New York, Saturday May 19th, 2007
I was deep in the bowels of the Imp Lair, secure within my hidden sanctuary as I considered one of the greatest evils known to man. Or in other words, was sitting back in my condo, curled up in my big comfy recliner with a glass of wine in one hand and a cheesy supernatural romance novel in the other. The novel was complete and utter trash, but I just couldn’t put it down.
“Whoever heard of sparkling vampires?” I asked with a snort of disgust.
I took a sip of my wine, then finally set the book aside, regretting that I’d contaminated my brain with it in the first place. I didn’t usually read a lot of fiction, other than the occasional hot and steamy romance novel, but I’d started that one on an impulse. “Bad brain, no biscuit,” I muttered. I really should have started on that biography about a little known sculptor named Jean Henri Dumont instead. That was a little more along the lines of my usual reading habits anyway.
Between the book and wine, I’d been trying to distract myself from the events of the last couple days, though I still found myself thinking about the heist. My part had gone smoothly, and I’d managed to get in and out without any problems. However, that was the only part of the heist that had gone as planned…or at least according to what I’d thought had been planned.
The others had all gotten the ebidium as planned, but then they ran into the Shielders on the way out. Of course, we’d known that might happen which was why we’d increased our numbers a bit. However, I still thought the whole fight was pointless and could have been avoided. That was the whole problem with smash and grab tactics…everyone knew you were there and showed up to stop you.
After we’d gotten away from the Shielders with the goods in hand, Mauler turned around and stabbed us all in the back. I scowled as I thought about Monkeywrench, who’d been murdered before he’d ever even had a chance. Unfortunately, that was just one of the downsides of our business…a business that the kid had no business being in.
And though I did feel bad about Monkeywrench, I was also pissed about the fact that Mauler had tried to kill me too, and then he’d run off with the entire haul. I probably would have overlooked the whole trying to kill me thing since that was just part of the business, but he’d also taken my share of the ebidium, which was worth a couple million…enough to keep me in paint and Cheetos for a long time.
Going after Mauler wasn’t really about revenge but was more of a professional necessity. If I let him get away with that, word would get out that I was a gullible mark and other people might start to think they could double-cross me too.
Just then, my Imp phone started going off, playing a tune from the Who song Pinball Wizard, which told me exactly who was calling. I picked up the phone and answered, “Imp’s Road Kill Café. You kill it we grill it…”
Pinball chuckled on the other end and responded, “I’ll have a large possum pizza with a side order of squirrel bites.”
“And would you like to supersize that?” I asked with a cheerfulness I didn’t really feel at the moment. “Oh, we’re also having a special on catburger. We just got in a big shipment that fell off the front of a truck…”
“Now, as tasty as that sounds,” Pinball said, sounding somewhat amused, “that isn’t why I called.”
I nodded at that, even though she couldn’t see that through the phone. I slipped into a more serious tone and stated, “Mauler.”
“My sources say he’s in New York,” Pinball told me.
“I know,” I responded with scowl. “From what I’ve been able to find out, he made the meet with the go-between and they went ahead the exchange, even without the chip. My sources say he’s still in New York too, but I haven’t been able to find out where…yet.”
“You’re going after him,” Pinball gasped. “Don’t… You know you’re no match for him…”
“I’m insulted you think so little of me,” I responded with an exasperated sigh and a roll of my eyes. “I was going to find where he has the money, then rob him blind when he isn’t looking.”
Pinball chuckled at that. “Yeah, that sounds more like you. Do you need help? I can be in New York in a day or so…”
This time, I let out a loud snort. “Thanks, but that won’t be necessary. In fact, if you start bouncing around Manhattan like it was a giant pinball machine, you’ll just get the Empire City Guard involved, and that’s the last thing we want.”
“All right,” Pinball reluctantly agreed. “New York is your home territory and I wouldn’t have any idea of where to start, so you can take the lead on this one. But if you need help, Highwayman and I will be there.”
“If I recover the cash, I’ll make sure you guys get your share,” I assured her. “And Hexfire too. I wouldn’t want her to find out I was holding back on her.”
Pinball agreed, “I wouldn’t either. I think we should send Monkeywrench’s share to his family. After all, he certainly paid enough for it.”
“I can’t argue with that,” I said with a sigh. “Oh, I hear the White Lady is still in New York, so I’m trying to get a meeting with her before she leaves town. Maybe I can sell that chip to her. And don’t worry, I’ll make sure you guys get your share of that too.”
“I trust you with that,” Pinball assured me, though she quickly added, “To a point. If you planned on screwing Highwayman and I out of our share, you wouldn’t have told us you still had the chip in the first place.”
Pinball and I talked for a few more minutes before we ended the conversation. For the moment, Pinball and Highwayman were going to let me deal with Mauler on my own, but I knew that wouldn’t last. After all, I wasn’t the only one whose professional reputation was on the line after what he’d done. I suspected that the only reason the two of them weren’t in New York chasing after that bastard themselves was because of Highwayman’s injuries.
I briefly considered what to do with Mauler, but decided that what I really needed at the moment, was just to take my mind off things and have some fun. And I didn’t mean with a book that I didn’t like either. With a grin, I quickly went and changed into my working clothes, then grabbed a carton of eggs from the fridge. A short time later, I was cheerfully singing to myself and bopping along with the music in my head as I left my condo.
About an hour after I’d left my condo, I was standing on the roof of a building, using my aura to stay hidden while I watched the streets below and the sky above. It was pretty late out, but this was New York, a city that never truly went to sleep. This particular area was a frequent sighting spot for super heroes, and it wasn’t uncommon to see someone flying past as they traveled from one end of Manhattan to the other. I was hoping that I’d be able to catch another one soon, because egging super heroes was not only fun, but also a great way to blow off steam.
I didn’t have to wait much longer before I saw my target, some hero who was flying past, staying low enough so that he could get a good view of the streets. Heroes who were out on patrol liked to stay low for that very reason, which made them easier targets. I grinned to myself, focused most of the energy in my aura to my hand, and then I released it into the egg as I threw it…giving it the extra oomph it needed to fly that distance. The egg caught him right in the face and I had to clamp my hand over my mouth to keep from bursting out in laugher, which would have given me away.
“Who threw that?” the hero demanded, wiping the egg from his face and staring at his yoke covered hand, then looking around with an angry glare. I just crouched down, using my aura to remain hidden from sight. I just hoped he didn’t have some kind of enhanced senses that would let him spot me, because that was always annoying. Fortunately, he didn’t seem to have anything like that, because his eyes swept right past my location without stopping. “Come out and face me.”
The hero spent the next fifteen minutes flying around in circles, trying to see who’d thrown the egg. I was tempted to jump out and yell “BOO” when he came close, but managed to restrain myself. However, when he finally gave up and started to fly away, I let loose with a second egg, catching him in the shoulder and earning a loud stream of profanity, which didn’t quite mesh with the squeaky clean image a lot of his type tried to project.
After I’d slipped away, I decided to go fishing in a new location. I carefully crept around some rooftops, keeping an eye out for likely targets. And though I didn’t see any more heroes, I did catch sight of a mugger. Or at least, I assumed the guy was a mugger by the way he was slowly following behind another man, looking as though he was getting ready to pounce. I sneered in contempt since I really didn’t like muggers. They were the kind of lazy thugs that gave professional criminals like myself a bad name.
When the mugger pulled out a knife, confirming his intentions, I grinned and threw an egg at him. I hit the mugger in the back, causing him to let out a loud yelp, which warned his would be victim. As the would be victim ran off, the mugger snapped around, waving his knife around as he tried to see who’d hit him. This time, I didn’t bother to hold back my laughter as I hurried away.
Just a few minutes later, I suddenly heard something from below that immediately caught my attention. It was the unmistakable sound of someone shaking a can of spray paint and then using it. Normally, I wouldn’t really have paid any attention to some petty graffiti, but over the last month, someone had been tagging walls with my logo. Out of curiosity, I moved closer, jumping off the building so I could see what was being painted. In mere seconds, I had a clear view of the wall being painted, and of my logo which was in the process of being placed on it. However, there was no sign of who was doing it.
“What the…?” I started, startled since I could see the paint forming on the wall, though I couldn’t see the artist doing it. However, after a second, I did notice the paint can…floating in the air. “Telekinesis or invisibility,” I mused, taking an egg and throwing right towards where the artist would be standing if they were invisible.
