“HEY! What’s this?” Kayla ‘Cutlass’ Glupiek bleated when she opened the door to their dorm room to find her roommate Jadis ‘She Beast’ Diabolik packing clothes.
“Oh, I’m heading home- or at least, I’m heading to Karedonia to hook up with my dad for Christmas vacay.”
“But!” Kayla sputtered, “But… we’re still doing finals! We still have four days of exams!”
“NO,” Jadis insisted, “YOU have four more days. They make allowances for students who have special travel needs. The Bad Seeds already took our final exams in special sessions, after we took our Combat Finals.”
“WHAT?” Kayla bleated, “What ‘special travel needs’ do YOU have?”
“Hey, we gotta avoid all the idiots who think that it would be a good idea to follow us to when we meet up the fam, and make a big name for busting us all.”
“What about all the recruiters?”
“Oh, despite all the screwball comedy that they go through, they’re pros. We don’t have to worry about Pros. It’s always the amateurs that you gotta watch out for.”
“But BOSS! What about ME?”
“I’m NOT your boss,” Jadis replied with studied patience, “I’m your roommate. What you do for Christmas is YOUR business.” She shut the suitcase with a snap.
“But… but couldn’t you arrange to take me along with you? I mean, it’s KAREDONIA!” Not entirely inaccurate visions of sunny skies, sandy beaches, blue crystal waters and luxury accommodations flashed through Cutlass’ mind’s eye.
“Kayla, I have to go- NOW,” Jadis answered. “You still have four days of exams, remember?”
“Well… couldn’t you arrange for a flight down there, when I’m done?”
“Do you have a passport?”
“errr… Passport?” Kayla fished around for any possibilities. “Do we really NEED one?”
“Karedonia IS a foreign country,” Jadis pointed out firmly. “And, one that’s not exactly on the best terms with the US. You need a passport. And a visa.”
“But… BOSS! How’m I gonna meet yer DAD?”
“Kayla, trust me on this one… You do NOT want to meet my dad.”
Cutlass was furiously wracking her brain for a way to mooch her way down to a stay in a five-star luxury hotel on Jadis’ tab, when Katrina ‘Nacht’ Twardovski showed up at the door, wearing a long flowing hooded cape that puddled around her feet like darkness. “Well, Sheba, are you ready yet?”
“Just a sec!” Jadis shut the suitcase, and placed it in front of Nacht, followed by another suitcase, a carryall, and a carrying case. She slipped into a long coat, pulled on a white floppy beret, wrapped a scarf around her neck and said, “There! Let’s Motor!” They walked out, with the luggage following Nacht on a ‘train’ of shadow on the floor.
“But! Boss!” Cutlass called after her. “What about me?”
“Lock up!” Jadis called back.
Nacht walked over to where her own luggage was. Her ‘shadow’ flowed over to her bags, which joined her trailing after her. They met up with Nephandus and Winter, who were standing by the stairwell with their luggage, and Rosethorn, who was carrying his bags down.
“Hey, Romeo, where are Ray and Lauren?” Jadis asked.
“Serpent says that she’ll be leaving by herself- some special exit technique or another- and Render will be going straight down,” Rosethorn replied. And, almost as if Ray had been waiting for the cue, he dropped down the stairwell, holding onto his two suitcases.
With a nod to Kate, Jadis ‘went beastly’, assuming her towering ‘devil’ form. She picked up her luggage and Kate’s as well, as Nacht leapt over the banister into the stairwell, floating down to the lobby floor of the dorm. “Would you mind?” Rosethorn asked.
*Go Ahead *, Jadis responded with the weird echoing rasp that was her voice in that form, and lowered her pile of cases. Romeo put his suitcases on top of all the others, nodded his thanks and gracefully leapt over the banister to levitate down. Jean-Armand started stacking his trunks on top, but Jadis shook them off. *Carry your own stuff! * she snapped.
“You’re carrying Romeo’s stuff, why not mine?” Nephandus demanded.
*He ASKED, and he wasn’t carrying four trunks! * Jadis snapped back. Then she jumped into the stairwell, floating down with the pile of luggage.
“You could have waited until _I_ asked her,” Winter sniped as she lifted herself and her own considerable pile of luggage up into the air and down the stairwell on gusts of chilly wind. Jay-Arm grumbled as he inscribed glyphs of suspension on his trunks and levitated them (and himself) down the several flights of stairs to the lobby. Thrasher was already down in the lobby with his meager duffel bag. Thrasher and Jadis were deeply involved in some sort of discussion. “What are they on about?” Jean-Armand asked Rosethorn.
“They’re working out handicaps, to see who can get down the hill carrying the most without dropping anything,” Rosethorn answered. “I’ll put five bucks on Sheba to get to the bottom first, with four suitcases and pull off at least a triple twist!”
Ray claimed that he could carry FIVE suitcases, get to the bottom first, and get in at least two separate spins before he got to the bottom. The brags and wagers climbed and before they realized it, they’d woofed themselves into carrying everyone’s luggage down. Jean-Armand handed Jadis his trunks. “DO try not to scratch anything,” he said smugly.
*Hmmm… I can win OR I can scatter your undies all over the campus… Sounds like a Win-Win proposition!* Jadis sneered back through her PK shell.
The contestants were Nacht, Render, She-Beast and Thrasher, with Winter acting as starter. They were halfway down O. Henry Hill when Render lost one of his suitcases in the middle of trying a backside 180. She-Beast planted her face when she came down wrong after almost losing her load. Thrasher had some trouble with his load, but managed to keep his footing. Still he milled around so much that he lost momentum, and Nacht, who’d settled for only one suitcase and a carryall, slid down the bottom a good minute-ten before him. As Romeo helped her up, Jadis moaned, “It would have to have been Kate.”
“Why? She isn’t trash-talking you.”
“Worse,” Jadis said with conviction. “She’ll silently gloat. Nobody can gloat silently like Kate.”
And indeed, Nacht maintained a superior silence all the way to Schuster Hall that rubbed her friends’ noses in her victory far more than any amount of heckling would have.
Once safely in Schuster’s front hall, they piled their luggage together and waited for Jobe, Techno-Devil and Dragonrider to get there from their cottages. “Why don’t we pick Lindsey up at Dickinson with the van?” Winter asked. “She can’t be comfortable with being seen here with us Bad Seeds here in the hallway… No,” she corrected herself, “if anything that would just call attention to her being with us, at her cottage.” Marian mulled it over for a bit and said, “Come to think of it, nobody here knows that she’s Devilmaster’s daughter- well, at least none of the students, anyway… So how come she hangs out with us as much as she does? I mean, it would be nice to not have to be stuck in the Supervillain Ghetto. And how come nobody notices that she hangs out with us? I mean, she sits with us, where everyone can see it- how come she doesn’t have Spy Kidz looking through her undies drawers?”
“Her father gave her a minor protective charm,” Jadis answered as she checked her nails to see if maybe she needed a manicure. “It deflects attention away from her as long as she’s with us, and it prevents people from making the connection.”
“It’s actually a first-rate piece of work,” Jean-Armand admitted. “I keep forgetting who her father is. And forgetting that he’s Devilmaster? I’d love to analyze it and reverse-engineer the effect.”
“Why don’t you?” Render asked with suspicious disinterest.
“I’ve tried, but its very nature makes concentrating on it difficult. That damned little dragon doesn’t help, either.”
“SHE-BEAST!” a clear young tenor voice blared stridently across the lobby. Following it by only a few feet was Michael ‘Hexbreaker’ Derzhavin with his girlfriend, Jillian ‘Swordmaiden’ Wilkinson, by his side.
“Oh look,” Nephandus said with a dismissive sneer, “it’s Harry Potty-head.”
“What do you Bad Seeds think you’re doing?” Hexbreaker demanded in the voice of ultimate authority.
“Well, obviously,” Jadis said snidely, looking even more pointedly at her nails, “we’re finally enacting our evil plot to overthrow the school and enslave the entire student body by cunningly blocking the flow of foot traffic in the Administration building. And we would have gotten AWAY with it too, if not for you two! CURSE you and your dogged tenacity!” She threw her forearm across her eyes in mock despair.
“Narf,” Nacht said in her trademark monotone.
“I’ll ask you again,” Hexbreaker said menacingly, “WHAT are you lot up to?”
“And I’ll mock you again,” Jadis said with a snide smile locking her golden eyes into his steely blue-gray ones.
“You got a warrant, Copper?” Render asked in an amused ‘Edward G. Robinson’ voice.
“The letter, Peter, the letter,” Winter continued in a very bad Bette Davis imitation. “I must have the letter!”
Rosethorn started flipping a coin in the air, and would probably have started on a George Raft impression, when Techno-Devil, Dragonrider and Jobe showed up, with an African ethnic girl and a buff Twain boy carrying Jobe’s luggage in tow. Jobe paid off the boy, and turned to examine Hexbreaker. “And who’s this?” he asked in his usual manner. “He looks like he’s waiting for a tip.”
“Oh, hey, Jobe,” Jadis greeted him. “This is Hexbreaker. He’s in the Cape Squad, but he has a mad crush on me, and he simply can’t keep from flirting outrageously with me.” She finished with a wide feline grin and batted her eyelashes at Hexbreaker.
Both Hexbreaker and Swordmaiden started yapping at Jadis, with Jadis just smiling snarkily back at them, until the boy who had been carrying Jobe’s luggage cut in. “HOY! What’s this with you hittin’ on my girl?”
“Oh crap, Fracas,” Jadis muttered in utter disgust, burying her face in her hand.
“Who’s HE?” Lindsey whispered aside to Nacht.
“That’s Fracas,” Nacht whispered back. “He’s been trying to get close to Jadis for a while now, but she isn’t having any of it.”
“Why not? He’s CUTE!”
Fracas and Hexbreaker went at it for a bit, with Fracas trying to run off his competition and Hexbreaker trying to make it clear that he wasn’t competition. Then Mrs. Linford came out of the office and broke it up. As she sent Hexbreaker and Swordmaiden off to their classes, she said, “Well, as amusing as this is, we do have to get you all off.”
“Excuse me, Mrs. Linford?” Malachi cut in, “But there’s a problem: Erzili here,” he indicated the sleek yet curvy African girl, who smiled winningly at Linford, “will be going with us to Karedonia, but she hasn’t taken her last Winter Exam. Is there any way that we can wait until she can take a quickie exam?”
“Hold it, hold it, hold it!” Jadis cut in. “Who said anything about taking along GUESTS?”
“You can take guests?” Fracas cut in, “To Karedonia?” Obviously, those travel agency poster images of blue waters, white sandy beaches, and five-star accommodations were running through his mind.
“NO,” Jadis said sternly in Fracas and Erzili’s direction, “we CAN’T!” In Malachai’s direction she said, “We don’t have the use of the time-share lair this year, remember? Baron Blitzen and his crew of Nazi nutzos have it. Jobe’s letting us stay at his dad’s East Palace, as well as getting us down there on his dad’s jet. We can’t just start inviting along every mooch who wants a freebie vacation!”
“Why thanks, Jads,” Jobe said as he sat on one of his bags. “It’s about time someone didn’t just presume on my openhanded generosity.”
“MOOCH!” Erzili said, her ‘down–island’ Jamaican accent becoming a lot more noticeable. “HEY, Malachi invited ME t’stay with him!”
“And I’m sure that that’s how he remembers it,” Jadis replied with a snide tone.
“AND it’s irrelevant,” Mrs. Linford said with final authority. “Sapper, this special exception is for the Bad Seeds alone, given their special travel needs. If you want to visit with Mr. Diabolik down in Karedonia, you can wait until AFTER you’ve finished finals.”
“Well, I could pay for a ticket down to-” Mal started.
“No.” Jadis said.
“Aw, c’MON, Jadis!”
“Work it out among yourselves- ON THE VAN,” Linford said, pointing towards the door.
As Mal tried to reassure Erzili, Fracas swaggered up to Jadis. “So… Sheba… y’know, I’m not like little miss sponge over there… I could just trade in my ticket back to Oz, and bop down to Karedonia t’visit w’ yew an’ yer family?”
Jadis flicked her gaze over Fracas and said, “Not my call- you’d have to ask Prince Jobe over there. We’re staying in his country, at one of his palaces.”
Fracas paused, uncertain. They were both Twain boys, and while Jobe was only a frosh, the upper years had heard… things… about Jobe. Horrible, horrible things. “So, ah… Prince Jobe? How about it?”
“Why SURE!” Jobe said over-brightly. “We always have room down home for guys like you, Frack! But first, a few questions- first, do you have any amusing allergies or chemical reactions?”
“ ‘Amusing’? Don’t you mean ‘unusual’?”
“Oh, right, right, ‘unusual’, that’s what I meant, silly me. Now, how do you feel about spiders, snakes and jellyfish?”
“Now that I think about it, it HAS been a while since I’ve seen the folks…” Fracas hemmed. “Well! See ya next year, Jadis!” Then he made a hasty exit to the tunnels.
Mrs. Linford shooed Erzili off and quite pointedly directed the Bad Seeds to the waiting van. “Hold on- where are Stieglitz-Von Maas and the Senior Seeds?”
“Cheese said he had his own travel plans,” Malachi said. “For all we know, he’s back in Vienna already.”
“And the Seniors?”
“They’ve voted to give us lower years our head,” Jadis said.
“Oh Lord,” Linford muttered to herself. “Very well… Get going!”
“No goodbye hug?” Nacht asked in her usual flat voice.
“Good luck finding that Chamberpot of Secrets, Harry!” Jean-Armand sniped at Hexmaster as he lugged his trunks out the door. After they were all settled in the van, he said to the others, "I say that when we get back, we find a way to give Hexmaster a lightning bolt scar in the right place.”
“NO,” Jadis said with more authority than a Sophomore is usually credited with. “He’s a Cape. If we prank anyone in the Cape Squad, it’ll be way more trouble than it’s worth. And with the Seniors cutting us off, there’s way too much chance that it’ll escalate into something that could get WAY too ugly. And think about it, Pretty Evil Boy- in the crunch, who do you think the Administration would side with? The children of mercenaries, mass murderers, world conquerors and evil mages, or the Defenders of Truth, Justice and Decency (in training)?”
