The third one had one of the drow over his shoulder and was trying to keep the furiously wriggling other one under wraps.
As Bova and I came down the stairs, Jadis yelled, *Bova! Go get some Mistletoe!*
*Look, this thing is TOUGH, and unless there’s a Roman Catholic church within running distance of here, that’s the only sacred herb that has enough juice to put this thing down!*
“Jadis, it’s way too late for there to be any mistletoe around!” I pointed out, “Is there anything else, or do I google for a church in the area?”
*Let’s see…* Jadis racked her brain as best she could while she was wrestling with a bonsai Whomping Willow, *There’s Yarrow…*
“Jadis, I wouldn’t know Yarrow if it walked up and BIT me!” Bova pointed out.
*It’s the classical term for Common Vervain, it-*
“Vervain? Why didn’t you SAY so?” She scampered off in the general direction of the kitchen. I tried to help by grabbing one of the tendrils, and I’d like to say that I comported myself with distinction. Yes, I’d really like to say that…
Between the three of us, Jadis, the Yucky Yucca and I had managed to trash four tables and a matching number of chairs by the time that Bova came skittering back out. “Jadis! Catch!” She threw a glass screw-top bottle of something brown, which She-Beast caught on the fly. With a wrench, she twisted around and shoved the bottle into the Sump-Thing’s mouth and crushed the bottle. The Wicked Weed screamed, wrenched free, and started thrashing around.
As Bova and I cleared the looky-loos back to a safe distance, Jadis advanced, probably to get around the Weedy Whacker and flank the guys who were holding Jobe and Belphy. But a blue-and-white blur streaked in through the doors, trashing them, and plowing right into the Root of All Icky. Squaring herself, the caped girl grabbed the Uncommon Garden Pest and ripped it out of its roots (and completely wrecking the parquet). She tossed the Wilting Terror to one of the walls, and looked around, trying to figure out what was going on. “She-Beast?”
“MEGA-GIRL?” Jadis yelped, dropping her beast skin. “What the hell are YOU doing here?”
“Hey, there was a report of some guys being chased over the roofs by this big ugly monster! What that-”
“DON’T! Even! GO there!” Jadis snarled. And from there, it got pretty scrabbly, what with us trying to keep those three guys from getting away with Jobe or Belphy, while not actually hurting Marty, who may be a ditz, but she’s still a Whateley kid. Those guys that we thought were still safely gooped got in on the action, and I think that Marty mistook them for Jadis’ minions.
Please! Everyone knows that Jadis doesn’t do minions. She’s way too busy bossing around people she doesn’t have to pay.
It turned out that those ‘comic opera’ polearms they were using weren’t quite so comic after all. Definite ouchie there, when they connected, and these guys were pretty good. One of the goons went for Bova, but she pulled out that pistol looking thing and pointed it at him with malice aforethought. It settled out that he was the only one of that bunch that we managed to keep. The rest managed to make it out that back door, though we managed to keep Belphy and Jobe from being taken along for the ride.
Finally, Mega-Girl picked up one of the straight-jacketed drow and tore her out. Before Marty could say antthing, Jobe yelled, “Would someone call the COPS? I would have been out of that thing FIVE MINUTES AGO, if you hadn’t butted in!”
Marty wilted, and then there was the sound of clicking and whirring that was quite familiar to me from earlier. Looking out the window, we spotted Powers clicking away with a camera.
His assistants were actually assisting, one of them taking light samples and reeling the information off, another prepping another camera with film, and the third was fiddling with putting a special lens on yet another camera. Y’know, for someone who’s as anal as Powers is about getting everything just so for a shoot, he was really in the zone, improvising his shooting for this. Maybe he’s a frustrated combat photographer. The Griffin was right there with her entourage as well, and they were all talking away into their phones. Oh, and there was a small crowd of gawkers snapping pictures with digital cameras and cell phones.
Is there an inoculation for keeping an image from going viral?
You could see Marty go pale even through her mask and made a small squeaking noise, like you stepped on a Yorkie’s tail. She looked around frantically, then dropped everything and flew up the stairs.
Jadis let out a sigh and looked at Bova. “By the way- where did you get a bottle full of Essence of Vervain??”
Bova just flicked her a strained look back and pointed a finger at one of the blackboard menus. It said that today’s afternoon special was a soup made with, among other things, vervain.
“Wait a minute… you’re telling me that this place makes soups with Vervain?”
We looked around at each other, and we were gearing up for a good bitchy crack, when four NYPD cops in riot armor came through the door with shotguns. “FREEZE!” one of them shrieked in the training course dictated borderline hysteria, with that touch of a shrill that suggests that, yes, he really IS this close to smoking your ass if you don’t do just as he says.
We just stood stock still, even Freight Train, whose instincts don’t really run in that direction. Hey, they may not be LAPD, but these guys are dangerous. I just wish that I had Jadis’ understanding of the legal system; I mean, I seriously doubt that we’ve done anything illegal, but we ARE mutants. It’s a question. They came in and two of them pointed shotguns at Bova, who’s easily the least dangerous of us. “PUT! DOWN! THE GUN!”
“I SAID! PUT DOWN! THE GUN!”
With a ‘Gawd, what an idiot you’re being’, Bova pointed the gun at her head-
-and started blow-drying her hair.
The Cops gave Bova a look like she’d set them up to look stupid, but then they all snapped around and aimed their guns at Jadis. “WHAT? DO YOU? THINK? YOU’RE DOING?”
“I’m doing the very last thing you want.” She pulled out her phone. “I’m calling my lawyer. Hello, Parky? I hate to bother you on a Sunday but…”
There was all the finger-pointing and wailing and confusion and general nastiness that you could expect from this sort of situation. Especially when it involves an ‘Unclassifiable Aggressive Belligerent’, which is Cop-speak for a demon. According to Jadis, the courts don’t recognize Magic (except as ‘Nonspecific Paranormal Phenomena’) or Spirits or the Undead, again except under some rubber stamp with ‘paranormal’ or ‘preternatural’ or something like that. Even with all the weirdness in the world, the Law doesn’t recognize anything that it can’t define. And nobody wants to go on record saying ‘it was a demon’. People look at you funny when you use the ‘D’ word.
But given the sheer amount of images, even NYPD’s notoriously exacting Paranormal Crimes Division couldn’t fault us. Okay, they could have faulted us for not calling it in first, but there were *ahem!* ‘responsible adults on the scene who should have done that. And there was no way that they were messing with anyone as heavily connected as The Griffin. So, Jobe promised (or at least Jadis promised that Jobe would promise) to reimburse the eatery for the costs of the doors and the parquet, and that was pretty much it. We slogged through the paperwork, and after about three hours of it, we were free to go.
As we were wrapping up, Jadis went to Mrs. Griffin and said, “Well, I’m sorry that it went down like this. And I can’t guarantee that something like this won’t happen again. So I’ll understand if you want to reconsider.”
“Reconsider?” The Griffin snorted a laugh, swept a hand at the news crews outside the diner and said, “Are you KIDDING? You can’t BUY coverage like this!”