As soon as the egg hit, there was a high pitched shriek as a figure suddenly popped into view. The person holding the spray paint can was a teenage girl, looking about thirteen or fourteen. She had long blonde hair and a cute face, the kind that would probably be considered quite beautiful once she was a few years older. However, what really drew my attention was the fact that she was wearing a pair of cheap plastic devil horns on her forehead, the kind that came from a Halloween costume, and a matching costume piece tail.
“I’ve got you now, imp-poster,” I exclaimed, jumping down in front of her.
The girl let out another shriek at the sight of me, but to my surprise, she didn’t look afraid. Instead, she looked…excited. “You’re the Imp,” the girl exclaimed, literally bouncing with excitement. “Oh my God, it’s really you… I’m your biggest fan…”
I blinked at that, feeling a bit confused because this wasn’t the kind of reaction I was expecting. “Really?” I asked wryly, pointing to the horns on her head. “I guess that would explain those.”
The girl blushed as she took the horns off, then proudly blurted out, “I’m the president of your fan club…”
I blinked again. “I have a fan club?”
“Will you sign my horns,” the girl begged, holding the plastic costume piece out to me. “Please…”
This whole encounter was turning out weirder and weirder by the moment. Still, the kid seemed fairly harmless. “I don’t have a pen on me…” She quickly began patting her pockets, but the disappointed look on her face was enough to tell me that she didn’t have one either. “Now then, what in the world do you think you’re doing?” The girl gave me a blank look. I pointed to my logo, which was only half painted on the wall. “Thanks to you, all the local gangs think I’m trying to move in on their territory…”
“Oh,” she gasped, her eyes going wide. “I’m sorry… I just wanted to show how cool you were…”
I rubbed my temples at that, wondering if I was on Candid Camera or something. I’d spent the last month being pissed off at whoever was painting my logo everywhere, but it was hard to be mad with this kid.
“Okay,” I said with an exasperated sigh. “Who are you, kid?”
“I’m Melissa,” she started, then quickly added, “But my codename is Mischief, because my dad says I’m always getting into mischief…”
“I can see that,” I responded wryly. She was a teenage girl, running around in the middle of the night and vandalizing buildings with the logo of an infamous…and completely fabulous super villain. I had a feeling that her dad really had his hands full with her.
“Or at least it will be, once I get my MID,” Melissa continued, deflating a little bit. “I really hope Mischief isn’t taken… I heard that sometimes all the good names get taken and you have to pick a new one… Do you think anyone else is using my name?” She gave me a hopeful look at that.
“I don’t know anyone else calling themselves Mischief,” I admitted, giving this girl a curious look. My eyes went to my logo on the wall, then I asked, “You’re the one who broke into that art gallery…aren’t you?”
Melissa suddenly grinned proudly. “You heard about that?”
“I usually do hear about it when someone frames me for a crime,” I pointed out, giving her a flat look.
Once again, Melissa seemed to deflate at that. “I’m sorry,” she nearly whined, “I didn’t mean to frame you or anything… I was just trying to be like you…”
I snorted at that. “I wouldn’t have left the paintings behind…” Then seeing her deflate even further, I couldn’t help but feeling just a little guilty…even though I realized it was absolutely ridiculous for me to feel that way when she was the one who’d framed me. “How did you get in anyway? I didn’t see any of the usual indications.” Of course, the invisibility thing she’d already demonstrated would certainly explain that…and why the security cameras hadn’t seen anything.
Melissa suddenly got excited again, making me wonder if she was bipolar or something. “I walked through the wall,” she exclaimed proudly.
“Invisibility and walking through walls,” I mused. I had to admit, those could definitely be some useful abilities for someone in my line of work.
“And I can teleport too,” Melissa bragged, though she deflated just a tiny bit as she admitted, “But not very far…”
“Those are some pretty good powers,” I admitted, which only seemed to make her bubble up with excitement again. Her bouncing mood swings were enough to make me dizzy. After a moment, I shook my head and let out a sigh, wondering how in the world I’d suddenly ended up stuck in the role of a responsible adult. That was just…weird. “Does your dad know you’re out doing this?” I gestured to the wall.
Once again, Melissa seemed to deflate in front of me. “No,” she admitted quietly, suddenly looking ashamed. “He doesn’t even know I’m a mutant yet…” I didn’t know what to say to that, but Melissa didn’t seem to expect a response. Instead, she had a depressed look on her face as she continued, “Dad wouldn’t understand… All he cares about is his stupid job. He doesn’t care about me at all…”
I winced at that, suddenly having been struck right in the feels. I could definitely sympathize, because Melissa’s relationship with her father sounded far too much like mine had been with my own parents. And all of a suddenly, it almost felt like I was looking at a much younger version of myself. In fact, I hadn’t really been all that much older than she was when I ran away from home and first got started in the business.
“Look,” I said gently, feeling extremely awkward to be talking to her like this. “I don’t really know you or your dad, and I’m probably one of the worst people to give any kind of family advice, but don’t you think you should at least tell him you’re a mutant?”
Melissa nodded faintly at that, though she was almost pouting as she said, “But Dad NEVER understands me…” I found myself nodding in understanding.
“But what about your mom?” I asked.
Melissa looked even more depressed at that. “She died when I was little.”
I felt another pang of sympathy for the girl. “I’m sorry to hear that. Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
Melissa shook her head. “No. It’s just me and Dad.”
“Well, is your dad of those Humanity First people?” I asked, knowing that if her dad was with Humanity First or one of those other anti-mutant groups, then coming out to him would probably be a bad idea.
Melissa shook her head. “No, Dad isn’t like that…”
“Then, are you afraid he’ll kick you out?” I asked. Melissa shook her head again. “Or maybe you’re afraid he’ll amputate your tail to try making you normal…”
Melissa’s eyes went to my tail and widened. After a moment, she protested, “I don’t have a tail…”
“Then what do you call this?” I joked, grabbing the costume tail she had clipped onto her belt. Melissa giggled at that. “Then I don’t see what you’re worried about.”
I might be an expert at the whole witty banter thing, but it looked like my pep talk skills needed work. Melissa stood there with a pouty look on her face, obviously not happy with the idea of telling her family that she was a mutant. Then again, considering how my own family reacted, I couldn’t really blame her. Of course, there was always the possibility that what she was really worried about was having to admit what she’d been up to with her new powers.
“Will you teach me how to be a super villain?” Melissa abruptly asked me, suddenly bursting with excitement again. “Please…”
“What?” I blinked in surprise. “No…”
“I can do it,” Melissa insisted. “I’ve got really awesome powers…”
“Yes you do,” I agreed, reaching out and ruffling her hair, which got a faint look of annoyance in response. “But what I do for a living… Well…it isn’t the kind of career you should get into on a whim.” I suddenly thought of Monkeywrench and the way he’d looked after Mauler had killed him. I grimaced at that and quietly told Melissa, “Trust me on that. This is a dangerous business and you don’t want to get into it without a lot of training and preparation.”
“I guess,” Melissa said, looking disappointed again. However, that didn’t last more than a few seconds before she asked, “Can I at least talk to you again? I mean, you still haven’t signed my horns…”
I grinned at her enthusiasm and responded, “If we ever run into each other again, and if you have a pen on you, I just might give you an autograph of the one and only, genuine, fabulous Imp.”
“Really?” the girl exclaimed, nearly bouncing with excitement again.
“Really,” I told her with a grin. Then, just as I was about to turn to leave, I suddenly remembered something. “Oh, and stop tagging everything and framing me for robberies. It tends to…confuse things.”
“I won’t,” she promised.
“And don’t start doing it for anyone else either,” I added, deciding that I’d better point this out before she gets into even more trouble. “Most people in my business won’t be as understanding about this as I am.”
“I won’t,” she repeated. “I promise.”
Then as I turned to leave, Melissa called out, “Goodbye Imp… It was really nice meeting you…”
“You too, Mischief,” I called back before I scrambled up a nearby wall and hurried away. When I looked back, Melissa was gone.
I felt a momentary pang of guilt, suddenly wondering if I should have done more to discourage the girl from going into my line of work. Or maybe I should have taken her straight home, just to make sure she made it back safely. However, I would have been a complete hypocrite if I’d done either of those things. And of course, she’d been going out on her own like that for at least a month, and with powers like hers, I suspected that she’d be able to avoid trouble quite easily. Still, she was just a kid and something didn’t sit quite right with me for leaving her alone on the streets that way.
“What a weird kid,” I mused, though I found myself grinning as I said it. I kind of liked the kid and her bubbly enthusiasm, though it was a bit strange having my own groupie. “But at least she has great taste in role models.”