“Oh, you just don’t want us picking on him, because you’ve got a crush on him,” Winter sniped.
“I do NOT!” Jadis said just a touch too loudly as a blush came to her cheeks. “He’s a JERK! AND he thinks that he’s got the right to JUDGE me! And he’s got a girlfriend!”
“Oh yeah, the Jadster is crushing major!” Thrash ribbed.
“Oh dear,” Nacht said dryly. “What WILL Ayl- oh, I’m sorry… Trevor say, when she learns that you’re two-timing him…”
“Oh, the cruel irony,” Nephandus gloated. “That YOU, of all people would be the fickle vixen in our midst!”
Jadis glowered at them and drawled, “My Friends and Colleagues…”
“Where?” they all said in unison.
It was Special Agent Douglas Burke’s third assignment with the FBI, and he wondered how he’d screwed up enough on his second assignment to get this one. Surveillance duty was the worst! And this had to be the worst surveillance gig of all. At least in a regular surveillance post, you had a room, you watched monitors, and your worst enemy was utter boredom. But this little dugout post, barely hidden out in the woods overlooking some school for freaks, was a natural setting for frostbite. The senior agents on the detail were pulling rank and were keeping their toes warm in the rear post, where there was hot coffee, and actual heating.
Doing a routine check of the ‘hotspots’ (oh, the irony…) Burke noticed something. A van was parked outside Schuster Hall, and now a bunch of kids were coming out with lots of luggage.
Luggage? But according to their briefing, Finals weren’t over. He had the cameras get close-ups of each of them and did a quick Facial Recognition check. The boy with the cyber-optic was a quick match, and the software did a simultaneous Known Associates rundown. The result was quick IDs for nine out of the ten of them.
Burke almost did a spit take with his coffee. It was a fuckin’ Junior Achievement Legion of Doom! And they were all headed somewhere together! Images of the bust that would make a stellar career, write-ups in the News, interviews on TV, a commendation from the President, a movie deal (maybe Heath Ledger would play him!), and maybe even an action figure dancing through his head, he hit his cell phone to try to contact the senior agents. Burke danced with impatience, watching the kids load their stuff into the van as the system tried to reach the Senior agents. Nothing! No Signal! Damn, that idiot school was supposed to have technology that made Star Trek look antiquated, but they couldn’t put up fucking routers?
The van started up, and Burke knew that there was no time to waste! He sprinted for the car and gunned the engine to life. He made his way to the country road that led from Whateley to Dunwich just in time to catch sight of the van. Tailing the van inconspicuously on lightly-traveled country roads was made even harder by the contrast of the black sedan against the snow, and the difficulty of keeping the van in sight on the winding road.
As they drove through the winding hills, Burke tried time and again to contact his seniors, with no luck. He threw his cell phone down on the seat next to him in disgust. Well then- he’d just have to go it alone. He smiled fiercely as he threw himself into the role of the romantic lone agent hot on the trail of dangerous mutant felons.
Fortunately, the van only drove into Dunwich, and deposited the kids at the railway depot. Burke pulled up next to a hardware store and ran to the pay phone. He called the safehouse, but only got the answering machine. He ran down his situation and told them that he was hot on the suspects’ heels. That done, he made his way to the railway depot. The van had cut it close; the train was only a few minutes away from the station, and the kids were waiting on the platform instead of going into the waiting room. He went up to the ticket counter and flashed his badge. “Those kids that just came in- where did they buy tickets to?”
The ticket agent made a production of not being impressed by the FBI badge. “New York City.”
“New York City?” Burke thought it over for a moment, then put his credit card down on the counter. “One ticket to New York, One Way.”
“Be still, my beating heart.”
Burke waited impatiently as the clerk printed out the ticket for New York, hidden in the doorway of the platform as the Grand Miskatonic Shuttle pulled in on the southbound leg of its trip. He watched the kids get on, noted the car they boarded, and slipped onto the car right behind it. He hurried to the connecting door and peered through the window into the car. Yes, they were definitely sitting all together. That both meant that they were up to something as a group, and it would make it easier for him to follow them. He got a seat at the very front of the car, so that he could keep tabs on them periodically.
‘Yes,’ he exulted silently to himself, ‘I’m on the job and up to the challenge. And, best of all, those brats have absolutely NO IDEA that I’m on their tail.’
“Special Investigator for Department of Paranormal Affairs,” Nephandus guessed. “Part of a three-man shadow. His partner is probably on the train in the car ahead of us, and the third man is following the train in a helicopter. They’ll rotate positions in Manchester or Concord, to keep us from getting suspicious.”
“Nah, gotta be FBI,” Render insisted. “DPA doesn’t have the budget for that kind of surveillance.”
“FBI?” Winter asked incredulously. “Are you kidding? The FBI actually has standards! Besides, nobody got on the car ahead of us, and only one guy got on after us. And the FBI doesn’t do ‘lone wolf’ agents. I say that he’s Department of Homeland Security.”
“Have you seen the reports on their hiring practices? _Jobe_ could get a job with DHS! They’re the only ones flaky enough to send a lone man out into the field! Let alone a yutz like THAT.”
Jadis made a rude noise. <pffft!> “PLEASE! Homeland Security has about as much finesse as a brick through a plate glass window. If it were Homeland Security, there’d be a train of vehicles following this train, like LAPD after a white Bronco! This putz is at least trying. I say NSA, and this is probably his second or third time out in the field.”
“No,” Rosethorn disagreed. “NSA is all about electronic surveillance. If the NSA was watching us, it would be all cyber-punk remote surveillance. I say CIA, and this guy is the first rung on a ladder that’s expecting one or more of us to go overseas, and somewhere other than Karedonia.”
“Maybe,” Jobe allowed. “But if they are, then the Agency is letting their standards slip. Sad, really. Thirty percent of Imperial Security’s operating budget comes from leaking disinformation to their agents-in-place. If Langley is so hard up that they’re hiring guys like THAT, it might put a nasty crimp in Dad’s budget.”
“Maybe he’s from the Atlantic Heritage Foundation, or some other ‘magical vigilante’ group?” Lindsey asked, worrying her lower lip. “Didn’t you say that your mother recently broke out of prison, Kate?”
“Yep,” Nacht said even more sourly than usual. “Give Mumzie her due, she’s a total loss otherwise, but she does have a flair for getting out of Azkaban. But not to worry, Lindsey. This guy isn’t AHS or a Templar. I’ve seen twinkies with more mystic potential than that guy.”
“He definitely isn’t Navy Intelligence,” Thrasher opined. “They’re way cooler than this guy, and they have a real bug about their guys operating in pairs. Army Intelligence, maybe, but not Navy.”
“Okay, Romeo has a point about the NSA,” Jadis admitted. “SO! I have ten bucks that says he’s CIA.”
“You’re covered,” Render said, “and I have another ten that says he’s FBI.”
“Five bucks, DPA.”
“I have ten that says I’m right about Homeland Security!”
“I’ve got five that says he’s DoJ!”
“Ten on G2!”
Nacht got off the train in Manchester, and Lindsey got off in Concord. Neither of them was going to Karedonia. When Lindsey got off, an ominous black door with a demonic face over the jam appeared on one wall. She stood at the door, gave a timid knock and entered. Then the door faded from view. As the other Seeds were waiting in the station in Concord, Jobe got a cell phone call. He took the call, made a few less than pleased noises, spoke his understanding, and said that he’d make arrangements. He turned to the group. “Small problem, guys. The Imperial Jet has to go in for some sort of fiddly tweaking. It’s probably nothing, but our pilot dotes on that plane like it was his lapdog, and Dad respects that kind of weird, twisted misplacement of affections onto inanimate objects, so we’re stuck. Well, Jads, it looks like we’re going to be staying at your place for a few days. Call Mrs. Pierson to expect us to stay a few days longer. Oh, and would you ask her to tell the cook to make some of those wonderful flaky pastries of hers? People, if you have not had some of those, you have been missing out on a real treat. She-”
“My place?” Jadis cut him off. “Jobe, a lay-over is one thing, but a couple of days?”
“Why not? You’re going to be staying at my place, you should at least return the courtesy. Besides,” he pointed out, “where would you suggest that we stay? A hotel? In New York? At the height of the Christmas season? Without reservations? Please! Besides, no matter what else he may say about your father, dad has always had the greatest respect for the security setup that he arranged for you two. We should be just fine at your place. We’ll have to rough it a bit, but desperate times and all that…”
Jadis gave a muted snarl of annoyance, pulled out her cell phone and made the call.
“Well!” Jean-Armand said with relish, “how convenient!” He pulled out an anti-eavesdropping device and activated it. “Since we have a few days free in New York to play with, what say that I lay a proposition before you?”
“Nothing. Illegal. In. My. House,” Jadis said with absolute finality.
“Oh, absolutely!” Jean-Armand said smoothly. “That’s the beauty of it! The very nature of it demands that my target be acquired before any question of personal property could possibly be applied.”
“Okay, you’ve got me curious,” Ray said, leaning back in his seat. “What could be valuable enough to get you this excited, while not being anyone’s property?”
“The Angel of Hell’s Kitchen,” Jean-Armand said smugly.
“The Angel of Hell’s Kitchen is a person, Jay-Arm,” Romeo said carefully. “You don’t steal people, even if they’re not property.”
“Not the girl, idiot!” Jean-Armand corrected him, “The ‘angels’ that she creates! By the Pit, she just goes around throwing them around, willy-nilly! Healing people, left and right! Now, here’s the really interesting thing,” he leaned forward. “My father’s contacts in the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom-”
“Y’know, Jay-Arm, I wouldn’t go throwing connections to an outfit like that around, if I were you,” Jadis said. “Whateley neutrality and protection only goes so far…”
“According to my father’s contacts in, ah, reliable sources,” Jean-Armand continued, “some of the more recent violent incidents were caused by some Nth- ranker called ‘Korrupt’, who’s managed to capture one of those angels and harness its power with technomantic devices. They are… quite potent, it seems. Now, if this bottom-feeder Korrupt can capture one of these angels and put it to use, then who knows what a True Genius could do with one?”
“Sorry, I’m not interested,” Jobe said, not looking up from his PDA. “I don’t DO booga-booga. You’ll have to find a lesser genius to help you with this.”
“By ‘true genius’, I was speaking of myself,” Jean-Armand replied dryly.
“Why?” the rest replied in unison.
“Okay, Jay-Arm, I can see that you’re interested in this,” Ray said. “But let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: why should the REST of us be interested?”
“Well…” Jean-Armand groped around for a reason. “Training! Real-world training!”
“With real-world cops firing real-world guns,” Winter sneered, “and real-world superheroes dragging us off to real-world JAIL. I want to meet the Empire City Guard, but I’d rather do it in a more congenial way.”
“A chance to see what you’re really MADE of!” Jean-Armand pitched.
“A chance to see what your lower digestive tract looks like,” Malachi said with a sour drawl.
“Bad Seed SOLIDARITY!” That was met with a unilateral gust of derisive laughter. “Very well, how about an ‘angel’ powered devise, that I will construct to your custom specifications. My father says that the toys that this ‘Korrupt’ has managed to build are quite powerful.”
“NOW YOU’RE TALKING, PRETTY BOY!”
“This is a baaadd idea…” Jadis groaned.
“Why?” Jean-Armand demanded.
“Hey, this is New York we’re talking about!” Jadis snapped, “Superhero Central! There are more superheroes per capita in the Big Apple than any other city on the fucking planet! And we’re not just talking about teams like the Amazing Three, or the Empire City Guard, or the Flying Squad, or Sentinel over in Brooklyn! We got ‘Street Heroes’ coming out of our ears! The DPA has a regional branch just for the city! And the Magus operates out of NYC! If we do anything illegal in the city, Whateley protection won’t mean shit! They will throw us ALL inside!”
“And that asshole Timbrook is just looking for an excuse to get his hands on us again.” Mal added.
“Timbrook?” Thrash asked. “Who’s Timbrook?”
“Jason Timbrook is a prosecutor with the New York DA’s office,” Jadis said. “Let’s just say… we have an ugly history together. I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“CHILL, Jads!” Render said with authority. “Look, like Pretty Evil Boy here said, if we do it right, we won’t technically be doing anything illegal. I mean, what’s the harm if, when we get there, we head over to Hell’s Kitchen and check out the scene, hanh?”
“Ill-conceived, poorly-planned, and doom-ridden,” Jadis moaned.
Burke kept an eye on the kids as they transferred from the Grand Miskatonic Shuttle to the Concord-Boston Express. In Concord he tried to contact the local FBI field office, but when he reached into his pocket, he couldn’t find his cell phone. He patted down his pockets frantically, until he remembered throwing it on the front seat of the car. Which he’d left back in Dunwich. He was torn between going out and buying a cheapo $20 cell phone and keeping tabs on his perps, but for once there wasn’t a three-hour wait between connecting trains. He actually had some time during the layover in Boston to buy and activate a phone. His job got harder, as they had a separate compartment and keeping an eye on it made him more conspicuous. He stifled his annoyance when a chauffeur was at Grand Central Station waiting for them with a sign that said ‘Jadis’. They had a limo waiting for them! Burke was so incensed that the children of murderers and thieves were being treated like nobility that he almost collided with one of them, the Kilgarren-Donnehammer girl. As they piled into the limo, he got into a cab, and told the driver to go for a block, stop, then wait for the limo, and follow it. Oh yes, he was totally in charge of the situation.
As they piled into the limo, Thrash bounced on the seat and said, “Well, I gotta say this, Jads- you do things RIGHT!”
“Adequate,” Jobe sniffed.
“Purely a security consideration,” Jadis maintained. “No way I’m putting this crew on the subway, I know better than to split up into three cabs, and shuttle vans are RPG magnets.”
Render looked at Winter. “So? Who wins the bet?”
Marian pulled out Burke’s badge, ID and wallet. “You win, Ray. He’s FBI.” As Ray collected his take, Winter tossed the badge and ID over to Malachi. “You want these? I already got FBI for my collection.”
Jadis snagged the ID and badge in flight and snapped her fingers at Winter. “The wallet?”
“Get your own!”
“Excuse me, but is this any way for a future superheroine to act?”
“You just want the credit cards!”
“Look at his age- he’s a rookie! He doesn’t have enough credit to make it worth the risk!” Marian handed over the wallet with a huff.
“Okay, so we’re still going after the Angel of Hell’s Kitchen, right?” Jean-Armand hammered at the point.
“Look,” Jadis said severely, “if you idiots wanna go and take a whack at it, that’s one thing. But I want it understood- nothing comes home to me, capisce? You catch anything, and you take it somewhere else! AND, I don’t want you talking about it in my house! Mrs. Pierson is putting herself out for us, so I don’t want to put her in a position where she’s condoning a felony.”
“It’s not a-”
“NOT the issue! It’s one of the oldest rules of crime, right after ‘don’t get caught’- ‘don’t shit where you eat’.”
“She’s got you there, Jay-Arm,” Romeo said. “By the way Jadis, I couldn’t get in touch with Linda this morning to tell her that I was leaving. I really should tell her what happened to me. Do you mind if I call Whateley from your place?”
“Well, at least you asked,” Jadis sighed. “Go ahead.”
The limo drove the 30-odd blocks from Grand Central Station to a townhouse on West 71st Street, about a block from Central Park. Special Agent Burke had the cab stop around the corner, and reached for his wallet. Which wasn’t there. He frantically searched his pockets, and was only mildly relieved when he found that he still had his money clip. He paid off the increasingly impatient cabby, and checked out the neighborhood. He sourly calculated that a month’s rent in any one of the townhouses or apartments along the upscale avenue was probably more than his yearly housing costs. So much for the hoary adage about crime not paying. He watched as his prey brought their own luggage to the raised front door of the townhouse and rang the door bell. The woman who answered looked innocuous enough, but in his bones, Special Agent Burke knew that he’d found a true nest of evil.
Mrs. Pierson opened the front door and greeted Jadis and Malachi with warm hugs. “Malachi! Jadis! Come in, come in! Oh, you both look wonderful, Whateley must agree with you! Oh, hello, Marian! You’re looking lovely! Hello, Romeo, come in and get out of that coat, you look stifled! Ray, you’re looking as handsome as ever. Why thank you, Ryan! Prince Jobe, an honor, as always… M’sieur DuChantraine,” she finished coldly, giving Jean-Armand the gimlet eye.
When the luggage was squarely inside, Jadis gave Mrs. Pierson another big hug, which she then passed along to Mrs. Barnes, the housekeeper and cook, and Mr. Hernandez, the handyman and man-of-all-work (and registered bodyguard). Mal followed suit, but gave Hernandez a manly handshake instead of a hug.
Mrs. Barnes, being the housekeeper, assigned rooms, putting Jadis in with Marian, Jean-Armand with Malachi, and so on. As they did this, Thrasher lifted his nose and sniffed. “Hey, is that those great ‘Cashew Surprise’ muffins that I remember from the last time that I was here?” he made his way to the kitchen like a bloodhound on a trail. Mrs. Barnes warned him away from the tempting tray of muffins.
“I’ll take care of that,” Jadis said, picking up the tray and taking it out the back door. She went through the small ‘garden’ in the back, passed through the gate to the alley in the back and disappeared for a few minutes. She came back with the empty tray.
“No cashew surprise muffins?” Thrasher said with a mournful puppy dog look on his face.
“They weren’t for you, anyway,” Mrs. Barnes sniffed. “I made a proper early dinner for you. Everyone knows that you can’t get a decent meal on a train. Put your things away and get cleaned up, and I’ll set the table.”
Romeo put his bags in his room and got to the phone. “Linda, my love…” he started. Unfortunately, the other side of the conversation didn’t seem to be anywhere near as cordial. “But Linda… I’m not supposed to tell you about leaving early. It’s to keep people from following us- No, why would I be ashamed of you? You’re- Linda? Linda? Linda, please! I’m not ashamed of you! I’m ashamed of my MOTHER! Linda, honest-”
Winter murmured, “Well, that’s early,” and handed Jadis five dollars.
“What’s that all about?” Mrs. Pierson asked sotto voce.
“We had a bet that Romeo’s girlfriend would break up with him before Christmas. Marian thought she had me when we got out of school without an incident.”
“Oh, it WILL get worse, I assure you…”
Indeed, throughout dinner, Romeo had the woebegone look of someone in shellshock, barely aware of the meal in front of him. Normally, he would have responded to Jobe’s dismissals of the fare in support of Mrs. Barnes’ cooking, but he just stared forward blankly. Winter waved a hand in front of his face and muttered, “Oh, this is pathetic…”
“Oh, that poor boy,” Mrs. Pierson said as they went to the parlor. “He must have worshiped that girl!”
“Oh, that’s just Romeo being Romeo,” Winter said.
“I blame his mother, for giving him that name,” Jobe said.
“Romeo goes through these really passionate romances about, oh, once every three or four months,” Jadis explained. “Each one’s a little different- give him his due, he tries not to repeat the same mistake twice- well, beyond throwing himself completely at girls- but the end result’s almost always the same. He finds this weedy little nothing of a girl who’s too shy to have a real social life. He helps her find her special gift and nurtures it carefully. He helps her find her own sense of self-worth and confidence. And then, after he’s scaled high walls and pushed through thorny barriers to find the rare beauty hidden within- she dumps him. They usually throw the accusation that he’s playing them at him, but to be honest, I personally think that by that time, they’ve gotten used to having a gorgeous boyfriend, and they don’t like not being the pretty one in the relationship.”
“Hey, this one lasted all the way from the first day of classes,” Render said. “That’s a record for him, isn’t it?”
“Nah, back in Switzerland, he had a girlfriend who lasted a whole year,” Winter said. “Of course, he was helping her lose weight, which might have had something to do with it.”
“Poor boy,” Mrs. Pierson repeated herself.
“Anyway, each time this happens, Romeo goes through the same seven stages each time,” Jadis said. “1-Shock and Denial. 2- Pain and Guilt. 3- Anger and Bargaining. 4- Depression and Withdrawal. 5- ‘breaking out of the egg’ as we like to call it. 6- he chases after anything in a skirt to reassure himself that ‘he can still love’ and 7- a massive hypercritical analysis of her, himself, the relationship, society and the whole schmeer, before he finally settles down again.”
“The ‘Anger and Bargaining’ part can be really annoying,” Thrash said as he helped himself to some of Mrs. Barnes’ flaky pastries.
“With any luck, we’ll be in Karedonia by then, so you won’t have to deal with it.”
“Why I know just what he needs!” Jean-Armand suddenly said, springing up from the couch. “He needs something to renew his faith! He needs to see the soul-inspiring sight of people reaching out to the Mother Church!”
“Mother Church?” Malachi sneered. “Aren’t you and your entire family excommunicated?”
“This is not a time to harp on trivialities!” Jean-Armand bulled forward. “Think of poor Romeo! He needs to feel the love!”
“Enh!” Jadis grunted. “He’s a telepath; it couldn’t hurt.”
Seeing as how it was the middle of the afternoon, and it was too late to really plan anything else, most of the rest of the crew went along with it. But Jobe said, “Gee, as thrilling as gawking at a bunch of credulous feebs all searching for a picture of Jesus in a peanut butter sandwich sounds, I’m gonna have to beg off.” He settled into the armchair next to the telephone and started dialing. “Oh, Pierson? If you could get a pot of hot cocoa over here, and maybe a tray of those flaky pastry things? Thanks!”
“Hey, just because YOU don’t have any friends anymore, doesn’t mean that I don’t!” Malachi said, slipping a medical eye patch over his optical implant. “As for me, I’m gonna go see what Chaz and Norm are up to. Later!” He pulled on a jacket and was out the door. “I’ll be back by eight, Mrs. Pierson!” he called back.
“Hey!” Jadis called out the door, “Just ‘cause it’s not a school night for YOU, doesn’t mean that THEY don’t have to study for THEIR Finals!” She let out a grunt of annoyance at her little brother. “Oh well,” she sighed, “we might as well go and let Mrs. Pierson and Mrs. Barnes have a little peace and quiet. Or, at least get ‘Mister Fun’ here out of their hair.” She helped Romeo into his coat and hat, and they all headed out.
After over five hours on the train, taking a long walk down to Hell’s Kitchen sounded like a good way to stretch their legs. Please, keep in mind that they weren’t just teenagers, but physically augmented mutants as well. Jadis took advantage of their route to check up on some of her old haunts. She stopped briefly at one trendy bookshop, but set off with an antagonistic set to her shoulders. “What’s with you?” Winter asked.
“Bad associations,” was all that Jadis would say.
“Really?” Winter said, a pixyish grin on her face. “What happened?”
“I don’t wanna think about it.”
“Aw, c’mon! Now I really gotta know! C’mon, you know that I’ll just keep on at you until you tell me!”
Jadis glowered at Winter but finally burst out with, “Okay! The Bitch sold me ‘Twilight’, knowing that I HAD to read ALL of it!”
Romeo winced. “And, as an Exemplar, you have eidetic recall…”
“So I’ll never be able to forget all of that!” Jadis growled, “‘sparkly vampires’, my alabaster ASS…”
“What are you talking about?” Winter said, “I thought that ‘Twilight’ was a great book! I read it twice!”
“Marian, you thought that ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ was a great book.”
Seeing Jadis’ eyes narrow, Ray thought that it would be wise to get the conversation off on another track. “Hey, Jadz- what did Mal mean about him still having friends?”
“Ah,” Jadis sighed, “well, while I was never what you’d call ‘Little Miss Popular’ back at the Montessori School, I did have some friends.”
“Let me guess,” Winter said, “the bookworm crowd, all gawky stick bodies, big glasses, braces like a front grill, and hair in pigtails.”
“THANK YOU, little miss ‘never went through an awkward stage’!” Jadis retorted. “Yeah. Anyway, I had a group of friends that I hung out with. Not the Glam Group,” Jadis shot a glare at Winter who accepted it with a ‘well, of course’ air, “but we were buds. Then, when I was eleven, some asshole called the Iron Warlord found out who we were and kidnapped Mal and me. The Amazing Three managed to free us, but somehow some buttwipe on the New York Times found out about it, and managed to track us down to our address. It was front-page news- below the fold, but still front page- for a while, and things were really sticky for a bit. Most of my friends dropped me like a hot rock the second that it hit the news, and those that didn’t, were forbidden to go anywhere near me or Mal by their parents.”
“But Mal said that he still had friends.”
“Hey, I was an eleven-year old girl going to an upscale private school, he was a nine-year old boy! His buds thought that his dad being a big-name supervillain was the coolest thing EVAR! And, he got to meet Dr. Amazing and all those superheroes, and he didn’t have to go to school, ‘cause he was being home-schooled. Oh, his friends were green with envy. It only got worse when Dr. Dad gave Mal his first implant. And now he’s going to a mysterious school that he can’t talk about. Oh, I’ll bet that he’s the big dog in his pack.”
“Pack of weasely little nerds!” Winter snickered.
“Hey, even weasely little nerds are better’n having a woman who used to invite you in for milk and cookies slam the door in your face, yelling about calling the cops.”
“Didn’t I hear something about picket lines in front of your house?” Thrasher asked.
“Yeah,” Jadis confirmed him, “right after the New York Times made a story of it, people showed up in front of the townhouse, parents made petitions to have Mal and me pulled from school, threats, the whole nine yards.”
“Well, first that ass Timbrook tried to put Mal and me into the Juvenile Care system- ‘Juvenile Care’ *cough!bullshit!* - but after that we were turned over to the guardianship of the lawyers. Then Dr. Dad stuck Timbrook with that <heh heh heh> ‘super soldier serum’. *snicker* After that, Dr. Dad just called each and every one of the protesters. Personally. At Home. And Work. And at church. And at the hotels and safe houses they hid in. And calmly and non-threateningly told them that while he understood and sympathized with their feelings, taking those grievances out on two children were the acts of cowards. After that, the picket lines just sort of… went away.” Jadis finished with an evil grin.
“Niiiccce,” Render said appreciatively, “Jadz, your dad has the touch!”
“Yeah, the touch of death.”
As they were walking, they were concentrating on talking more than they were on Romeo, who was still too distraught to really be paying attention to anything. A quartet of trim, attractive high school age girls came barging out of a Starbucks© and banged into Romeo, one of them spilling coffee all over his coat. “HEY! Watch where you’re going, butt-munch!” one of them snapped, as if she hadn’t banged into him. Romeo looked at her dazed, not quite registering that his cashmere coat had been stained. “What’s your damage, fag-boy? You high or something?”
Recognizing them and seeing a nasty situation in the making, Jadis took Romeo by the arm and pulled him away. “Don’t pay any attention to them, Romeo,” she said. “It’s just the caffeine overload making them nasty.”
It would have stayed at that, but one of her forelock ‘horns’ had slipped out from under Jadis’ knit cap, and one of the girls recognized her. “Jadis Diabolical? Is that you? I thought that you were still in JAIL?”
“It’s… Diabolik, thank you very much,” Jadis responded through her teeth. “And we’re on our way elsewhere.”
“Wow,” Simone Wyatt, always the bitchiest of that bitch-pack, said. “They let you out. That just blows my mind. I mean, I thought that they were going to just throw away the key!”
“Well, there’s this funny little law,” Jadis drawled, incapable of just letting this snip get the last word. “Y’see, they can’t throw you in jail if you haven’t committed an actual crime.”
“Must be nice to believe that,” Ray muttered.
“CRIME? Your freak father’s a fucking mass MURDERER, you fucking smartass little BITCH!” Kellie Morrow snapped. Apparently Kellie had neither forgotten nor forgiven the times that Jadis had gotten the better of her in schoolyard exchanges. But then, Kellie was the least verbally proficient of the four.