New York, Sunday May 20th, 2007
It was late afternoon when I arrived at my destination, a very old and expensive hotel that had a reputation among certain circles for being discreet and asking no questions of their guests, other than what method they would use to pay. I’d parked my motorcycle in their private parking garage, then let myself inside the hotel without drawing any attention. I doubted that the hotel staff would have any problems with my presence or occupation, though if they knew I was there, they’d probably keep a close watch on me just to make sure I didn’t ‘inconvenience’ any of their current guests.
When I arrived at the entrance to the penthouse suite, I wasn’t at all surprised to find two men were standing guard there. One was tall and thin, the other short and stocky, and both wore nice suits with faint bulges that indicated they were armed.
“If it isn’t Mario and Luigi,” I greeted the guards with a broad grin, making sure to keep my hands visible so they could see I wasn’t armed. “Is the princess home?”
The tall guard just gave me a look of grim disapproval, but the short one smiled faintly and responded, “Sorry, but your princess is in another castle. However, the queen is home and she’s been expecting you.”
With that, the guards called inside to announce that I was there, then they opened the door and let me in. I stepped into the penthouse suite and took a quick look around, mentally noting the expensive decorations that had been provided by the hotel. Of course, none of this was really any surprise to me since I’d been in this very penthouse before…and not as a guest.
A young woman met me next to the door and said, “Right this way, Miss Imp.”
“Thank you, Yoshi,” I responded pleasantly. She didn’t even blink at the nickname, which kind of took the fun out of it.
Yoshi took me to the large sitting room, and the woman who was seated in a chair, somehow making it look almost as though it was a throne. She had pure white skin, the same color as freshly fallen snow or a piece of chalk. Her long hair was the same white color as her skin and was done up in some kind of fancy braided style. The dress she currently wore was both elegant and old fashioned, not to mention completely white. In fact, the only real color to this woman was provided by her crimson nail polish and lipstick, and of course, the ruby earrings and necklace she wore. One look at her was enough to see why she was called the White Lady.
“Bounjour, Madame Imp,” the White Lady greeted me politely. “Please, have a seat.” She gestured to the chair across from her.
“Thank you,” I responded, silently reminding myself to be on my best behavior. The White Lady was someone I actually wanted to take me seriously, at least for the purpose of this discussion. “And thank you for agreeing to see me.”
“We have had business dealings before,” the White Lady told me. “Indirectly, of course. However, I do owe a favorite piece of my home décor to your efforts, and I extend this courtesy in large part to ensure good will should I ever require your services again in the future.”
“And I will remember this,” I told her politely. What neither of us said aloud was that if I did another job for her, I’d be expected to give her a nice discount.
A moment later, Yoshi set down two glasses and filled them with wine. I accepted mine without a word and took a sip, noting that it was a pretty good vintage. Though I enjoyed a good wine, I’d never really considered myself a wine snob. However, drinking wine like this on a regular basis might be enough to make me reconsider.
“Now then,” the White Lady said, fixing me with her pale silver eyes. “I believe you wished to discuss a business arrangement I may have had with the Mauler.”
I nodded at that, biting my tongue to keep from saying something I shouldn’t. “Yes. As you probably know, I was part of the crew that retrieved the merchandise. Afterwards, Mauler turned on us, killing one of our members and taking the goods.”
“I see,” the White Lady mused. She took a sip of her wine, then said, “I fear that there is little I can do for you in this matter. You see, I merely acted as the facilitator in an exchange between Mauler and another party, and this exchange has already taken place. The arrangement was with the Mauler, so as a subcontractor, you will need to take your grievance to him.”
“I understand,” I replied patiently, not at all surprised by her position since this was exactly what I’d expected. I’d told her this more to explain the situation than because I expected her to do anything about it.
“Might I suggest,” the White Lady continued, “that you file a complaint with the Syndicate. If nothing else, this may provide a warning to others who wish to do business with the Mauler.”
“A good idea,” I agreed, though this wouldn’t do anything about Monkeywrench or the money that Mauler owed us. “Actually, I wasn’t here trying to ask for compensation for my work with the ebidium…though admittedly, I am curious about why anyone would pay so much for heavy metal.” I smirked faintly and then bit my tongue to keep from making a joke about rock music. Instead, I added, “I mean, I’ve never even heard of the stuff before, and it seems way too heavy to use for jewelry or armor…”
“Oui,” the White Lady responded, looking faintly amused…very faintly. “Ebidium is far too heavy for such uses, but it does have other properties that are highly prized. Ebidium is quite…stable.” She said the word ‘stable’ as though not quite certain it was the best word. “It can insulate against certain types of energies and warper effects. If a safe was to be lined with this metal, one such as Tinsnip would not be able to pass through the metal…”
That immediately caught my attention since I had a great deal of interest in different types of safes…and their weaknesses. “That sounds useful.” However, Tinsnip was an assassin rather than a thief, so I doubted anyone would spend that much money just to create a safe to keep him out.
The White Lady nodded her head slightly. “But of even greater import is the fact that ebidium is completely immune to magic.”
“Doesn’t iron do that already?” I asked with a snort. “And it’s a LOT cheaper…”
“Iron disrupts many types of magic,” the White Lady corrected me, “but ebidium acts as an insulator against nearly every type of known magic. If a safe was to be made with this metal, magic could not force the safe open nor even touch that which is held within.”
“That does sound useful,” I agreed, thinking of the various magic users who were in the business. I smirked faintly as I imagined some of them trying to get into an ebidium safe, though I was confident that I wouldn’t have a problem. After all, from what the White Lady said, I should still be able to crack it the old fashioned way.
“Indeed,” she agreed, taking a sip of the wine. “But I am certain that you didn’t come to see me merely to ask about ebidium.”
“No, I didn’t,” I agreed grimly. “I came here for two reasons. One is that I was hoping you might know where I could find Mauler.”
The White Lady was silent for a moment, then said, “Though I sympathize with your reasons for trying to locate Mauler, I will not take sides in your dispute.”
“Perhaps I can offer a favor in exchange,” I suggested, deciding that I could afford to do a job for her in exchange for this information.
“A tempting offer,” the White Lady admitted. “However, the Mauler has been an acceptable business associate and has made no move against me or my own, so it would be poor form to initiate hostilities against him unnecessarily.”
I let out a sigh of disappointment at that. “I understand.” I took a slow sip of my wine, keeping my eyes on the White Lady as I did so. Once I set the glass back down, I said, “Then I suppose it’s time to get to the main reason I asked to speak with you. The computer chip.”
The White Lady gave me a curious look and casually asked, “What computer chip would this be?”
“The one you asked Mauler to retrieve for you,” I answered pleasantly. However, there was no look of recognition in the White Lady’s eyes, so I realized something was wrong. I scowled, then explained, “When Mauler brought me in on the job, he said that it was because you asked him to recover a computer chip from Sartek at the same time he was getting the ebidium.”
“It seems you have been misinformed,” the White Lady responded with a cold tone in her voice. “I have never discussed any computer chip with the Mauler, and I am quite certain that the other party in our agreement has little interest in such things. Whatever the Mauler told you, I can assure you that I have no knowledge of this chip.”
“So, that rat bastard pulled a Pinocchio on me,” I snarled in annoyance. I was about to say more, but then remembered who I was talking to. The White Lady was less super villain and more Don Corleone, and she had a reputation for being very serious about good manners and being polite. Since I didn’t want to risk offending her, I said, “I’m sorry… I’m just a bit frustrated. I’d come here thinking that I could sell you the chip, but it seems that things aren’t quite what I thought.”
“I understand completely,” the White Lady responded with a pleasant smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “I myself am somewhat displeased to learn that the Mauler has been using my name for such purposes. I consider it a breach of our professional relationship.”
Once again I found myself having to bite my tongue and choke back a smart-ass response. Instead, I said, “I suspect he’ll regret doing that.”
“Indeed,” the White Lady said. “I will discuss this issue with the Mauler in my own time.”
I nodded at that, strongly suspecting that Mauler wouldn’t like that particular discussion, though I kind of wished I could be there to listen in. Maybe with a big bowl of popcorn…with extra butter.
“Unfortunately,” the White Lady told me while giving me a steady look, “my resources in this city are quite limited, so I am unable to tell you where the Mauler is currently residing.”
I was a little startled at that since she was suggesting that if she knew where the Mauler was, she’d tell me, when just a couple minutes ago, she’d made it perfectly clear that she wouldn’t help me with that. Then again, that had been before she’d found out that Mauler was tossing her name around, suggesting to everyone else that she was involved in whatever he was up to. Messing with the reputation of someone like the White Lady was not usually a very smart move.