“Yeah, my FATHER’S the murderer,” Jadis stood her ground. “You can’t be arrested for something that your parents do. It’s a law. Look it up. Y’know, in those funny flat things? They’re called books?”
“I heard that they finally found a reform school that would lower their standards enough to let you in,” Ella Sykes said. Ella always did better against Jadis and her friends.
“Why ELLA!” Jadis said with false brightness. “I didn’t recognize you! I see that you went with the ‘Michelle Pfeiffer’ nose. It goes well with the Clairol © ‘Nice N Easy Born Blonde Maxi™’ coloring.” She ended with a drawl punctuated with a snide grin.
Cherie Wulff stepped up. “So, what’s a freak like you doing hanging around with a major cutie like HIM?” she looked at Romeo and asked, “Hey, cute stuff! Why’re you wasting your time with a scrawny little felon like Janis?”
“Jadis,” she corrected reflexively.
Sensing blood, Cherie kept it up. “What’d she DO, drug you or something?”
“Hunh?” was Romeo’s only response, as distracted as he was.
“OH MY GOD! Cherie gushed with vicious glee. “She DID! She’s drugged you! She’s kidnapping you, right here in BROAD DAYLIGHT! Why, I should call the COPS-” she pulled out her cell phone.
Ray reached out and took the cell phone from her hand. “Enough of this crap.” With a deft motion, he crushed her cell phone in his hand, reducing it to a lump the size and shape of an almond. He took Cherie’s hand and dropped it in her palm. “It’s not a diamond, but then, you’re no jewel yourself. Okay-” Ray’s hand was a blur, and he suddenly had four wallets in his hands.
“HEY! Hey, that’s my wallet you-”
“Shaddap,” he said brusquely. He flipped through their wallets one-handedly and threw them back at them without so much as touching their cash or credit cards. “Okay, Kellie Morrow, Cherie Wulff, Ella Sykes, Simone Wyatt. I know your names, where you live, where you go to school, where you shop, your credit cards- Ella Sykes, Visa Gold ****-****-****-****. Kellie Morrow, Sachs Fifth Avenue ***-***-***-***. Cherie Wulf, Payless Shoes-”
“PAYLESS?” Kellie and Jadis chorused at Cherie together. “You shop at PAYLESS?”
“This time tomorrow,” Ray continued on in a calm yet masterful tone, “I’ll know who your parents are, any sibs, cousins, aunts, uncles-”
“Step parents, step sibs,” Jadis added none-too-quietly.
“Where you live, what your grades are, where your parents work, where they bank, what investments they have, what loans they have out, if their credit’s overextended, any medical or psychiatric conditions… Why… everything.” He ended with a smug smile.
“Are you threatening us?” Cherie said in a flat voice.
“No, just that I know everything that I need to, in order to…” Ray left that unfinished, smiled and said, “Okay crew, let’s motor.”
Looking back at the four girls frantically whispering to each other, Jadis said, “Ray, remind me to get you something extra nice for Christmas.”
“Tiffany’s is always welcome.”
“Okay, now THAT’S something that you don’t see in every Christmas display,” Thrasher allowed. The object of his comment was something that looked like it might have been a high-concept art school project- if not for the very real body parts that were still poking out of it. It looked like someone had taken a recent model sedan, tricked it out like a NYPD prowl car, and then re-molded it into a rough semblance of a crab or spider, with large serrated mandibles out the front and the headlights pulled out to form intimidating eyes.
“I saw it!” insisted one of the street vendors, who was selling hot apple strudel in the form of sweetbread angels from a cart. “It was late, and it was raining, and it was a real cop car! There were two cops inside, and this big guy dressed like a cop drags a nasty-ass old wino in, like they was gonna book ‘im for something. He does something to the two cops, then… the car, it just springs to life and turns into THAT!”
“And then what?”
“And then El Penitente, the big red guy over there,” the vendor jerked a thumb in the direction of a massive, demonic-looking man wearing large denim coveralls with bits and pieces of clothing in various stages of wear, with a ratty blanket draped around his shoulders. He was sitting on a mail box like it was a footstool, and he was paying attention to the crowd that formed a discrete circle around the yellow tape surrounding the malformed bit of op art. “He starts to mix it up wit’ the thing.”
“And then what?”
“What do you THINK happened? I got the fuck OUT of there!”
“It’s a Christmas miracle,” Winter said drolly.
“Anyway, they called Parking & Traffic to tow it away, but they ain’t touchin’ it.”
Casting a connoisseur’s eye over the wreck, Nephandus murmured, “Ah, the Axanarthengar, the Brood of the Unspeakable Slayer. Interesting.”
“Oh? How so, Jay-Arm?” Winter said with a flip tone. “I mean, it has a certain je ne sais quoi, a certain Post-Post-Modern, retro-Dadaist, Anti-Industrial, Pseudo-Realist charm… but is it Art?”
“The Axanarthengar are formidable demons,” he continued, dismissing Winter’s ‘art school girl from Hell’ crack, “but they’re rarely summoned, because the summoning requires the sacrifice of two heroes. If that hack Korrupt sent one of these, then the power of the angel that he captured must be incredible! I MUST get one!”
“Easier said than done, Professor Moriarty,” Jadis sneered. “Check it out- Cops, TV, dozens of eyewitnesses, they even got a resident superhero keeping an eye on things. And I don’t see a ‘No Praying Between The Hours of 10 PM and 6 AM' sign anywhere. We only have so many days until Jobe’s jet is ready and then we gotta haul. So, ah, exactly how are you gonna latch onto one of those angels without causing a riot, hunh?”
“Hey, BABE,” Thrasher breezed, “if it was easy, then it wouldn’t be FUN, now would it?”
“Oh, don’t tell me that you’re going along with this, are you Thrash?”
“What’s it gonna hurt to try? I mean, so nothing just pops out and smacks us up the eyeballs. So what? That just means that we gotta use the ol’ noggin a little.”
“Now that’s the Bad Seed spirit!” Jean-Armand enthused.
“But I get ten grand right up front for tryin’, one of those angel-tech thingies if we bag it, you pay my bail if we get busted, and you gotta pay for the street munchies,” Thrasher finished.
“No, that’s the Bad Seed spirit!” Jadis gloated.
“Ten… Grand…?” Jay-Arm croaked.
“Up front,” Jadis said flatly. “And I’m not playing this game. You bozos can play ‘angel-busters’ all you want, but you are NOT dragging it into my house, unnerstand?”
“We heard you, Beast,” Render said, calmly and methodically studying the layout of the street, the church and the surrounding buildings. “So, what’s the hallmark of a perfect crime?”
“Well, according to Eric Ambler, it’s that it’s not technically a crime. You’re exploiting others, but there are no laws against what you're doing.”
“We’ve already covered that, Sheba,” Ray said neutrally. “The angels don’t technically belong to anyone, so it’s more a matter of who lays their hands on one first than anything else. Not that the locals will see it that way. No, unless we wanna mix it up with Big Red over there,” he jerked his head in El Penitente’s direction, “and a few hundred hysterical devotees, we’ll have to do it in such a way that no one knows that it’s gone, let alone that we have it. Jay-Arm, any chance that you can get into that Grand Hall that you were talking about and get some information about the angels?”
Jay-Arm shook his head, relieved that Render was taking his project seriously. Nobody ever took him seriously. That would change when he finally did get his hands on one of those angels. “No. My father says that the Hall is saying ‘Hands Off’ in regards to what’s going on here in New York. Korrupt and his crew will either triumph or crash, but they’ll do it on their own.”
“Oh, Christ on a crutch,” Winter said. Following Marian’s gaze and that of many of the vigil-holders, the Bad Seeds looked up to see a golden shining ball waft up from one of the basement windows. Suddenly it unfurled like a flower bud blossoming, becoming a whirl of golden rings with six wings emerging from the matrix, and three pairs of red eyes. The utterly alien, yet mind-numbingly gorgeous apparition lingered over the crowd for a moment, and it expanded, faded and sort of sent a rain of pale golden dust over the crowd.
The dust melted after a fashion when it touched the devotees, but Jadis reflexively put up one of her ‘gloves’, snatching up a handful of the dust, which didn't melt in the palm of her hand. Jean-Armand was furiously taking readings with a unit that looked like a cell phone but was far more. When he saw what Jadis had done, he pulled an envelope out from a pocket and held it out for Jadis to pour the dust into.
“Wow,” Winter breathed, “You don’t see THAT every day! I’d say that it was worth the walk.”
“That… that was beautiful…” Romeo said, dreamily looking up where the ‘angel’ had been.
“See? Now, didn’t that just chase all thoughts of Linda out of your head?” Winter asked. Upon being reminded of Linda, Romeo almost broke out in tears.
“There!” Jean-Armand exulted, consulting his handset. “I have it!”
“What?” Jadis said in a sick tone. “You already managed to BAG that thing?”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Jadis,” Jean-Armand said with a flat tone. “I just managed to analyze the ‘angel’s resonant frequencies, and with those and that sample of dust that you gathered, I should be able to construct a containment device. See? Less than ten minutes here, and we’ve already overcome a major hurdle!”
Their reason for being there accomplished, the Bad Seeds started their return trip to West 71st Street. Jean-Armand was up for hailing a cab, but Romeo needed to walk some more. “Really, I don’t think that you really… comprehend… what I’m going through,” Romeo said.
“Comprehend?” Winter said, “Romeo, we’ve already been through this three times with you! She dumped you! Get over it!”
“It’s NOT THAT SIMPLE!” Romeo cried out, his fists balled up in front of him, shaking in barely contained passion. “I am shattered! I am destroyed!” He was knocked ass over teakettle when a guy in a sunday outfit was thrown out from an alley and crashed into him. They went tumbling over each other, and Romeo was tangled up in the man in white.
A man with a half mask that barely concealed his features, wearing a studded leather vest and an elaborate belt that could have been used as the trophy of a wrestling champion stalked out of the alley. “Okay, enough of this crap! Where’s the fukkin’ money, dirtbag?” Aside from the mask, belt, vest and a pair of reinforced gloves, the man’s outfit was woefully prosaic: heavy jeans and a long red turtleneck sweater. The belt fit the man, as he definitely had a professional wrestler’s build.
As he stomped over to Romeo and the reeling man in white, you could see ‘Iron Mike’ spelled out in studs across the back. ‘Iron Mike’ pulled Romeo off the man in white and looked at him for a second. He muttered, “Piss off, faggot,” and backhanded the man in white, knocking hoarfrost off the man’s outfit.
“Hey, hey, HEY!” Jadis yelled, stomping over. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Get lost, ya little skank,” ‘Iron Mike’ growled, not really bothering to look at her. “This is nunna yer bizness…”
“SKANK?” Jadis said dangerously. In a heartbeat, she had her ‘beast skin’ up, she’d gripped Iron Mike by that belt of his and had him up a good three feet off the ground. *Which way is the West River?* Winter, Render, Thrasher and Nephandus all pointed due west. She-Beast placed one of her magical cards on Iron Mike’s forehead, waited until it began lifting him upward, then wound up and pitched Iron Mike into the air, sending him way up over the rooftops in the general direction of the Hudson.
Jadis immediately dropped her ‘beast-skin’. She went over to Romeo. “You okay, Romster?”
“I’ve been better…” he admitted.
“Let’s get you back to my place.”
“Admit it, Jadis,” Winter leered, “you’ve been waiting years to say that to Romeo!”
“Piss off,” she growled. Then she went to see about Iron Mike’s victim. He was shaking his head, bringing himself back to full waking. He was cute enough, if you go for the gangly nerd type. He looked to be maybe just old enough to drink. His hair and eyebrows were white, but not white as Jadis’ was, but rather it was flaked with frost. His coat and other clothing was also coated in frost, making it white, whatever the cloth itself was. “You okay, dude?”
“Aaahhh… yes, I think I’ll survive,” he said.
“So, ah, do you know ‘Iron Mike’?”
“We’ve met on a couple of occasions.”
“Is he super-strong or nigh-invulnerable or anything like that?”
“Yes, he’s very strong. And very tough.”
“Y’think he can survive a dunking in the Hudson from, say, ten stories up?”
The man in white paused, mulled it over, nodded, and said, “Yes, I dare say that he could. Easily.”
“Thought so. He had the ‘Brick stomp’ that most punkish bricks have. Still, it’s best to be sure. It would really suck if we hadda go fish him out before he drowned.”
Ray had managed to hail a cab. “Hey Jadis! You gonna stay here and talk with your new friend, or are you gonna head back with us?”
“Coming!” Jadis helped the still reeling man to his feet and hurried over to the cab.
Special Agent Burke watched the unknown man watch the taxi leave in a daze. He stood there for long time, then looked around suddenly, as if remembering himself, and walked off. For a moment, Burke had been sure that he’d witnessed a cold-blooded murder, even if the victim had been perpetrating an obvious mugging. But from their comments, it seemed that the Diabolik girl had correctly guessed as to her maneuver’s survivability.
Odd, there was no real pattern to the ‘Bad Seeds’ movements. The encounter with those four girls. The visit to the vigil in Hell’s Kitchen. This little rescue. They must have come to New York for some reason, and so far, this man was the closest that Burke had come to a real lead. He let the man in white get a half block ahead before starting his tail.
The man in white went a few blocks, pulled a few amateurish attempts at shaking any tails, and ducked into an alley. He went down stairs to a basement bar, with a sign painted on the wall over the well saying ‘Superbad’. Burke hurried around the corner, hoping to catch the man in white coming out the other side, but there was no obvious exit for any ‘Superbad’. The man in white seemed to have gone to ground. Burke mulled over waiting for the man in white to come back out, going back to observe the Diabolik’s townhouse or trying to check in with the FBI NYC office. His real problem was in finding a payphone. For some reason, his cell phone just wasn’t getting through to the office. And for a town that held onto things out of sheer habit, New York seemed to be in a rush to get rid of its payphones.
New York has a plethora of ‘Biz Bars’, drinking holes that cater- whether they intend to or not- to hookers, pimps, pushers, fences, and other lowlifes. There are also a handful of bars that serve the same purpose for the supervillain community. Superbad’s niche was that it catered to supervillains who had day jobs. Superbad’s space had originally been a basement, then a speakeasy, then a local bar, then a jazz bar, and then a sports bar. It still had most of the sports bar equipment, but now the TVs showed CNN updates, and the pictures of the sports heroes had been replaced. In their place were pictures of fictional and real-life superheroes in embarrassing and compromising positions. Wonder Woman having an ‘equipment failure’. Dr. Thunder with one of her gadgets blown up in her face. Batman climbing out of a dumpster, punched halfway to death. Champion crawling out of a hole in a brick wall that he’d been knocked through. That sort of thing. There was a discreet bulletin board near the back, where various personages left cryptic notes for each other.
Lorette Selk sat at the bar, all too aware that her outfit made her look like a hooker trying to work the bar. But she had the look for the ‘seductive villainess’ bit and needed to dress the part. Her handle was ‘Sabbath’, and she was an up-and-coming supervillainess. She’d wanted to call herself ‘Miss Sinister’, but Marvel had beaten her to the punch. And Marvel’s ‘Miss Sinister’ resembled Lorette so closely (well, except for the red diamond on the forehead), that she knew that she didn’t have the ‘Distinctive Likeness’ edge going for her. She’d mauled the artist who created it, but there was no way that she could stop Marvel from making her life a living hell. Like her civilian-job boss didn’t already do that to her. So, she called herself ‘Sabbath’.
Dammit, she was a supervillainess! She had been imbued with dark power by an otherworldly patron! WHY was she still crunching numbers for a financial analyst?
It was still early, and there wasn’t any real action going down. Most of the customers had gone straight there from work to blow off steam from their day jobs, as Sabbath had. Brainstorm was playing poker with Sneaky Pete, Starstone and Gravity Gun, and bitching about how his job at Kinko’s sucked. Gravity Gun countered with an anecdote from his job as a care provider at a nursing home.
Cyclone was using one of the free laptops scattered around the bar to check up on the fate of his partner, Flashpoint. “FUCK!” he snapped.
“What’s the matter, Larry?” Sneaky Pete asked in his gravely voice.
“They moved Phil from the Jug in West Virginia to the Rat-trap!”
“Thunder Mountain?” Gravity Gun asked. “That’s in Colorado! That’s supposed to be for prisoners west of the Big River. Why’d they move him there?”
“Oh, Gee, they left that part out of the 500 page report they sent me,” Cyclone snarked.
Before it could get nasty, the door opened and ‘Mister Cool’ walked in. “Hey!” Big George, the bar’s owner and bartender on duty snapped. “Stay on the rubber matting! It’s too cold for you to keep frosty, and I don’t wanna be mopping up after you all night!”
Mr. Cool nodded absently and walked over to where Sneaky Pete, Brainstorm and the others were playing cards, totally spacing on what George had just said. “You’ll never believe what just happened to me!”
“You realized how dorky a supervillain name ‘Mr. Cool’ is?”
“No, this is really amazing! I was over by Hell’s Kitchen, and Iron Mike had caught up with me. He was after me for the money that I’d been paid for the Panamex job-”
“How much did he take you for?”
“What? I didn’t have it ON me! After the LAST time? How stupid do you think I am?” They maintained a discreet silence on that rhetorical question.
“How does he get away with that crap, AND calling himself a superhero?” Starstone asked.
“Hey,” Sneaky Pete grunted, “there’s no profit in shame. Haven’t you picked up on that?”
“Besides,” Brainstorm said, “he’s very nice to the boys in blue. They’d be upset if someone chucked a Molotov Cocktail into his parent’s house- where he still lives at age 30.”
“ANYWAY,” Mr. Cool cut back into his own conversation, “Mike’s beating the crap out of me, as per usual, when this absolutely amazing girl pulls him off of me, asks which way the West River is, and throws him in the river.”
“You were on the waterfront?”
“No, just off 8th Avenue.”
“She just walked up, pulled Mike off of you and chucked him four avenue blocks?”
“Actually, she sort of changed into this tall black horned demonic looking creature first. Then she changed back into a girl and asked me if I was okay.”
Brainstorm sat back, his eyebrows raising up almost up off his head. “Okay, that’s weird, even for New York.”
“PLEASE!” Cool begged. “I’ve GOT to know who she is!”
“Because she is absolutely THE most gorgeous, wonderful girl that I have ever SEEN! I’ve got to meet her again!”
The villains looked around the table. “A girl who changes into a big black demon?” Sneaky Pete said. “Doesn’t sound like anyone I know. Hey, George! You know any talents who turn into black demons strong enough to chuck a heavy man four long blocks?”
George walked up, dominating the scene with both his impressive bulk and his no-nonsense personality. “Yeah, I know a few who answer to that description. Any details?”
“Well, she was a girl, slender, very good looking, yeah high, long face, large lovely golden eyes, white hair- oh, she had two forelocks that sort of resembled small horns- oh! And I remember her friends called her ‘Jadis’.”
“Jadis?” Brainstorm echoed, looking like he was wracking his brain. “Jadis Diabolik?” He looked at George.
George nodded noncommittally. “Yeah, I think that I remember hearing that Dr. Diabolik’s kids turned out to be mutants. Don’t remember what powers they had. But, yeah, I think I remember that both his kids had those ‘horn’ forelocks a’his.”
“Doctor Diabolik? THE Doctor Diabolik?” Cool bleated. “Dr Diabolik has a daughter?”
“Well, sure!” Brainstorm quipped. “Every mad scientist has to have a gorgeous daughter! It’s a RULE!”
“Sorry, Coolio,” Sneaky Pete graveled, “but yer out of luck!”
“Why? Because I’m not a big name supervillain yet?”
“NO,” Pete took the cigar out of his mouth and grinned. “Because she’s JAILBAIT! She was only ten when the DA tried to take her away from Diabolik, and that was only- what? Five? Six years ago. Hey, you may only be just old enough to get in here, but yer still too old for her!” He stuck the cigar back in his mouth and chuckled nastily.
“What? The DA tried to take her away from Dr. Diabolik?” Cool asked, confused.
“You must’a missed it,” Gravity Gun said. “A few years back, there was this big row when the Times found out that Dr. Diabolik was keeping his kids here in New York under the name ‘Daibliku’, and had them enrolled at some lah-de-dah private school. Whole buncha’ noise, parents outraged, neighbors screaming, all like that. Some asswipe at the DA’s office, name’a Timberlake-”
“Timbrook,” Starstone, who temped as a paralegal at various law firms corrected him. “ADA Jason Timbrook. Real pretty boy type. Liked seeing his face in the papers. He decided that Diabolik was ‘endangering’ his kids and had them removed from the care of their nanny and placed into the Child Services system.”
“Nanny?” Cool asked.
“Yeah, apparently the good doctor wasn’t around that much,” Brainstorm said. “I wonder why…” He added with a wry drawl.
“What about their mother?” Mister Cool leaned on the table, listening intently.
“Good question. Dunno. Never heard anything about a mother.”
“And what happened?” Mr. Cool noticed that his hand had frozen to the table. He tried to free his hand without anyone noticing.
“Oh, some sort of back-room deal,” Starstone said. “Details are skimpy, but the office buzz was that everyone agreed that Timbrook was just gaming the system to try to get Diabolik to do something to get his kids back. A LOT of people on both sides of the fence really did NOT like the precedent that was being set. They found some sort of guardian for them, and things went back to normal.” Starstone paused and smirked. “Well, they went back to normal for almost everyone.”
“What?” Mister Cool gave up and smashed the ice around his hand to free it. He had a lot of experience with that.
Gravity Gun gave a nasty chuckle. “Well, the word is that the good doctor did NOT appreciate Mister Timbrook’s little gambit. I hear he sent some sort of robot scorpion that injected Timbrook with a super-soldier serum.”
Cool looked confused. “And why would that be a BAD thing?”
G-Gun looked Cool in the eyes. “Let’s just say that there were REASONS why that formula has been abandoned.”
“Timbrook’s still at the DA’s office,” Starstone said. “But he doesn’t get his picture in the papers that much anymore. Don’t wanna scare the kiddies. They let him do research… paperwork… heavy lifting…”
“Yeah,” Brainstorm agreed, “there are maybe fifty guys in the world who can fuck with Dr. Diabolik and get away with it. And ain’t none of ‘em in this room.”
“Leave it alone, kid,” George said. “I feel for you, but there ain’t no way that you’re getting’ close to Dr. Diabolik’s daughter. Now get on the rubber matting.”
It had been reasonably amusing. George mostly let ‘Mr. Cool’ into the bar for comedy relief. But watching him stand there, lovelorn and bereft, Sabbath saw a whole new use for Mr. Cool. She hopped off the stool and slithered over to where he was standing, dripping. “Now, now Mister Cool, it’s not as bad as all that…” she cooed.
“Who are you?”
“They call me ‘Sabbath’,” she purred. “I couldn’t help but be appalled at how callous they were! You two are only three years or so apart! There’s no reason why you shouldn’t seek out the girl of your dreams!”
Cool looked suspiciously at her. “And why should you care?”
Sabbath gave a sour grin. “Hey, looking the way I do, the closest that I get to any kind of romance are indecent proposals. It does my heart good to see some honest passion, some genuine tender feeling for a change. Besides, if you get together with this Jadis girl, the mooks around here might get the idea that treating a lady right is a GOOD idea!” She stretched her arm over Cool’s shoulder. “Now, your biggest problem is that you’ve been playing it too- heh- ‘cool’ so far. You haven’t made any real headlines.”
“Exactly. Yet. She’s the daughter of an A-list operator. What you need to do is not only bump up your profile, but call her attention to you. Pull off some really high-profile jobs, the kind of stuff that would have all of New York asking, ‘Who is Mister Cool?’ And make sure that she knows it’s YOU. How you do that, I leave up to you.”
“Yeah!” Mr. Cool nodded like a bobble-head toy. “Yeah. Yeah! But… how do I pull off a really BIG heist, something that would really get her attention?”
Sabbath reached into her cleavage and pulled out a card. “This is the card for my agent. Tell him that you want to option the Hepburn Job.”
“The ‘Hepburn Job’?”
“Sure! Remember that old movie, ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’?” Cool’s eyes sprang open, possibilities dawning on his face. “Now, here’s the thing,” Sabbath went on confidentially. “Don’t think ‘burglar’. Think ‘supervillain’.” Cool nodded, took the card and hurried out the door.
“Tiffany’s?” came a gravely voice right behind Sabbath. She turned around to find Sneaky Pete standing right behind her, a beer in one hand, his cigar in the other, and a cynical look on his face. Stocky, at least sixty pounds overweight, with a beer gut, Sneaky Pete didn’t look light on his feet. But his day gig was a lineman for AT&T and he had years of experience in working in both high and very cramped spaces.
“Nobody hits Tiffany’s,” he growled. “Getting in and out is no problem. But the security’s so high that they WILL know who did it. And it’s so high-profile that every cop, cape and detective wannabe will be all over it. The take will be so hot that unless you have a buyer for everything before the job, there’s no way to move it. And the papers will be all over it, so there’s no buying off the cops. Only an IDIOT would hit Tiffany’s.”
He gave her a scathing look. “OR, maybe that’s the point. You want ice-cubes-for-brains to break in, get his picture took, and take out the security. Then YOU move in and scoop up everything that you can carry. You take the lion’s share; he takes the fall. That’s COLD, Sabbath.”
“I don’t know WHAT you’re talking about,” Sabbath sniffed. “I just gave a young man a chance at winning the heart of the girl of his dreams. So, there are risks- what’s romance without a little danger?” She stalked off, her nose in the air.
Sneaky Pete grinned, watching her skinny rear wiggling in her tight skirt as she walked off. “Nice idea, Bones. I wish I’d thought of it. But then, who says that I had to?” Still grinning, he killed his beer, and quietly left the bar unnoticed.
The thing about the flagship Tiffany’s store at Fifth Avenue and 57th street in Manhattan wasn’t, as Sneaky Pete pointed out, that actually getting into the building was hard. It was getting into the building unnoticed and un-photographed that was hard. Still, the place wasn’t exactly made of tissue paper, either. The paradox was that anyone either powerful enough to simply rip their way in or subtle enough to evade their security usually had better things to do. For persons of that level, the profit in taking jewelry simply wasn’t worth their time. That is, unless you had something to prove.
Most of the profits from ‘Mister Cool’s’ previous crimes had been to help pay off his lab expenses and into building his power amplifying suit. While he was a credible supervillain without the suit, with the suit, he was in an entirely different power bracket. With the suit, he could have frozen Iron Mike into a block of ice and just walked away. With the suit, he just walked through the store’s service dock and into the armored workroom where the custom work was done.
Using the blueprints that Mr. Johnson, Sabbath’s agent, had given him, he found the unmarked gem storage vault (if you didn’t already know what the vault was, then you weren’t supposed to find out), and started opening the drawers. He found the drawer that Mr. Johnson had specified, pulled it out and stashed it. Having paid for Johnson’s blueprints, he looked at all the loose stones.
“No, no, no!” Mr. Cool jumped when it registered that Sabbath was at his elbow. “Not loose stones! What girl wants loose stones?”
“What are you doing here?” he gasped.
“I thought that you might need a woman’s view in picking something out for your young lady. It seems that I was right.” As she spoke, Sabbath very matter-of-factly tucked a few drawers of loose gems into a carrying pouch. “This is TIFFANY’S! Think BIG! Now, what you want is over THERE, in the custom projects section. Go, find something that would make a girl drool…” As he looked, she tucked away a few more drawers.
Cool opened the up the custom projects vault, and pulled out the tray. “Do you think-”
“Too small!” (it disappeared the second he wasn’t looking)
“Too bland.” (gone)
“This sapphire pendant-”
“What? Haven’t you heard? Diamonds are Forever! No, wait, that’s DeBeers… Ah, Diamonds are a girl’s best friend!” (Besides, sapphires, like the other ‘soft’ gems, are easier to have the tracking etchings erased than diamonds.)