“However,” she continued, “I can tell you where he has recently been seen…”
The White Lady and I talked for a few more minutes before we were finished, and once we were, I stood up and politely told her, “I know you’re a busy woman, so thank you again for taking the time to see me. I’m a little disappointed that there is no arrangement for the chip, but I appreciate you clearing things up for me.”
“It was my pleasure,” the White Lady told me, just as politely as she stood up and walked with me to the door. Then as we reached the door, she gave me a faint smile, one that didn’t reach her eyes. “But if I should happen to discover that you have misled me about the Mauler, then I will be most displeased with you.”
“Of course,” I responded.
“Then bonne nuit, Madame Imp,” the White Lady said as I left. “Until we meet again.”
As soon as I’d stepped out the door and was past Mario and Luigi, I let out a sigh of relief. The White Lady had been perfectly polite the entire time, and she hadn’t been nearly as intimidating as some of the other people I did business with, but that meeting had still played havoc on my nerves. Ironically, it wasn’t the White Lady who made me so uncomfortable, at least not directly, it was the fact that I’d been forced to act polite and be on my best behavior the entire time. That always made me feel so boring…so constrained…so…fake. And even worse than that, it reminded me far too much of my time as a little girl…back before I’d manifested and had become the fabulous Imp I was today.
“Well,” I said, flashing a grin to Mario and Luigi, “I’m off to go find Bowser.”
“Good luck with that, Toadette,” Mario responded in a gruff tone that made me chuckle.
I grinned at Mario, giving him a bit of a wave before I hurried on my way. As I made my way back to where I’d left my bike, I mused, “After that, I think I need a drink.”
New York, Sunday evening, May 20th, 2007
I parked my bike in a nice out of the way alley, in a spot where it wouldn’t be noticed by any casual observer. In fact, I’d used that very spot on numerous occasions and knew that even most people who walked right down the alley would never notice it, not unless they tried to go around to the back side of the large dumpster, and then looked behind it.
As I left the alley, I picked a direction at random, knowing that it didn’t really matter where I went as long as I was looking for the Black Mask. Customers in good standing never had a problem finding the door, while those who weren’t welcome wouldn’t be able to find it no matter how much they looked. In fact, the only way a new customer was usually able to find the place, was if a customer in good standing brought them there the first time.
Almost as soon as I actually started looking for the Black Mask, I found the door, right in a space that I was sure had just been a blank wall a minute earlier. It was a large yet plain wooden door, one that didn’t really stand out much in this neighborhood. There was a black domino mask painted on the front, though there was no other sign to indicate the name or type of business on the other side, nor was there any need. Anyone who belonged in the bar would already know.
I stepped through the door and found myself inside the Black Mask. The soothing sounds of jazz music filled the air, courtesy of the band that was currently set up in the corner. I smiled, closing my eyes for a moment and finding it easy to imagine that this was a jazz club rather than a club for professional criminals.
Just a few seconds later, I was shaken out of my fantasy by a voice calling out, “Hey, Impy…”
A woman with wavy black hair and a mostly blue costume sat at the bar, waving for my attention. “Hey, Diamond,” I called back with a grin.
Blue Diamond was the self-proclaimed ‘World’s Most Lovable Super Villain’. It was a title she worked hard to live up to, usually only targeting people that no one liked while going out of her way to make sure all the witnesses were relaxed and having a good time. Once, I’d actually watched as a small crowd of civilians cheered her on, then turned around and started booing at the hero who showed up to stop her. Though I’d never admit it to Diamond, I might actually have been just a tiny bit jealous of her…and just a little annoyed. After all, everyone knew that I was more lovable than she was…or at least they should.
Once I reached the bar, I looked over at the bartender, Carl, and said, “Give me something a little bit obnoxious…” I was a little too distracted to think up a new drink name, but then again, ‘something obnoxious’ was actually a great name. In fact, I was glad I thought of it.
“So, what’s up?” I asked Diamond.
“Not much,” she responded cheerfully with a Long Island accent. “I did just do a job on this jerk of a CEO… Let me tell ya, it was great, ‘cause on the way out, his secretary gave me a gift card for Starbucks…”
I chuckled faintly as I imagined the scene, though it wasn’t really anything new…at least not as far as Blue Diamond was concerned. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really say that I’d ever had a bunch of witnesses cheering me on, but then again, I usually preferred to do my work when there wasn’t anyone around to watch.
Just then, Carl set a drink down on the bar in front of me and waited for my reaction. I took a sip and then nodded my approval. “Not bad…”
“A little obnoxious, just liked you asked for,” Carl told me with a faint smile. “I call it a Naughty Imp.”
Blue Diamond burst out laughing. “Oh, that is a good one… He’s got ya there, Impy.”
I took another sip, then grinned, “I like it. You should put it on the menu…”
Carl chuckled at that, expressing a little more emotion than I usually saw from him. He seemed quite pleased with himself as he turned and went back to work, making a drink for someone else.
“Hey, you know you’re famous when people start naming drinks after you,” I bragged to Diamond, who just chuckled some more.
Once she’d settled down, Diamond gave me a curious look and asked, “So, what have ya been up to lately?” From her expression, it was clear that she’d already heard some rumors.
“I’ve been busy,” I admitted with a shrug. “I was part of a crew that did a big job, and it went off without a hitch…” I paused at that, deciding not to mention the somewhat embarrassing…and painful detail of my being swung around by my tail. “But afterwards, our principal stabbed us in the back…”
“Ouch,” she responded sympathetically. Then she gave me a curious look before asking, “Does that have something to do with the polar bear?”
“Polar bear?” I asked in surprise, feeling a cold chill run down my spine because I could only think of one polar bear that might be related.
“Oh yeah,” Diamond said with a nod of her head. “Some polar bear showed up outside Superbad a few hours ago and beat up some guys. He was asking questions about a few guys in the biz, including you.”
“Fuzzy Wuzzy,” I said with an exasperated sigh.
“Fuzzy Wuzzy?” Diamond asked, giving me another curious look.
“His name,” I told her with a grin. “He used to call himself Polarstorm, but that just didn’t match his cute and cuddly exterior, so he changed it to something more appropriate.”
“Oh he did, did he?” Diamond responded with a skeptical snort.
“Yep,” I agreed with a cheerfulness I didn’t really feel. “Go ahead and spread it around. I think everyone should know about his name change…”
“Just like with Crash Test Dummy,” a new voice commented sarcastically from the side. “It figures, you’re too dense to get this one’s name right either…”
I looked over and saw the woman who spoke, and who just sat down at the bar a few stools away. She had red hair that was currently pulled back into a ponytail, and most people probably would have called her attractive. Personally, I thought she was just a little too plain looking to compete with a drop dead gorgeous Imp like myself. Now if she had some distinctive features, something like a tail and some stylish horns, then she’d look a lot better.
“Hey Howler,” I greeted her with a faint smirk.
“That’s HELLER,” she snapped in annoyance.
“Are you sure?” I teased, only to earn a glare and response.
Heller and I were well acquainted with each other, though I certainly wouldn’t say we were friends. We were both thieves of the cat burglar variety, so we did talk shop and trade tips on occasion, but just as often, we’d end up arguing over who was better. Of course, there was no argument since we both knew that I was the best thief, though she stubbornly refused to admit that fact.
The first time Heller and I met, the two of us were both trying to hit the same penthouse condo at the same time. This led to a small ‘misunderstanding’…and a fight that nearly resulted in both of us being pinched by some caped do-gooders.
“I hear that you let yourself get ripped off by Mauler,” Heller said with a catty smirk.
“With ears that big, you should be able to hear a lot,” I responded, only to see a flash of annoyance in her eyes. “Too bad you missed the fact that I, the infamous and brilliant Imp, cleverly outwitted him and gave him the wrong goods.” Of course, I didn’t mention that I’d actually given Mauler the decoy chip instead of the real one by accident. What mattered was that in the end, I was the one who walked away with the item.
Heller just gave me a dismissive snort. “The way I hear it, he got away with a quarter ton of ebidium…while you were left with table scraps… I keep telling you, you should learn from a real professional, like myself.”
“You’d know all about eating table scraps,” I teased her, my tail twitching back and forth as I did so. “Wouldn’t you Howler?”
Just then, one of the waitresses came over and stopped beside us, making Blue Diamond, Heller, and myself all turn to look at her. Brandi was a gorgeous and very busty blonde, the kind who looked like she should be a stripper or porn star. The truth was, Brandi was a mutant…an exemplar 1, which meant that she had just enough of the juice to give her the looks but not much else.