Cool pulled out a tray with a theme ensemble laid out. “Yes! Perfect!”
“Yes, perfect!” Sabbath agreed. (It was far too big, far too gaudy, and far too obviously intended for someone specific to ever fence.)
As he placed the tray in a Tiffany’s box, Mr. Cool had an inspiration. He went back to the loose stones vault and pulled out tray after tray of stones. Keeping the higher quality ones for himself, he poured a lot of the lower quality ones into a sack. When he had enough, he went over to a bare metal worktable and sprayed it with some of the silicone lubricant that they used in the workshop. He then poured the small gems out like icing, spelling something out. He then froze it all in a block of ice. He then hefted the block and carried it into the main showroom, setting it on the spotlight counter. Then he double-froze it so that it would last.
As Mr. Cool was busy humping the big block of ice out of the workshop, Sabbath turned and slapped at what appeared to be thin air. “What are YOU doing here?” she hissed.
“How’d you know that I was here?” Sneaky Pete’s gravelly voice asked. Sabbath pointed up to where small thermal waves could be seen in the frigid air. “Oh.”
“What are you doing here?” she asked again.
“Same thing you are- getting while the getting’s good.”
“That’s cold, Pete.”
“Gee, I wonder where I heard THAT before! Like you’re one to talk.”
Sabbath snarled and raised her hand, which glowed with an eerie darkness. While her blasts weren’t particularly powerful, only three or four ‘sticks’, as they said in the biz, meaning sticks of dynamite, they were more than powerful enough to put Sneaky Pete into the hospital, if not kill him.
“Hey, SAB! CHILL!” Pete hissed. “Look, I’ll cut you a deal- I already got two of these sacks-” he pointed at the large canvas transport sacks of gems that couriers use to move stones. They were marked as still containing gems for unpacking. “-under my poncho. I’ll hump another one out for you, and let you have it.” Actually, he already had FOUR, but there was no way that Sabbath could have known that. Sabbath relented. “Hey, there’s no way that you can carry that much in that outfit of yours,” he added.
She had to admit that her supervillain outfit had been designed more with an eye for sex appeal than carrying capacity.
“AND, if you can keep steering lover-boy, I got another idea as to how we can use him to make a major score.”
“Okay,” Sabbath allowed. “Sounds like a deal.” Her hand snaked out and grabbed him by his invisible throat. “Just remember- I know where you work.”
“Mellow OUT,” Pete choked. “I know better than to fuck with a real talent.”
Then there was the sound of police sirens. Sabbath handed Pete one of the canvas bags, and then ran to tell Mr. Cool to get moving! Then she ‘jaunted’ out. Mr. Cool did an ‘Iceman’ escape, sliding over the police barricade on an ice ramp, and quickly lost the police. Sneaky Pete used the distraction that Mr. Cool made to make his own getaway. When the police searched the Tiffany’s premises, they found the name ‘Jadis’ spelled out in sparkling diamonds in a block of ice, with the J and I dotted by topazes.
Jobe was making the sort of comments that he could be counted to make as regards the breakfast that Mrs. Barnes had made, when Mr. Hernandez came in. “Jadis, there’s a package for you at the front door.”
“Who’s it from?” Jadis asked getting up.
“No note, no address slip, no messenger. Someone just left it on the front step, rang the doorbell and ran. I checked it out- nothing living, no trace of radiation or explosives, no electronics. Just this-” he handed Jadis a piece of ice, exquisitely carved into a rose in full bloom. Despite the fact that she held it in her hand, there was no sign of it melting. “You know the drill, Jadis.”
Jadis excused herself and went to the front door. Whatever it was, it was wrapped in a large Tiffany’s box. Forming ‘gloves’ around her hands, she gingerly picked up the box and took it downstairs. Mr. Hernandez already had the hazard room opened. She placed the box on the solid concrete shelf inside the armored room and shut the door. Through a slot in the door, she reached through with one of her ‘claws’, stretching it so that it touched the very top. As her ‘claw’ was a PK construct, she didn’t need leverage to pull the top off the box.
Jadis and Mr. Hernandez peered through the thick reinforced layered glass, and saw something sparkling in the filtered light. Jadis opened the door and looked in. On a bed of Tiffany Blue® velvet was a grouping of jewelry arranged for display. There was an ornate tiara, a pair of earrings, a choker, a necklace, a pin, a watch, three bracelets, and a ring. Most of them sported at least one major diamond cut in an oval shape, everything matched in the same basic design, and it all showed the elegant opulence that Tiffany’s & Co. is famous for. Jadis felt as though she should have to pay ten bucks just to look at it.
Then Jadis’ ears were almost pierced by a shrill squeal just behind her. Winter was standing on her tippy-toes right behind Jadis and Mr. Hernandez, with the rest of the Bad Seeds right behind her. “OOOooo! JADIS! You must have been a VERY GOOD GIRL this year!” Marian gushed. “An 11-piece designer original parure set from Tiffany’s! Five large stones, 14 medium stones, 22 small stones, AT LEAST 64 minor stones, no chips- Tiffany’s doesn’t DO chips- silver settings, original design- the choker alone is worth at least a million twenty-five. Starting bid at five and a half mil at Butterworths if you can prove ownership, maybe two and a half mil in Hong Kong with the right middleman or 750 thou in Amsterdam for the stones alone if it’s really hot. Still Tiffany’s insists that all their stones be etched and recorded-”
“Winter, do you MIND?”
“Looks like 15 to 20 with time off for good behavior." Render muttered. “Hey, Jads, when I said that Tiffanys’ was always welcome, I was thinking something with a little more street cred.”
"You think they're hot?" Thrasher asked.
"I'd be surprised if they weren't hotter than the Fury Twins' hatred for Jobe."
“Ooo…” Winter cooed, “I have just GOT to try that ON!”
“NO!” Jadis snapped the box closed and took it up stairs.
“What?” Winter bleated as she followed right behind her. “Well… FINE! It’s tacky anyway! I mean, a TIARA? Who wears tiaras anymore? Talk about overdone! It must have been made for some West Coast TV producer’s daughter. Who else would have ten MIL or more to piss away on a set of jewelry that’s value would be halved if you lost a single piece, hunh? And look at that design! Tiffany’s must be getting by on their rep! How jejune!”
By this time, they were back in the kitchen. Jadis said “SIT!” She took Marian by the shoulder and forced her to sit at the table. She shook a finger in Marian’s face. “STAY!” she shoved a cookie in Marian’s mouth. “Good Girl!” Marian chewed the cookie and pouted. “Excuse me,” Jadis said as she exited the back door. “There’s something that I have to do.”
When she got back, Ray said, “Ah, Jads, is there something that you’d like to TELL us, hmmm?”
He showed her a new podcast on his laptop. The newshead was yammering on about a ‘daring break-in at the world famous Tiffany’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue’. But what immediately grabbed the viewer’s attention was a large block of ice that the camera was focused on. Inside the ice was the word ‘Jadis’ spelled out in sparkling diamonds, with the J and I dotted with some yellow stones.
“Oh, fuck me,” Jadis groaned, her jaw dropping to the floor.
“You’re lucky, Jads,” Render said. “A quick check says that there have been less than a hundred hits on that podcast worldwide since it posted two hours ago, and there hasn’t been a big jump on Googles for the keyword ‘Jadis’ since it aired. I think that the local press still has angels on the brain. If they weren’t fixated on Hell’s Kitchen, there’d probably already be a cordon of press and police out front.”
“Signing your work? In diamonds, no less? Wow, and you say that _I_ have an ego.”
“SO not funny, Jobe.”
“So, what did you do with the evidence?” Winter asked with over-casual interest.
“THAT is taken care of, don’t worry.”
“Y’know, Jadis, I really AM the only witness that can say that you didn’t leave the house all night…”
“ZIP IT, Winter!” Jadis snapped. “If the CNN report on this is accurate, then the cops witnessed someone sliding out of Tiffany’s on an ice ramp, the store’s armored doors had been super-cooled until frozen, then shattered, and the security systems had been iced over. If the cops come here, they’ll be looking for someone with ICE powers!” She glared at Winter.
“Omigawd, you’re RIGHT!” Marian squealed. “You’ve got to stop this, Jadis, or my chances of getting into the Cape Squad will be trashed!”
“Say, Jadis,” Romeo said, “remember yesterday, with that goon ‘Iron Mike’? The guy in the white suit? Well, I remember that he was ice cold, and some of the white on his suit melted when I touched it.”
Jadis nodded. “Okay, it’s thin, but it’s still more’n we got right at the moment. So, who here knows anyone in the New York supervillain community?”
Mal snickered, “You’re kiddin’ right? Yer gonna do the ‘track down the real criminal to clear your good name’ bit?”
“No, I’m going to track down the real criminal, and get him to STOP LEAVING MY NAME ALL OVER NEW YORK!” Jadis snapped. “At least we lucked out, and nobody’s made the connection that there are only so many girls in New York named ‘Jadis’.”
Simone Wyatt was waiting for the fashion segment on ‘Good Morning New York’ before she headed out to the last few days at her private school before the Christmas break. Then the program ran the clip on the Tiffany’s break-in. The second that she saw the name ‘Jadis’ spelled out in glittering letters, her cell phone was out. With a vicious grin on her face, Simone punched in the number that she never really thought that she’d ever use. Still, surprise, surprise, she knew JUST the person to talk to!
“WHAT?” Brian Chupp, a.k.a. ‘Mister Cool’ yelped at the TV screen. “That’s ALL? Five lousy minutes? How’s she supposed to know it’s ME, if you only give it five lousy MINUTES? Where’s the media circus?”
Jadis came back downstairs with a deck of cards in one hand. “Well, it’s about frickin’ TIME!” Winter snapped. “I thought that you were all hot and bothered to get looking for the guy who’s framing us!”
“What?” Jean-Armand bleated, “I thought that we were going to spend the day working on-” he shot a look in Mrs. Pierson’s direction, “-the, ah, extra-credit project.” He finished lamely.
“Who says we can’t do both?” Thrasher asked. “I mean, odds are that Iron Mike hangs out in the general Hell’s Kitchen area anyway.”
“Fine by me,” Jadis said as she tucked the deck into her purse. “It’s too early to really expect anything soon. But the odds are that I’m gonna need backup eventually, so don’t get too carried away playing ghostbusters, ‘kay?”
“HOLD UP!” Malachi came clattering down the stairs wearing his fire engine red Whateley lab coat with gear stashed all over it, with a backpack on, and a carryall in his hand. He had a genuine Jets knit cap over his forelocks, and wrap-around shades concealing his optic implant.
“What’s this?” Jadis asked, taking it all in. “I thought that you were going to hang with your hometown posse.”
“Hello? They’re all still in SCHOOL?” he looked around carefully. “‘Sides, it sounds like I missed the action yesterday.”
“Yeah, all five seconds of it,” Jadis drawled. “Okay, crew, let’s haul. Ray, Thrash, Romeo, don’t let him whine you into carrying that crap for him.”
“Ooo… Urban Safari…” Jobe sneered. “Sorry, Beast, but I actually have important things to do.” He settled into the armchair in the living room and began dialing the phone. “Oh, Barnes? Could I get some coffee here? Hey, Hwang! Wilkins here. Look- So, it’s six in the morning where you are. Fascinating. Look, infection by this intracellular pathogen can be lethal if not treated. Neuro-blastoma Neuro-2a cells were infected with L. monocytogenes. In my study, apoptotic changes of neuroblastoma Neuro-2a cells infected with strains of Listeria producing different listeriolysin O levels to investigate by cytotoxicity assay, cellular viability assay, DAPI staining, intranucleosomal DNA fragmentation test, and monoclonal antibodies against ss-DNA. For my derivative, results show that after internalization, the bacteria induced morphological, functional and genetic changes in the cells characteristic of apoptosis, which was dose-and time-dependent on listeriolysin O. The neuroblastoma Neuro-2a cells represent an interesting model cell line to further the understanding of Listeria pathogenesis within the central nervous system of the subjects. You still with me Hwang? Or shall I get out the hand puppets?”
Jadis started snoring, and then jerked to ‘waking’. “Oh. Sorry. I heard geek-speak, and reflexively fell asleep. Let’s go.”
“What about Jobe?” Mal asked.
Figuring that the long-distance charges were her father’s problem, not hers, Jadis whispered, “Can you honestly see any situations where having Jobe there wouldn’t be a liability, rather than an asset?”
As they left the townhouse, Romeo stopped and said, “Maybe I should go back and try to call Linda again.”
“DUDE!” Thrasher moaned. “You called five times last night and three times before breakfast! You’ve probably overloaded her answering machine! One more call, and you’ll probably fit the legal definition of a stalker!”
“But… but she just doesn’t understand…”
“You’re probably right,” Nephandus said silkily, “but what you’re not seeing is that you can use this to your advantage. She’s afraid that you’re being a bad boy, and stringing her along. OR, she’s hoping that you’re being a bad boy, instead of the boring, driveling, little worshipper at her feet that she’s grown tired of. Either way, a studied silence from now to the start of classes in January would be just the thing to change her attitude. She WANTS you to be a bad boy, Romeo! She WANTS you to treat her like dirt! ENJOY that!” Jean-Armand clapped Romeo on the shoulder. “THERE! Having solved your problem, now we can focus clearly on MINE!”
“Did you get anything done last night with the data that you got yesterday?” Ray asked.
“Sure!” Mal said. “Not a problem! According to Jay-Arm, the containment units that we created should use the ‘angel’s’ own energies to hold it.” Mal reached into the carryall and pulled out what looked like a metal shoebox with a carrying handle.
Jadis gave the contraption a scathing once-over. “That looks just like a Ghostbusters’ ghost trap.”
“Well, SHUH! Form follows function!”
“And geek ignores copyright laws. You don’t have Proton Packs in there, do you?”