“Would any of you girls like to order something?” Brandi asked cheerfully. None of us were fooled about her real motivation, to break up our disagreement before it escalated like the last time.
“I’ll have a beer,” Heller told Brandi. “And I think the Imp will probably just have cheesy poofs or something…”
“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with cheesy poofs,” I protested. Then I grinned and told Brandi, “Actually, I’ll have the grilled salmon with the asparagus while Howler here will probably be happy with her usual bowl of Alpo.”
Heller and I glared at each other while Brandi quickly said, “Okay…. One beer, one salmon dinner, and will you have anything Diamond?”
“I’m good,” Blue Diamond responded, holding up her beer and smiling. “But thanks anyway, Sweetie.”
Brandi didn’t rush off immediately but obviously stayed just to make sure Heller and I didn’t get out of hand. I turned to Blue Diamond and said, “Let me know if you hear anything about Fuzzy Wuzzy, would you…”
“Sure thing, Sweetie,” Diamond responded with a smile.
Then I looked back to Heller and grudgingly said, “Congrats on that Paulson heist…”
Heller nodded faintly and responded, “I heard Sartek’s security is a real bitch, so good job.”
With that, I left Heller and Blue Diamond and made my way over to a small table in the corner where I’d be able to eat with relative privacy. While I waited for my food to arrive, I listened to the soothing jazz tune, letting my tail twitch back and forth in time to the music. One of the many advantages of having a tail was I could dance with it while the rest of my body acted all cool and collected for anyone watching.
I leaned back and savored the music as I did a little people watching, though I tried not to look as though I was watching anyone. After all, most of the customers in this place were professional criminals and many of them could get touchy about their privacy. In fact, a few of the employees had also been in the business at one point, while the rest had family members who were.
Then I absently considered the owner of this place, or at least that fact that no one seemed to know just who the owner actually was. There were rumors of course, with one saying that the owner was some relative of Gizmatic, while another one said that the owner had been a big name villain back in the day, before retiring and opening this place. Of course, there were other rumors as well, though no one seemed to know the truth, not even the employees I’d talked to.
Brandi brought my dinner over a short time later, but I had barely begun to eat when I noticed someone stepping into the club. I immediately tensed at the sight of Mauler standing at the entrance, looking grim and dangerous. However, he’d come without his armor, which meant that he wasn’t really much of a threat. After all, Mauler was a prop man, and by nature, prop men just aren’t as dangerous without their props.
Mauler saw me and gave me a cold and very hostile glare as he started towards my table. “Bowser,” I exclaimed cheerfully. “Nice to see you again. What has it been…like a couple days?”
“If you call me that again,” he said with a snarl, “I’ll make you regret it.”
That just made me grin more, pleased that I’d struck some kind of nerve. After all, I would have called him Tin Man since he didn’t have a heart, but there had actually been a super hero by that name and I didn’t want to confuse matters.
“So, Bowser,” I continued cheerfully, leaning back in my chair and acting casual. “What can I do for you?”
Mauler snarled furiously but didn’t follow through on his threat. I might not be considered a heavy hitter, but he’d probably realized that without his armor, he didn’t stand a chance against me. Because of that, among a few other reasons, I was actually feeling pretty safe at the moment, or at least as safe as you could be in a club filled with people who could juggle tanks or shoot death rays from their eyes.
“Give me the chip,” Mauler demanded.
“That’s not how these negotiations go,” I pointed out with a grin. “You need to make me an offer first…and then I make a counteroffer…and so on.”
“How about this,” Mauler threatened. “Give me the chip or I kill you.”
I made a show of rubbing my chin and acting as though I was considering it, then I shook my head. “Nope.”
Mauler took another step towards me and cracked his knuckles. “I don’t think you understand…”
“Oh, I understand,” I responded with a smirk. “I just don’t care. There is a difference.”
Mauler was starting to get pissed off, which was no surprise. If I hadn’t been so caught up with greed and the challenge of pulling a heist on Sartek, I probably would have been able to read the schmuck a little better, and then I could have avoided this whole mess in the first place
Mauler was a typical bully, the kind of thug who thought he was a total badass and that everyone else should jump in line or get out of his way. But even worse than that, he thought he had all the angles figured out too…and he was just smart enough to be dangerous. That was a bad combination.
“What a maroon,” I exclaimed with an exaggerated roll of my eyes. Mauler was getting more pissed off by the second, which only made me smirk more. “You obviously don’t understand how the whole negotiation thing works.”
“So, you’re willing to cross the White Lady,” Mauler said, beginning to smirk himself. I could see the harsh gleam in his eyes and his certainty that he had me over a barrel. “You’re not only willing to make me an enemy…but her as well.”
“You know, that’s kind of funny,” I mused, gesturing dismissively. “I mean, when I offered to sell the chip to the White Lady a couple hours ago, she had no interest in it…” Mauler’s eyes widened slightly at that revelation, making me grin even more. “In fact, she says she’s never even heard of it…and now she seems a little upset at you for some reason…”
“I’ll give you ten thousand for it,” Mauler spat out reluctantly.
I gave an exaggerated pout. “Only ten thousand?” Then I scowled and pointed out, “So, you want to just give me a fraction of what you already owe me…? No, I don’t think so. Give me and the others what you already owe us…including Monkeywrench…and then we’ll negotiate for the chip.”
“Enough of these games,” Mauler exclaimed, suddenly drawing a pistol that had been holstered behind his back. He pointed the gun straight at my chest and demanded, “Give me that chip NOW!”
Unlike a lot of people in the biz, I never bragged about my powers or explained how they worked. Because of that, I still had a lot of tricks up my sleeve and was able to keep surprising my enemies. I just remained where I was, confidently smirking at Mauler and silently daring him to shoot, though I also concentrated all the energy in my aura into one area.
“Fine then,” Mauler stated, pulling the trigger and shooting me…right into the invisible PK shield I’d created over my chest. It was only about the size of a dinner plate, but it was positioned right where he’d been aiming. When I didn’t even flinch from being shot, Mauler’s eyes went wide in surprise. After all, I wasn’t known for being bulletproof. “What the hell…?”
“Go fish,” I told Mauler with an evil grin. “Now it’s my turn…”
Just then, Brandi appeared beside us, giving a cheerful smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes as she said, “Excuse me, but I’m going to have to ask you to put your weapon away.”
“I don’t think so,” Mauler snarled. “This bitch and I still have business…”
“We have several rooms in the back where you can discuss your business,” Brandi pointed out cheerfully. “All we ask is that you do so peacefully so that you don’t disturb the other customers.”
I glanced around and noticed that just about everyone in the bar was watching us, though no one made any move to interfere. Instead, a few of them were making bets with each other about what was going to happen, and all of them seemed satisfied with just sitting back and watching the free entertainment.
“Please, sir,” Brandi urged Mauler again. “If you put away the weapon, I can take your drink order…”
“Fuck off,” Mauler snapped at her.
“Sir,” Brandi tried one more time, this time looking serious. When Mauler didn’t comply, she said, “Then I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave the premises.”
Mauler suddenly snapped around and aimed the gun at her. “I said fuck off…”
“You shouldn’t have done that,” I pointed out in a sing-song voice.
“I’m afraid that you are now banned for one month,” Brandi told Mauler as she reached for her bracelet. A moment later, there was a flash of red and Mauler was gone…forcibly ejected from the Black Mask. Brandi just gave me a friendly smile and asked, “Can I get you something to drink?”
“No thanks,” I told her. “I’m good.”
While Brandi walked off to go serve another customer, I just stared at the spot where Mauler had been standing and shook my head. Mauler obviously didn’t know much about the Black Mask or he would have known that all the waitresses doubled as bouncers, and in Brandi’s case…the hottest and bounciest bouncer around. Any of them could activate the ‘troublemaker ejection system’, which teleported the troublemakers right out of the club in an instant. And since Mauler had been banned for a month, he wouldn’t be able to even find the entrance again until then.
Unfortunately, Mauler’s actions had been amusing, but they’d also spoiled my dinner, which was annoying because that had been really good salmon. And almost as annoying as that was the fact that he’d stirred my curiosity and left me with a few questions I needed answered. Since he wasn’t selling that chip to the White Lady like he’d originally claimed, I wanted to know why he was really after it.
As I got up to leave, Blue Diamond asked, “Hey, Impy…how’d you take that shot? I mean, you’re not a brick, and if it had just been armor, you would have at least been knocked back…”
“Can you keep a secret, Diamond?” I asked her.
“Come on Honey, you know I can,” Diamond responded.
I leaned over to whisper in her ear and said, “So can I,” before I continued on my way out.
Blue Diamond burst out laughing, and just as I reached the door, she called out, “A round of Naughty Imps for everyone…on me.”
I grinned at that, hoping my drink made it to the menu. After all, there was something rather appealing to my ego about the idea of having a drink there named after little old me. However, as nice as that would be, I still had some business to take care of.
While I made my way back to where I’d hidden my bike, I pulled out my cell phone and made a call. “Hey, this is the Imp,” I said. “I’m calling in a favor…”
New York, Tuesday evening, May 22nd, 2007
Superbad had no pretentions of being some trendy upscale club, and no one would ever mistake it as being a gastro pub, jazz club, or anything other than what it was…a bare bones sports bar. However, the one thing that set Superbad apart from nearly every other dive was the clientele, most of whom were blue collar super villains…the kind who usually weren’t successful enough to really make a living at it.
I walked through the doors of Superbad, feeling comfortable with the simple honest ‘barness’ of it all. Without a word, I went to the jukebox machine, slipped in some change, then smirked faintly as the sweet tunes of the Spice Girls began to fill the air. Then I casually strolled towards a table in the back corner and the man who was sitting there.
“Bob,” I greeted him with a broad grin. “Bobby…Bobbo…the Bobbinator…”
“You’re late, Imp,” Bob Zabrowski said with a sour look on his face.
“Just stopped to pick something up for you,” I said, setting a bag on the table in front of him. His eyes relaxed when he saw that it was a pastrami sandwich from his favorite deli. However, when I set a bottle of hot sauce down on the table in front of him, he gave me a look of pure hate. “Friends do these things…”
“We ain’t friends,” Bob reminded me grimly. “Not after what you did…”
“You’re right,” I responded with a shrug, giving him a little reminder of my own. “Friends don’t sell each other to be tortured and killed…”
Bob scowled at that. “It was just business…”
“No it wasn’t,” I corrected him, still keeping my tone friendly and casual. “You sold me out in exchange for the promise that Hexagoner would kill the guy who hurt you. That’s just plain old revenge, which is about as personal as you can get. Now, what I did back, that was just business. After all, if word got out that I let you get away with selling me out like that, it would ruin my rep.”
“How much more are you going to do this?” he demanded, taking a drink from his beer.
“You remember the deal,” I stated.
Bob nodded at that, holding up his hand and staring at the stump where his little finger had been. It was healing up nicely. “I owe you nine favors…one for each finger you didn’t cut off.”
“And this is favor number one,” I reminded him cheerfully. “Now, what do you have for me?”
Without a word, Bob slid two folders to me, one of them containing everything he could dig up on Mauler while the other was for the chip. I looked over the folder for Mauler first, finding that there was very little in there that I hadn’t gotten from my other sources before my first meeting with him.
The Mauler, AKA Tyler Reins, had served in the US Army, and after he got out, he went into the Knights of Purity where he was a power armor jockey, piloting a suit of their Shortstop armor. The KoP was an odd organization, sort of a cross between being a high tech private security force, mercenary thugs, and a torch wielding lynch mob. They hired themselves out to deal with ‘dangerous mutants’, but by their definition, every mutant was a dangerous threat that needed to be stopped. They were basically what would happen if you took the KKK, gave them power armor, and then let them hire themselves out as ‘peacekeepers’ in Harlem.
The report matched some of the rumors I’d heard about Mauler, though it did provide a few more details. Reins and his KoP unit had uncovered a cache of armor and weapons from the lab of a devisor named Major Upgrade, who’d been killed shortly before, and they ‘confiscated’ them. However, before the armor and weapons could be turned over to whoever usually collected that stuff, Reins stole it all and disappeared. When he finally showed up again a couple months later, it was as the Mauler.
I set Mauler’s file down, then reached over to the pack of cigarettes Bob had sitting next to him on the table. After helping myself to one, I took a long drag and blew a stream of smoke out to the side before asking, “So, what’s up with the chip?” I opened the chip folder to look at those notes.
“The chip you stole is actually a devise,” Bob explained, lighting a cigarette of his own. “Made by Major Upgrade….”
“Really?” I asked, glancing through the file until I saw where it said that. I didn’t miss the fact that this chip had been created by the same man who made Mauler’s armor and weapons.
“Apparently,” Bob continued gruffly, “the chip contains some kind of nanite package with an AI hardwired into it...and was designed by Major Upgrade so that all he had to do was plug it into any of the devises he built…and it would automatically upgrade them for him.”
“Any devise he built,” I mused, immediately realizing why Mauler wanted the thing. “Bowser wants to upgrade his armor…”
Bob nodded at that. “That’s my guess. The armor was pretty good when it was first built, but that was a few years ago so it’s falling behind the newer suits… And without Major Upgrade to repair it, the thing is probably starting to fall apart. From what I understand, all that Mauler has to do is plug this chip into the armor, and it will not only fix any problems, but also make it better than new…literally. And who knows how much more powerful he’ll become.”
“So, Mauler wants to boost his mojo,” I mused, now understanding exactly why he’d been so eager to get his hands on that chip. His entire future career might very well depend on it. “So, all this was just so he could get some Viagra for his armor.”
“Something like that,” Bob agree, chuckling faintly in spite of himself.
“And the ebidium?” I asked.
“I don’t know who bought it from him,” Bob admitted, looking rather annoyed by his failure to get that information. “But I did find out that over the last couple days, he’s been spending a lot of cash buying up any equipment that Major Upgrade left behind. It looks like he’s buying up all the spare parts and weapons he can, preparing for an upgrade.”
“And all funded by the ebidium,” I stated grimly.
Bob nodded at that, taking a long drink of his beer and then giving me a thoughtful look, one that suggested he had something more to say but was trying to determine whether or not he should. Finally, he said, “From what I hear, that chip isn’t good news. It’s the last thing Major Upgrade ever made, and he ended up dying because of it.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, giving Bob a sharp look. “You mean that someone killed him over this thing?’
“Not exactly,” Bob continued with a shake of his head. “Apparently, Major Upgrade tested the thing by plugging it into some android butler he built. The android got upgraded all right, but also turned dangerous…real dangerous. It killed Major Upgrade and went on a rampage, killing about a dozen people before the STAR League brought it down.”
I nodded at that and continued flipping through file in front of me, then paused when I noticed the date when the STAR League had first recovered the chip. “What do you know,” I mused aloud. “It looks like Mauler was probably cleaning up after this mess when he found the armor…”
Bob and I sat there for another fifteen minutes, talking more about Mauler and the chip while he ate the pastrami sandwich I brought him. To my disappointment, he didn’t even touch the hot sauce, and when I reminded him of it, he just gave me a dirty glare. This was almost like old times, back before Bob had betrayed me.
When I got up to leave, Bob said, “Hey, Imp…” I paused and gave him a curious look. “Some of those hero types have been hanging around the area lately and asking questions. Be careful.”
“Thanks,” I told him, giving him a nod before I hurried out of the bar.
I had barely stepped out of Superbad and was starting towards where I’d left my bike, when a voice called out from above, “Halt, evildoer…”
I paused and looked up, not really surprised to see Brandywine floating in the air a short distance away. Obviously, she’d been keeping a close watch on the bar, though Bob had just finished telling me as much.
“Halt evildoer?” I asked with a snort. “Really? Who writes your dialog…a five year old?”
Then before Brandywine could respond, I tore off, running as fast as I could. I didn’t bother running towards my bike since I’d be able to slip away more easily without it. Instead, I ran towards the building next door, then began scrambling up the wall, climbing it as easily as if I’d been Spider Man...Woman.
“Oh no you don’t,” Brandywine exclaimed, and I was suddenly pulled up from the roof by her power and was held in the air. However, I just shifted my aura the same way I had at Sartek, and once again I completely slipped out of her grasp and hit the roof of the building. Brandywine snarled in frustration and demanded, “How do you do that?”
“Fast as fast can be, you’ll never catch me,” I called back, pausing to look up at her and blow her a raspberry.
It was only then that I really noticed that unlike at Sartek, she was wearing a pair of goggles with green lenses. Since it was pretty late out, I suspected that they were night vision goggles of some type. However, what really caught my attention was the fact that she had some sort of high tech weapon strapped to her back, one that looked like some energy cannons I’d seen. And she was pulling it out to aim at me.
“Neener neener neener,” I taunted her, pausing to shake my butt and tail at her before I began running off again.