“Like we’d be that obvious,” Render scoffed. “Look, our big advantage here is that nobody really knows what’s going on with those angel things, right? Sometimes they show up and you got a spontaneous healing. Sometimes they just fade away. Sometimes they just go *Pop!* with no explanation. So, we USE that. You two finish the idea that I pitched to you last night?”
“Got it right here,” Mal said, pulling what looked like an oversized video camera out of the carryall.
“That’s the thing that captures the angel, and then stashes it in the trap,” Render explained. “Please notice that it has been cunningly designed to look like a video camera, and it even has the markings of a private school AV department. While it’s pretty obvious by itself, the trap can easily pass for just another piece of AV equipment. We show up, passing ourselves off as the TV Journalism class from a local private school. Winter does a few Bee-Ess on-camera interviews, we let it be known that we’re angling for footage of one of the angels. This is just the sort of thing that the TV Journalism class of an upscale private school would do. We hang around for a while, and if one of the angels doesn’t show, we split and take care of your thing, Jads. Hey, we’re kids, nobody expects us to have a lot of patience. We wait for the Wednesday Mass. From what we’ve learned from blogs about the Vigil, the Angel-girl tries to shed one of those angels before a healing or Mass. When one of the angels shows up, the back-lighting array goes *foosh!* While everyone’s distracted we use the ‘camera’ to bag the angel. By the time anyone can see, the thing’s gone, and for all they know, it just went pop. Nobody even knows the thing’s gone, let alone that we have it. We make a bunch of excited school kid noises about the footage, and SPLIT. Nice, simple, direct, no frills or fuss. It’s not technically illegal, but nobody knows that we did anything, so there’s no dispute.”
“Very NICE, Raymundo!” Winter said, giving him a comradely punch in the shoulder. “Way to get your Raffles on! When are you gonna join the Masterminds, hunh?”
“PLEASE! Like I’d let the whole world know that I’m training to be a master criminal! Gimme a break!”
Romeo looked up and down the street. “I don’t see the limo anywhere. Maybe I have enough time to call Linda and see if I can’t-”
“Still in Stage One, I see,” Jean-Armand said with a raking glance at his companion.
“NO, I am NOT at ‘Stage One’! Stage One is what happens when I break up with a girl! This is just a misunderstanding! If I can just talk with her, I’m sure that we can clear this whole thing- ACK!” Romeo had been waving his arms around when a jelly donut came from out of nowhere and hit him square in the face, sending strawberry jelly all over him.
“Nice GOING, Doofus!” came from above.
“Hey, is it MY fault that you wouldn’t let me finish breakfast?” Figures darted down to the street level from the rooftops. One of them grew to nearly 30 feet high as he dropped, and landed with a resounding THUD and shock wave that set off the alarms of all the cars parked on the street. He was a burly young man wearing a slightly baggy gray coverall that was heavily reinforced with white ceramet plate armor on his head, shoulders, forearms, chest, groin, and very heavy plates on his knees, shins and feet.
As the Seeds coped with the giant on that side, another figure dropped on the other side. This one was wearing bulky red-and-gold power armor with a decided ‘bird’ theme, including talons and a nasty looking beak. A gaudy figure in red and white zoomed up on their other side. He wore an outfit that looked like it had been pieced together from various superhero costumes from the comics- he wore a red helmet with ‘wings’ that could have been modeled on Batman or Wolverine, a white ‘U’ on the forehead and a ‘Cyclops’ style visor. The tunic was red and sleeveless with another white U on the chest. A white cape fluttered in the breeze. He had a white utility belt around his waist, and metallic gauntlets on his hands. His leggings were red, but his buccaneer boots were white. He carried a large squarish hammer in one hand, and in the other a red shield with a white U on the boss. Near him, a curvy brunette girl in a dark-purple-and-red outfit with a high tech harness of some sort on her back attached to cables leading to units on her wrists, and matching visor floated, with a ball of energy forming in her cupped hands. A more elegant female figure in a simple black outfit (black leather jeans, sleeveless black turtleneck sweater, black heeled boots, black opera gloves and domino mask) hovered at the far side from the boy in red and white. Another female in a black-striped orange leotard with white gloves and boots was perched on the arm of a street lamp. An elongated figure in a purple-and-green leotard had anchored himself to another lamp post. And up on high a slight figure in a rosy-red/pink skirt/dress with white gloves and boots and half-mask floated above the Seeds. The figure in power armor turned on a loudspeaker and a feminine voice blared, “STOP! YOU’RE UNDER ARREST!”
Malachi’s hand jerked reflexively to his coat, but Jadis grabbed his arm. “Don’t.”
“Do you surrender?” the girl in the power armor demanded.
“NO, we DON’T surrender,” Jadis said, squaring off against the leader. “We don’t have to surrender, because you don’t have the authority to arrest us.”
“Jadis Diabolik, we’re taking you in for robbing the Tiffany’s store at Fifth Avenue, and the rest of them as accessories!”
“Look, you’re Gryphon, right? Leader of the Cadet Crusaders, a service organization for teenaged paranormals under the auspices of the NYC District Attorney’s office, founded in 1971, to give civic-minded blah, blah, blah…” Jadis waved a negligent hand at the rest of the group. “Point being, as I recall, your charter doesn’t give you any Police Powers. You can support Police, or adult superhero teams, or act during a disaster or other emergency, but you can’t conduct investigations or actually ARREST anyone.”
“This is a Citizen’s Arrest,” Gryphon stated with irritation. It didn’t normally go this way. Usually the perps either ran or started the fight.
“WRONG! Citizens’ Arrest doesn’t WORK that way!” Jadis countered. “Citizen’s Arrest works ONLY if said citizen has either personally witnessed a crime in progress, OR if the Police have explicitly asked for the public’s help in detaining a specific individual. Now, I know that you didn’t witness us doing anything illegal. So- please keep in mind that this IS being taped- have the Police asked you in particular or the public in general to help bring us in?"
“No, we know that you did the Tiffany’s job from a tip from our Hotline.”
“Which SHOULD have been referred to the PROPER authorities.”
“Aw, SCREW this!” Ultramax (the guy in the red-and-white closet explosion) yelled. “We KNOW they did it! Dammit, Griff, yer screwing it all up AGAIN!”
Thrasher elbowed Malachi and roared in his best imitation of Eric Mahren off on one of his drill instructor rants, “Did you just lip off to your team leader IN THE FACE OF OPPOSITION? That is the DUMBEST, most BASS-ACKWARDS thing that I have seen in all my days! Listen up, Numb-Nuts-”
Mal immediately got Thrasher’s joke, and was right in Ultramax’s face, giving him the R. Lee Ermey, ranting at the junior superhero about combat discipline, chain-of-command, solidarity in the face of the enemy and several other valid points, all in the most profane, imbalancing and cage-rattling way possible. It was liberally peppered with comments about his costume, attitude, competence, intellect, sexuality and hygiene. Every time that Ultramax tried to reply, either Thrash just overran him verbally, or Mal jerked the conversation onto another point, keeping the yutz off-balance.
While the two Bad Seeds were yanking Ultramax’s chain, the girl in black touched down to wait for the people ostensibly in charge of this mess to make up their alleged minds. Nephandus spared an appreciative eye for the well-made blonde, who looked to be about his age. The way that she was dressed and the way she held herself suggested that she might appreciate a little appreciation. He carefully sidled up to her and said, bringing his cosmopolitan European accent to the fore, “Pardon, M’mselle, but as a practitioner, I detect something of the arcane about you. Are you a practitioner?”
“Ah, No,” she replied with an American accent that suggest more of the Midwest than New York, ducking her head a little. I’m what they call ‘Imbued’. This creature, I dunno exactly what it is, sort of gave me these powers, and I’m tryin’ to figure out what to do with ‘em.”
“Ah, Imbued…” He purred. Good. With the abnormally high standards at Whateley, he was beginning to worry that he’d lost his touch with the fair sex. Time to shift to commiseration and comfort. “Yes, I understand… you have power, but you are worried about the cost of that power. No one has thought to teach you the ethics and protocols, and you worry that every time you use your powers, you are creating a debt that may someday cost you your very soul… So, tell me… ah, oh, by the way, I didn’t catch your name…”
“They call me Nightchylde,” the blonde said, giving Jean-Armand her complete and undivided attention.
Jackpot. Jean-Armand brought out the big guns. “Permit me the honor of introducing myself. I am Jean-Armand St. Michel-DuChantraine, the son of the Countess Schwartzborg.” He glossed over the fact that he wasn’t in line to inherit the title, and indeed, even his mother’s claim to the title was spotty at best. Still, Nightchylde gave a charmed *gleep!* at meeting a real live European nobleman.
Back at the main event, Jadis hammered away at her point. “LOOK, it’s like this! WE are not going to attack you. BUT, if you attack US, then not only do we have the legal right to defend ourselves with everything at our disposal, but YOU will be held legally responsible for any damages or injuries that result from the fight. This is because you have a specific mandate from the City, with a specific scope of responsibility that you are grossly overstepping.”
“You can split hairs all you want,” Gryphon shot back, “but the fact of the matter is that YOU are dangerous criminals wanted for a serious felony!”
“Oh?” Render said, slipping back into his ‘Edward G. Robinson voice, “You got a warrant, Copper?”
“We’ve already DONE that joke, Ray,” Jadis said under her breath. “But he still has a point. DO YOU have a warrant? Has there been an APB out for our arrest?” Jadis folded her arms across her chest. “Have you even phoned in to the cops about this?”
“Oh, you think that I haven’t called the cops, hanh? Hunh? Just a sec.” While it was off the loudspeaker, you could hear the yelp through the power armor. “WHAT? ARE YOU KIDDING?” there was a more subdued sound from within the armor that Jadis didn’t quite catch. Then the loudspeaker cut in again and Gryphon said in a disgruntled voice, “Step down, Cadets. There’s no warrant out for these creeps.”
“WHAT?” Ultramax yelled, reeling back from the reaming that Thrasher and Malachi were giving me. “Are you KIDDING?”
“Gee, where have I heard that before?” Render murmured to himself.
“And, oh LOOK!” Jadis said with a treacley lilt. “Our limo has shown up. The driver probably didn’t want to get his paint job scratched up. Okay guys, time to go! Ray, peel Thrash and Mal off Ultramess.” As she said this, she walked over to where Nephandus was chatting up Nightchylde, hooked her finger in the back of the collar of his redingote and hauled him off.
As Ray pushed Thrash and Mal into the limo, he turned to Gryphon and said, "By the way, my Dad would never forgive me if I didn’t pass along a hearty ‘Hey There’ to your mentor, Gargoyle… Oh yes, he DIED recently, didn’t he? Pity. Oh well!”
After they all piled in, Jadis spotted Simone Wyatt and Kellie Morrow. She stuck her head out the window and yelled. “Hey! Simone! Kellie! Don’t think that I don’t know who finked us out! BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME, BITCH!”
The limo drove off, leaving the Cadet Crusaders standing there. A pall hung over the scene. Then Nightchylde asked, “Hey, why don’t WE have a limo?”
Burke watched the scene with a feeling of vindication. Someone was pulling strings to keep those punks out of jail. The fix was in. And it was up to him to figure out who had put it there.
“Thrash, that was fucking brilliant!” Winter exulted as the limousine pulled out.
“Yeah!” Mal agreed. “Way to put the Smokey on and blow it up his ASS!”
“Did you have to drag me off like that?” Jean-Armand, fixing the fit of his redingote. “I was getting somewhere with that girl!”
“Yeah, well deal with it, Pretty Evil Boy,” Render said with authority. “You were the one who was all het up to get going with the Angel project.”
“Which we’re going to have to put on hold for a while,” Jadis said with an aggrieved air.
“Hey, Jads, you did good with Iron Bat back there, but we can’t really expect to DO anything about that idiot who ripped off Tiffany’s,” Render maintained.
“I’m not talking about that!” Jadis snapped. “You’re supposed to be the kids of major players! Think about it! Do you honestly think that those idiots will lay off, just ‘cause someone in authority tells them to? Of course not! AND, I spotted that idiot Burke hanging around. AND, that doesn’t cover all the possible people who’ll be tailing along after us, just on the off-chance that they spot something, ANY thing.”
“So, we throw off their follow,” Jean-Armand said as if it was a given.
“Which will take hours to do right,” Jadis pointed out as she reached for her PDA. “Okay people, we need places, places that have absolutely nothing to do with either Hell’s Kitchen or Tiffany’s, but will give credulous idiots all sorts of exciting ideas that will give them better things to do than follow us.”
“What if the people following us aren’t credulous idiots?”
“Then they’d know better than to be following US around!”
In the center of the octagonal room, a single beam of light shone down upon an exquisite white marble statuette of a naked woman done in the unmistakable style of Benvenuto Cellini. Five grave young people in the uniforms of a private school stood before the pedestal, separated from it (apparently) only by the velvet rope. “The Cellini Venus,” Mirelle, the oldest of the three girls, read from the brochure. “Height: 41.02 cm. Carved from white marble. The centerpiece of the famous Bonet Collection. Mentioned only in passing in his Autobiography, this statue is believed to have been carved during Cellini’s Ferrara period. There are various mentions in different accounts that might have been this statue down through the centuries. It was widely believed to have been destroyed, if not only a rumor, until it was recovered by Charles Bonet, along with many other undocumented pieces that had been seized by the Nazis from private collections across Europe, in 1948. With no specific provenance for the piece, it remained in the Bonet Collection until 1966, when it was stolen from the Palais d’Lafayette Museum in Paris, where it was on exhibit. The statue turned up almost 30 years later in the private collection of American Industrialist David LeLand. It is known that LeLand had an obsessive, almost erotic attachment to the statue. The American State Department expedited the return of the Venus to France immediately upon confirmation of its provenance.”