Brandywine fired her weapon at me, shooting a large projectile. I dove to the side, then glanced back and saw some kind of metal mesh net spread over the ground where I’d been standing.
“You know,” I said with a smirk, “you really shouldn’t buy your doodads from Acme… They’ve got poor quality control, their customer service sucks, and they don’t even give out warranties… I mean, you should see how badly the Better Business Bureau rated them…”
“Will you shut up?” Brandywine snarled, taking another shot at me.
“Wow,” I commented as I dove to the side to avoid the net. “That thing looks like something you order off the Home Shopping Network late at night… It slices…it dices…it makes julienne fries… And if you order now, we’ll throw in this handy dandy butt scratcher, absolutely free…”
Then I suddenly noticed that Brandywine was smirking, which made me snap around and see that the second net she’d fired had changed direction in mid-air, and was now coming straight at me. I started to move again, but it was too late. Brandywine used her telekinesis to throw the net at me, pinning me to the roof of the building.
“Ooooh,” I mocked her. “Wile E. Coyote…super genius. You’ve finally caught me and have me right where I want you.”
“Now then,” Brandywine said as she lowered herself to the roof, looking quite pleased with herself. “I’m taking you in.”
“Are you?” I asked with an innocent look, that probably didn’t come off as very innocent due to my devilish good looks. With that, I focused the energy from my aura around my hands, forming it into PK claws which I used to slice through the metal net with ease. Brandywine gasped in surprise while I just gave her a wink and exclaimed, “Meep meep,” before sticking out my tongue and then running again.
“You’re not going to get away,” Brandywine yelled, obviously starting to get pissed.
I just stopped and innocently asked, “Are you sure?” But before she could answer, I commented in my best Snagglepus voice, “Exit…stage left even.”
With that, I threw a smoke bomb at the ground in front of me, doing my usual ‘ninja vanish’ trick. As soon as the explosion of smoke covered me, I jumped back and used my aura to blend into my surroundings. Since I wasn’t sure just how effective Brandywine’s goggles were, I used my aura to hide my temperature as well as my visible appearance.
“Damn,” Brandywine exclaimed as she looked right past me without even a hint of realizing I was there. “He told me she always teleported away when cornered, but…” She shook her head with a look of disgust and frustration.
I remained perfectly still, watching silently as Brandywine looked around, muttering profanities the entire time. It was all I could do just to keep from laughing, which would have given me away and ruined everything. Fortunately, I have a lot of experience in keeping myself under control in this kind of situation.
After a minute, Brandywine finally reached up to her ear and activated a radio, announcing, “This is Brandywine. I just found and lost the Imp. I’m coming back so we can discuss our next move.”
Brandywine levitated up into the air and then flew away while I watched for a moment before deciding to follow after her. I came out of hiding and then ran to the edge of the building, where I focused all the energy from my aura to my legs, giving me an extra boost as I jumped. I hit the next building and kept moving, ignoring just how dark the roof was. One of the advantages of my unusual…exotic eyes was that I had incredible night vision. I continued moving as quickly as I could, leaping from building to building, climbing around some, and then even hopping down to ride on top of several vehicles, making sure the entire time to keep Brandywine in sight. She didn’t fly as fast as Chickenhawk, but she was still slowly gaining on me.
Just as I thought Brandywine was about to get too far ahead of me, she began to descend, sinking down behind some buildings so I lost sight of her. I grimaced at that but continued following her, or at least going to where I’d last seen her. A short time later, I was hanging on the side of a building, hidden from view and looking down at the street below. This was where I’d lost Brandywine, but there were several directions she could have gone…or several buildings she could have gone into.
As I continued looking, I absently sang, “Where oh where has my little drunk gone, where oh where can she be…?”
Then I suddenly saw something that made me grin, even though it wasn’t Brandywine. What caught my attention was the sight of green boots, visible beneath the trench coat that covered the rest of the body. Though he was obviously trying to cover up and avoid attention, much the way I myself often did when I went out in public, there was no hiding those emerald boots.
The Emerald Avenger walked into a hotel, making me grin and swing my tail back and forth excitedly. I’d found them…or at least what building they were in. By the time I got through the door, the Emerald Underwear would probably be too far in for me to follow, but there were other ways. With that, I went over to the hotel and began to climb the wall, keeping myself hidden from view as I did so. I was going to find what I was looking for, even if I had to play peeping tom through every window.
While I searched, I quietly sang to myself, “Pri-vate eyes, they’re watching you… They’re watching your ev-ery move…”
It took nearly half an hour, but I finally found the window I was looking for on the fourth floor. One peek inside and I saw all four of the Shielders, sitting around the room in their costumes, though the Emerald Underwear did have his mask off. It would have been awesome if I’d recognized him as some celebrity, but to my disappointment, I had absolutely no idea who he was.
I watched the heroes for a minute, smirking faintly as I did so. However, as fun as it was to spy on them without their knowing on it, listening in on their conversation would be a little more useful. With that, I put my hand against the window, right next to where it was latched. It took a lot of concentration and effort to extend my aura through the window to flip the latch, especially while also maintaining my wall crawling and keeping myself hidden from view. However, it worked and I was able to pop the window open without having to cut the glass.
“Not nearly as thrilling as stealing a Van Gogh from a penthouse,” I mused to myself with a satisfied smirk. “But this will do for now.”
“I had her,” Brandywine exclaimed from the room. “I literally had her tied up and was about to bring her in…”
“And she escaped,” Fuzzy Wuzzy finished with a snort. “How could you let the Imp escape…? You know we need her…”
“I REALLY want to put her behind bars,” the Emerald Underwear snarled. “Do you know how humiliating it is getting taken out by a wedgie?”
“Probably about as bad as being treated like some kind of stooge from an old cartoon,” Brandywine snapped. “God, I’m just lucky she didn’t try dropping an anvil on my head… After what my brother told me about her, I wouldn’t put it past her…”
“Anvil, check,” I mused, making mental notes. “Maybe I should look into getting a piano too…”
Miss Magic just sat back, watching this exchange with a thoughtful expression. Finally, she turned to Brandywine. “You’ve said that your brother has a great deal of experience dealing with the Imp. Perhaps we should consult him.”
Brandywine let out an exasperated sigh, then admitted, “I really don’t want to do that. Let’s just say, I’ve given him a hard time about how many times the Imp got away from him…”
“I hear crow tastes better with a little garlic,” Miss Magic pointed out with a faint smile.
Brandywine grumbled for a few minutes before saying, “Fine…”
“What was the number?” the Emerald Underwear asked as he picked up an odd looking phone. After Brandywine gave him the number, he made the call, then set the phone down onto the coffee table in speaker mode.
After a man’s voice answered, Brandywine grimaced and said, “I’m sorry to bother you this late, Super Hawk, but I need your help…” I doubted that she called her brother by his codename when they normally talked on the phone, so guessed that this was just her subtle way of telling him that there were other people listening in.
“Okay,” he responded in a professional tone, sounding just a little curious. “What do you need?”
Brandywine hesitated a moment before answering, “The Imp.”
“The Imp?” he asked, sounding a little surprised. “What about her?”
“Let’s just say, I regret giving you a hard time about not being able to catch her,” the white haired woman said awkwardly. “She’s a slippery devil…and frustrating too…”
To my surprise, Chickenhawk burst out laughing. “Yes, that description fits her pretty well.” After a moment, he asked, “Okay, so what’s going on that has you asking about the Imp?”
The Emerald Underwear said, “Last Thursday, Imp was part of a group of villains who broke into a facility owned by one of our clients. They got away with a large amount of ebidium and very dangerous computer chip.”
“Ebidium?” Chickenhawk asked.
“A rare metal,” Brandywine explained. “And not really relevant anymore. Our sources indicate that it’s already been sold to an unidentified buyer and moved out of the area. We’ve lost the ebidium but we’re still trying to recover the chip.”
“Our clients are being pretty insistent about it,” the Emerald Underwear added.
Fuzzy Wuzzy snorted. “They were supposed to have destroyed the thing a couple years ago, and apparently, they really don’t want to have to explain why they didn’t.”
“Anyway,” Brandywine said, glaring at Fuzzy Wuzzy, perhaps because he’d said more than he should. “The Mauler seems to have been the one in charge, and we were trying to follow up on him, but over the last few days he’s been running around the city trying to find the Imp. We figure she betrayed him and ran off with the chip, so now we need to recover it from her before Mauler finds her.”
“So now you need my help with her,” Chickenhawk finished with a sigh I could hear over the phone. “Unfortunately, I’m caught up with something else or I’d be happy to help you…”
“All we really need is a little advice,” Brandywine said. “Anything you can tell us about her.”
“I don’t see why we’re asking him,” Fuzzy Wuzzy grumbled, absently scratching at his muzzle. “If he knew how to catch the Imp, he would have done it a long time ago. The fact is, all you have to do is grab her tail like I did last week.”
“You grabbed her tail?” Chickenhawk demanded from the speaker phone.
“Yeah,” Fuzzy Wuzzy responded with a chuckle. “It’s like her achilles tail. Took the fight right out of her.”
“You have no idea what you’ve done,” Chickenhawk grimly announced. “I’ve been fighting the Imp for years and I have just one piece of advice. NEVER pull her tail. She takes it personally.”
Fuzzy Wuzzy snorted dismissively at that. “Well boo hoo… I certainly wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings.”
“Polarstorm,” Chickenhawk said carefully. “As far as Imp is concerned, this is all some kind of game…and games have rules. I may not know what rules she’s playing by, but I’m sure she does play by them.”
I listened carefully, finding it interesting to discover exactly how my old opponent viewed me. It was also nice to see that he’d learned his lesson about pulling my tail, especially after all the trouble I’d taken to set it up.
“Once this stops being a game to her,” Chickenhawk continued grimly, “the rules go out the window. The one time I grabbed her tail, it ended up with me hanging upside down in Times Square…in nothing but my mask and underwear.”
“Ouch,” the Emerald Underwear said while I just smirked at the fond memories.
“I’m a big boy,” Fuzzy Wuzzy responded with a loud guffaw. “I’m not worried about a little runt like her.”
There was a long pause before Chickenhawk asked, “Have you ever heard of the Crimson Kid?”
“Should we have?” Miss Magic asked.
“Look up what happened to him,” Chickenhawk answered. “Trust me, you do NOT want to be on the Imp’s personal shit list.”
I smirked at that. If I hadn’t been clinging onto the side of the building while remaining invisible, I would have been smugly buffing my nails.
“What can you tell us about her powers?” Brandywine asked, trying to get the conversation back on track.
“I believe she’s a low level exemplar,” Chickenhawk said, “but I don’t know for certain. There are no records of her ever having had official power testing, so I can only go off what I’ve seen. She has regeneration, can cling to walls, become as slippery as grease, and has claws that can cut through steel.”
“I wish you’d warned me about the claws ahead of time,” Brandywine muttered.
“She definitely isn’t a brick,” Chickenhawk continued, “but I once saw her take a gunshot without flinching, and I’ve heard from a reliable source that she punched a high level exemplar and broke his nose.”
“And she can teleport,” Brandywine pointed out wryly. “I saw that one myself.”
“Did she use the ‘ninja vanish’ line?” Chickenhawk asked curiously, “or the ‘exit, stage left’ one?”
Brandywine hesitated a moment before admitting, “The Snagglepuss one.”
I pouted for a moment, suddenly wondering if I was getting too predictable. However, I was relieved to find that Chickenhawk still didn’t understand how my powers really worked, and he’d given them a lot of incorrect information. For one thing, I wasn’t an exemplar, and for another, I couldn’t actually teleport.
“I wonder if she might be using some kind of misdirection,” Miss Magic mused, looking thoughtful. I was suddenly a little worried that she was starting to get on the right track, but let out a sigh of relief as she continued, “Perhaps she’s a low level magic user…using various spells to temporarily simulate powers…”
“I’ve always suspected she might be an avatar,” Chickenhawk added.
“Regardless of how her powers work,” the Emerald Underwear said, “we still have to find her. Can you help us with that?”
“If he knew how to find her,” Brandywine pointed out, “he would have caught her a long time ago.”
There was a pause before Chickenhawk admitted, “Once she gets away with the chip, you’re unlikely to ever recover it from her. The only time a painting she swiped has ever been recovered, is either because the buyer slips up or it gets anonymously donated to some museum a few years later.”
“We NEED to find that chip,” Brandywine insisted with a note of desperation. “And not just because our clients are breathing down our necks. That thing is dangerous…extremely dangerous. If it ends up in the wrong hands, a lot of people could die.”
Chickenhawk let out a loud sigh. “I’ll ask some contacts if they know where to find her, but I’m pretty sure it won’t do much good.”
“Well, thanks anyway,” Brandywine told him. “I appreciate the information.”
“So, after that, we still have to find that ugly bitch ourselves,” Fuzzy Wuzzy grumbled.
“Polarstorm,” Chickenhawk said, sounding exasperated. “I sure hope you didn’t call her that to her face, because if you did, you might as well have just dared her to come after you.”
“Then that sounds like a plan,” the Emerald Underwear said with a chuckle. “We’ll just use Polarstorm as bait to draw her to us.”
I frowned, a little insulted that Fuzzy Wuzzy had just called me an ugly bitch, though my thoughts were even more focused on what Brandywine had said about that computer chip. It actually fit with what Bob had told me about it.
“I wish I’d never agreed to that job,” I grumbled, also wishing I’d never set eyes on that chip. “It’s turning out to be more trouble than its worth…”
I let out a sigh, remembering why I usually stuck to just ripping off artwork. I never…or at least rarely had this much trouble over some painting, and I usually didn’t have to worry about people dying as a result either.
With that, I pulled my Imp phone out of a pouch and dialed in a number I’d learned just a short time ago. A moment later, I heard Chickenhawk on the speaker phone saying, “Just a minute. I’ve got another call.”
“Hey Chickenhawk,” I greeted him when he picked up.
“IMP!” he exclaimed, obviously shocked at having me call him like that. “How did you get this number?” When I didn’t answer, he demanded, “What do you want?”
I grinned as I answered, “A beach front condo in Karedonia, a date with Johnny Depp, and for you to conference me in with the Shielders.”
“WHAT?” Chickenhawk blurted out. A moment later, I heard him over the speaker phone inside the room. “You know the old saying about speaking of the devil… Well…I have the Imp on the other line…and she’s asking to talk to you.”
All of the Shielders jumped up and gasped in surprise, making a lot of noise. I backed up a little, just to make sure I could keep talking on the phone without them hearing me through the window the same way I was listening in on them.
“We can trace her call,” Brandywine exclaimed with a grin. Then she seemed to deflate a little as she added, “If we actually had the equipment with us…”
“And if her call wasn’t coming up as unlisted with no phone number,” Chickenhawk added. “I don’t know what she’s up to, but here’s your opportunity to talk to her.”
With that, Chickenhawk conferenced me into the conversation, and I immediately exclaimed, “HellOOOO nurse!”
“Imp,” the Emerald Underwear responded with a grimace. “We’ve been trying to reach you…”
“So I noticed,” I responded cheerfully. “I just hope you didn’t get your phone from Acme, because I wouldn’t want it blowing up while we’re talking…”
“Don’t worry about that,” Brandywine said with a scowl. “What do you want? Did you just call in order to taunt us?”
I gave a mock pout, even though none of them could see it. “Oh, you sound so hostile… Do you have a problem with little old me? Just to let you know, I have nothing personal against the Emerald Underwear, Miss Showgirl, or the Alcoholic…but Fuzzy Wuzzy on the other hand…”
“Did she just call me the Emerald Underwear?” the garishly clad hero demanded.
“Get used to it,” Chickenhawk replied with a loud sigh.
“Now, let’s get down to business,” I stated, keeping my voice cheerful and friendly. “I happen to have found this cute little computer chip that followed me home…”
“That chip belongs to Sartek, you thief,” the Emerald Underwear exclaimed. “We’re going to return it to its rightful owners.”
“The rightful owner is Major Upgrade,” I pointed out, “or at least his heirs. Sartek takes other people’s property, break it up, and then sells the pieces for a tidy profit. They’re nothing but a glorified chop shop and you guys are just mercenaries with good PR. Now, stop trying to act self-righteous or I’ll just take my ball and go home. There are plenty of other people who are willing to play ball with me.”
“What do you want, Imp?” Brandywine demanded in a cold tone.
I thought about repeating the line I’d given Chickenhawk, but instead, I simply said, “I have the chip and you want it, so let’s deal. I already have an offer on the table for fifty thousand so I won’t accept a penny below that.”
They put me on mute and quickly chatted amongst themselves, seeming both delighted by this opportunity to recover the chip and horrified at the idea of actually paying for it. I listened as they got all self-righteous about it too, which wasn’t surprising. However, I think it was the possibility of losing the chip entirely that settled the matter.
Finally, Brandywine unmuted the call and said, “Fine. Let’s deal.”