In exactly the same tone and cadence, Pilar read from the Security outline they’d stolen. “Wyler Security Systems™ Custom Anti-Theft System Model B0002B15YM. Eight separate and distinct detection methods, including over 2,000 light beams set less than a millimeter apart, thermograph scans and weight scans that are renewed 135,000 times per second. Twelve different and distinct responses, including alarms to persons within and without the building, hypersonic anti-personnel klaxons, release of tear gas, use of capture gels, and the dropping of hardened Messingite® plates around the statue, the immediate area around the statue and all doors into the viewing chamber. Five separate and distinct shielded power sources. Seven separate and distinct shielded system review and evaluation circuits. The chamber is quadruple reinforced with Messingite, and there are special circuits to prevent intangible or teleportation entry. The floor has a special coating that reacts to high friction by becoming frictionless, preventing theft by most super-speedsters.”
“Gee,” the 14-year old girl Mulan said in a flat faux-American accent, “Y’think maybe they suspect that someone might wanna STEAL it?”
The joke was that that was exactly what they were there to do. They were students at the DeVille Academy, a school notorious (in very rarified circles) for producing the most skilled, subtle, vicious, and effective covert operatives in the espionage world. They were recruited as ten-year-olds from the nastiest gutter-trash gangs across the world. They were chosen for their cunning, slipperiness, treachery, aggression, feel for the jugular, eye for the main chance, and ability to use their cuteness to their own advantage. They were trained by seasoned covert operatives at a school in Switzerland, where merely ‘cutthroat’ was taking it easy. The First Form numbered over a hundred; the Graduating Class was between 20 and 25. NO ONE dropped out. Ever. There had been one or two escapes, though. They were in New York on the ‘Grand Tour’, a yearly excursion to the great cities of the world, where the students paid their way through burglary, picking pockets, confidence games, smuggling, and identity theft. They'd been assigned to steal the Cellini Venus as a test. If they succeeded, Sanjay, the elder boy of the group, would have 20% of the ransom deducted from his Graduation bill; if they failed, it would be interpreted as a sign of weakness by the rest of the student body. “I think that I got sand-bagged by Jandros on this one,” Sanjay said with a disgusted note.
They instantly fell silent as another group of visitors entered the viewing chamber. Both parties played the well-mannered patrons of the arts until the brunette in the second group leaned forward and gave the statue an intense look. “Is it just me, or does that chick look like Audrey Hepburn?”
The white-haired girl chided the brunette on her lack of appreciation for a priceless treasure, and the group moved on. As soon as the group was out of the viewing room, Mirelle said, “That was Romeo LaClavar.”
“The redheaded boy who looked like his dog had just died. His mother is the mutant adventuress called ‘Lilith’. My class had a nasty little run-in with him and his mother last summer.” She paused. “And the white-haired girl seemed familiar as well…”
“The younger boy with the sunglasses was hiding an optical implant,” Pilar, who was always looking for an excuse to one-up Mirelle, said. “Other than that, I’d say that he and the white-haired girl looked like relations of some sort.”
Sanjay snapped his fingers. “Jadis Diabolik. And her brother… I forget his name.”
“Malachi,” Mulan said. “From what I remember of the write-up of Dr. Diabolik, both his son Malachi and his daughter Jadis share his trademark ‘horn’ forelocks. And, as I recall, the latest updates say that both Jadis and Malachi are enrolled at Whateley Academy up in New Hampshire.”
“Of course. Whateley,” Sanjay said. “I was wondering where I’d seen that blonde braid and those silly 18th Century clothes.” The others made quiet noises of surprise. “The pretty boy with the long blonde braid and the fancy jabot and coat is Jean-Armand St. Michel-DuChantraine, the son of the Hexmaster, the dealer in cursed objects.”
“Really?” Mirelle mused. “Does he also go to Whateley?”
“Yes. I’m not sure what sort of mutation he has.”
“Really?” Mirelle looked amused. “Now, what are the odds that there are only four students from Whateley in that group of seven? Anyone made the other three?”
“No, but two of them are suspiciously attractive.”
Sanjay suddenly made up his mind. “Pilar, go get our coats from the check room, then hail us a cab. Kim, go with her, get your coat and go outside. Watch the front door; let us know when they leave, and what car or bus they take. Mirelle, Mulan- spread out and do a level 2 tail. See if they’re checking out the security layout.”
“Why? We already HAVE an assignment.”
“Yes and what’s the best way to overcome an impossible obstacle? Get someone else to do it for you.”
Burke spent the day following the Bad Seeds from the exhibit of the Bonet Collection at the Griffith Collection, through one art gallery, exhibit, high-end store, and tourist spot after another. But then they did something very odd… They went back to the vigil at St. Gregory’s and made out like they were some sort of high school TV journalism club project. But they’d come to see the vigil yesterday. And he didn’t think that Whateley had a bunch of supervillain kids on their in-house TV News. Did they even have an in-house TV news system?
While it was kind of cool and all, Thrasher wasn’t the type to really get off on watching old ladies pray in the general direction of a church. He did the camera monkey bit for a while, but he got bored with lugging around the gimmicked camera that Mal and Jay-Arm had kludged up between them, and pretending to film Winter playing news reporter. Winter was a babe, but she had NO idea how to interview people. So, after about an hour or so of that, he handed off to Mal. Let him go trailing after Winter, watching her shove that microphone up people’s noses. He had better things to do.
He headed for an alley, and the second that he was sure that no one was watching, he boarded up the side of the building and was up on the roofs. He looked around, and liked what he saw. Lots of old-fashioned buildings, between five and eight stories tall. LONG avenue blocks, with alleys and tons of differentiation in building heights. Fire escapes. Even with the gentrification of the neighborhood, there were still enough working class families that there were things like washing lines strung out between the buildings and things like that. Primo Parkour turf.
Thrasher mapped out a rough circuit that would bring him back to his starting point, took a few deep breaths, focused himself and took off. While a good traceur knows to plan out his course, half the fun of it is coping with the unexpected. Thrash had hit his stride, and was going for the wall when someone kipped up over the edge going the other way, just as he hit the ledge. They tangled up and went down together, colliding with some other guys on the way down. There was shouting, scrambling, and a lot of grabbing onto anything possible. Thrash used his blades as best he could, and somehow they managed to touch down onto the roof two stories below with nothing broken.
There was some shouting and recriminations, and then one of the five men peered at Thrash and said, “Hey, wait a minnit- I think I know you…”
One of the other men snapped his fingers and said, “Now I got you! You’re one of those Whateley kids that Mahren stuck us with, when that shithead the Lamplighter went ballistic on us!” The tenor of the exchange took a 180-degree turn, and they caught up. They exchanged commiserations about Mahren and Kat McQuiston, and Thrash gave them some first person insights as to what happened. When they got around to the inevitable, ‘What are you doing out of school’ question, Thrash told them about the Seeds’ four-day lead. “Lucky little shits,” was all that Prison Bitch had to say about it.
Seeing an opportunity, Thrash asked, “Hey guys- you wouldn’t happen to know anything about some local supergoon called ‘Iron Mike’, wouldja?”
Mahren’s old buddies’ body language subtly changed. They grew wary. “Aaannnddd… what would you want with Iron Mike?” Thrasher spelled out about Jadis, and the break-in at Tiffany’s, and how they were looking for the man in white. “So… Dr Diabolik’s daughter wants to have words with Iron Mike?” ‘Heckle’ asked.
“Yeah, but it’s cool. Jadis won’t hurt him or nothin’. Well, leastways, not unless he does something really stupid and pisses her off.”
“I say we let those two meet,” ‘Messenger’ said with an evil grin.
Sabbath sashayed into ‘Superbad’ carrying a Bloomingdale’s shopping bag. Sneaky Pete was by the bar, nursing a beer. Sabbath sat down next to him, setting the shopping bag down between them, and asked for a white wine spritzer. Sneaky Pete smoothly dropped a roll into the shopping bag. “Thanks,” Sabbath said in a flat voice.
“Not a problem,” Pete said in an equally flat voice that suggested a common problem.
“I tried to move the pieces that I took,” She said in an even voice.
“And?” he asked in a way that suggested he knew the answer already.
“Diamonds are a drug on the market,” they said in almost perfect unison, subconsciously quoting a line from ‘Casablanca’.
“I actually managed to get enough for some of the emeralds to cover my Christmas expenses,” Sabbath said.
“Lucky you,” Pete graveled. “I hadda give up a fuckin’ POUND of stones to get my bookie off my ass.”
“I didn’t get into being a supervillain to break even.”
“Waddya want? That’s how fences work. The second that they know that you got the goods, they lowball you into the ground. What are you gonna do?”
“You still have two sacks of diamonds,” Sabbath pointed out. “You could ransom them back to Tiffany’s insurance carrier. They’d get the diamonds back for a fraction of their insured value, and you’d get five times as much as from the fences. Hell, I’d be amazed if that wasn’t what most of the higher-end fences do.”
“Yeah,” Pete grunted. “Problem. The fences got a whole protocol worked out for that angle, what keeps the insurance ghouls from getting at ‘em. I ain’t got that.”
“I need about a quarter-million for a sure thing,” Sabbath said, half to herself. “The financial analyst I work for has picked up that Bernie Madoff is opening up his famous back room. If I can get in on that, I’ll be SFL. Set. For. Life.”
“Yeah? So how you gonna get the quarter mil?”
“That’s what I was hoping THIS would be.”
“Well, I hear that the drug types use diamonds instead of money a lot.”
Sabbath curled her lip. “Drug money. No thanks, the supervillain business is more than weird, violent and crazy enough for me.”
“How about high-end weapons? I hear that Cincinnati is big in the ‘Black Lab’ scene these days. Use the diamonds as collateral against a big shipment of blasters and shit like that, move them to New York, sell them to the ‘Evil Mastermind’ crowd, and make a bundle.”
Sabbath raised her eyebrows. “Not bad! You know anyone in the ‘Black Lab’ scene?”
Sneaky Pete deflated. “No.”
“You know anyone in the ‘Evil Mastermind’ crowd?”
“No,” Pete grated, gripping his beer even tighter.
“Then even if we could work our connections to make those connections, the connections would want major money- and I’m talking real money, not hot ice- just to make the intros. And the sellers would want a big chunk of spending money up front as good faith. ALONG with the diamonds.”
Sneaky Pete did a face plant. “I don’t believe this! We need to make a piss pot full of money, so we can have enough money to make a piss pot full of money!”
“It gets worse,” Sabbath said with a moan. “According to my agent, he paid ‘Mister Cool’ $75,000 for what he stole. That was the price he quoted Cool, and Cool’s so tetchy that he didn’t dare low-ball him.”
“WHAT?” Sneaky Pete gated through clenched teeth. “Our SAP is walking around with more money that WE are?” He let out a disgusted sigh. “Y’know, there was a time when this all made sense. You stole something, somebody bought it, and you had a big wad of money. Now?” He made a wave of futility.
“So, what was your big idea?”
“Back at Tiffany’s, you said you had an idea how we can use ‘Mister Cool’ to make a big score.”
“Oh! Right, Right!” He reached into his jacked and took out a folded newspaper. He opened it to the Metro page. “Check it out. “There’s a painting by this guy Constable. It’s a picture of two lovers kissing.”
“AND, according to this, Constable is a major name, and this is the ONLY picture that he ever did of that subject. So, it’s a big deal.”
“Yeah, but moving fine art, especially uniques, is a pain in the ass. The art crowd may not be as violent as the drug crowd, but they’re a LOT weirder.”
“Tell me about it. The Constable’s not what I’m after.” He flipped the paper a few pages. “At the same gallery, in a different wing, there’s a showing of erotic Japanese woodblock prints. I got a guy who says that he’ll pay five grand per print, up to a hundred thou.”
“There’s that kind of money in dirty pictures?”
“There’s that kind of money in dirty pictures painted by masters of the form, over a 150 years ago.”
“You sure about the buyer?”
“If it was just me, it’d be iffy. But if I got YOU snarling at him, talking about ripping out his soul if he doesn’t come across, I think we can get it.”
“No way that _I_ can beat that kind of security. But with you and Cool keeping guards busy, I should be able to get all 30 prints, no problem.”
“Thirty? But if he’s paying a hundred grand-”
“He’ll be that much more willing to pay the whole hundred, if he’s getting a bargain.”
“Smart boy!” Sabbath beamed. “Maybe this is the beginning of a fruitful partnership!” She and Pete clinked their glasses together.
“-and they said that ‘Iron Mike’ usually spends this time of day trawling for pimps who’ve made their pickups.”
“We’re getting tips from guys named ‘Worm’ and ‘Prison Bitch’,” Jadis muttered. “How does he know that a pimp’s got money on him? Just randomly going around shaking down pimps doesn’t strike me as very efficient- or a good way to stay out of jail.”
“According to the guys, he has some weird psychic sense,” Thrasher explained. “Somehow he just knows when there’s action going down, and if someone has money. He also knows if the odds are against him in a fight. So he never gets in a fight he knows he can’t win. So, he goes around shaking down street level supervillains after their agents have paid them off.”
“Supervillains have agents?” Romeo asked.
“Sure! At least, my parents do,” Winter said, and Render and Thrasher agreed.
“This may explain why my mother isn’t doing better, financially,” Romeo mused.
“Whoa!” Render cut in. “You’re telling me that he jumps them after they’ve moved whatever goods they’ve stolen? Or after they’ve gotten paid for whatever they did?”
“That’s what Worm and the guys told me.”
“This is a SUPER HERO?”
“No, this is New York,” Jadis sneered. Then something occurred to her. “Hey, why are these Parkour guys of yours clueing us in like this? What’s in it for them?”
“HEY! They’re Cool!” Thrasher said. “They totally ROCKED in Boston, when the Lamplighter started busting our nuts! ‘Sides, they got a real hate on for ‘Iron Mike’!”
“Well, they said that ‘Iron Mike’ is reserved for a statue to fallen Marines at Parris Island, and punk-ass super-dorks who never go into a fight they’re not sure they can’t breeze through have no right to it.”
“They gotta be Marines,” Jadis said as she shook her head. Then something occurred to her. “You say he’s got some sort of sixth sense?” A wicked grin spread across her face. “Oh, Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Rooomeeooo?”