Part 3

20. Leandra Moon

I spend the short walk from Sandy’s place to mine thinking. There’s a new hero in town; Sexy Tiger. The name’s a little hokey, but from the pictures I saw it’s descriptive. I’m glad my power doesn’t require me to get naked in public. That would be so embarrassing.

Do I even want to be a super hero? Do I want to have fans? Well, yes, but I want them flocking to my rock concerts, not to the scene of a property-wrecking brawl. The whole idea of fighting scares me. People get killed when that happens, heroes and villains alike.

As I approach the back door I get a faint whiff of ozone. Normal kids would write that off, but I know what it means in this household. Mom thunder-ported into the back yard within the past couple of minutes. Which means Lightning Lady and the Phantasm have just got home from another mission. Part of me wants to burst in and confront them, but they wouldn’t tell me anything if I did. Instead I open the door as quietly as I can and slip inside. I tiptoe upstairs, avoiding the two steps that creak, and sneak into the bathroom. Once the door is closed I listen at the wall adjoining their bedroom.

“Maybe if you’d exercise a bit more, Peter.”

“All the exercise in the world isn’t going to help, Ann. I’m forty-seven years old, my metabolism is starting to slow down. And don’t think I haven’t noticed you occasionally letting out the seams in your costume.”

Mom laughs. “You’re right, dear. No matter how fit we stay, age is still creeping up on us. What’s going to happen when you start getting wrinkles?”

“Nothing, dear, I wear a full faceplate. But that butterfly mask of yours is going to show all the laugh lines.”

“Don’t even joke about that. We need a new generation of heroes before the old ones start needing walkers.”

“Speaking of new heroes Ann, what did the manager say about this tiger woman?”

“The one they’re calling Sexy Tiger? Just that she came in and brutally disabled the guards. It took them hours to clean up the blood-stains.”

“Yeah, I know. And as usual, the idiots did it before I could check for clues. Totally ruined the crime scene. The tapes and tales are enough to convict these guys, but utterly useless for figuring out who the Tiger is. We need to know where she stands.”

“Well, we know she’s not above getting her hands dirty. Maybe she can take over for Protocol.”

“If she’s willing to play along, dear. Otherwise she may end up seeing the other end of his powers. Personally, I think she’s going to end up being a little too vicious to play the game right. The animal-types usually are.”

“Well, there’s Hawk…”

“Hawk only dresses like a bird. And he’s completely off his nut. He still goes through our garbage looking for evidence that Leandra is turning bad. And he’s training that girl Peregrine to be just like him. The Obsessive Detective, isn’t that what you used to call him, Ann?”

“I still do, Peter. What I wonder is why he spends all his time investigating established supers. Why not the newbies? It would make our job easier; he could just send us a list of everyone’s secret identities once a month.”

“You know why. The last time he tried it he got totally mired trying to assemble a dossier on everyone in the city.”

“I guess you’re right, dear. Now come on, we have to get the costumes put away and be ready. Leandra will be home soon.”

I take that as my cue to sneak back out and down to the kitchen. I open the back door and then pull it closed with a bang. “Mom, Dad? I’m home!”

Her voice calls from upstairs. “Don’t take your shoes off, dear, we’re going out for dinner tonight!”

21. Kate Charles

I end up having to go back to the bank. In all the excitement yesterday I forgot to actually get any pocket money, and both Derek and I are running low. There’s no line at the ATM today, everyone’s going inside to see where the new super hero was. Getting my cash is a simple in and out. Almost.

“Hey, Sexy Tiger.” It’s that Kelly girl, and she’s addressing me.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She switches to a conspiratorial hush. “Don’t worry, your secret’s safe. I was outside the bank yesterday; I saw you transform.”

She turns her phone to me and shows me a video clip of the shape change. Perfect. Just perfect. How am I going to explain to Derek that I blew my secret identity the first time I ever used my powers in public? I’d better see how bad it is.

“What else do you know?”

“Nothing, really. Except that you’re tigris tigris, a Bengal tiger, and that you really desperately need a sidekick.”

“Why do I need a sidekick?”

“To hold your purse and some spare clothes. That way you can change without having to worry about the logistics. Oh, and I could brush out your fur, too. That would be grr-reat!”

“Look Kelly, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the offer, but …”

“Come on! I’ll show you how useful I can be!” She reaches into her backpack and pulls out a short dress, a fairly pretty one at that. It also looks about my size.

“Okay, where did that come from?”

“It’s my oldest sister’s. She’s your size.”

“How do you know that?”

“I gathered up the pieces of your clothes from yesterday. That way other people couldn’t get DNA off them. The tag had the sizing information on it.”

“You’re pretty smart, Kelly. Too smart for your own good.”

She suddenly looks worried. “Uh oh. What if I told you I backed up the video onto my laptop?”

“Are you carrying your laptop with you?”

She looks crestfallen and more than a little terrified. “You’re going to kill me, aren’t you?”

I think about that. Why would I kill her? She knows my secret, but I’ll probably make lots of slips, and a skilled detective could probably work out who I am without too much effort. Kelly is smart, resourceful, and eager to help. Never throw away a net asset. But I don’t trust her that much yet.

“No, I’m not going to kill you.” She visibly relaxes. “But there are going to be a few ground rules. First, I get everything about you: your full name, your address, your family, the GPS id of your phone, even your panty size if I want it. In return, you get my name, which is Kate, and a phone number. Second, you only call me if it’s a real emergency. I can respond quickly to downtown, but it takes more time to get out to the suburbs. Deduce what you want from that, but don’t tell anybody. If a man or a machine answers the phone, say who you are and leave a message. If I call you, you jump to it or give me a really good reason why not. Third, you tell no-one; not even your best friends. Fourth, and this is letting you in on a really big secret, I’m not only a tiger. I can turn into any kind of animal. So if you really must keep the name you’ve given me, maybe change it to ‘Sexy Beast’ or something like that. Got it?”

“Got it! This is so awesome!” She wraps her arms around me and plants little-girl kisses all over my face. “I’ll make you so proud of me!” She thinks a moment. “Oh, there’s not going to be a problem with me being in school, is there? I’m in grade eleven at Central City High.”

“I’ll try to schedule the emergencies around that.”

“Ooh, I am going to be the sidekick of a super hero! Peregrine to your Hawk! Hit-Girl to your …”

I stop her before she gushes over. “Um, about that. I’m not a super hero, Kelly. I’m a super villain. I just happened to do something nice yesterday.”

Her eyes widen until they’re like saucers. “Oh! Em! Gee! A super villain? For real? That’s even cooler! I wish I could tell someone! But I won’t! No! Not anyone! Wow, a real super villain!”

I end up buying her lunch at a downtown café while we go over the details. My first minion is a sixteen-year old girl; I hope this isn’t the biggest mistake of my career.

22. Kelly Nakamura

I am valet to a super villain! I’m so excited I can’t stop shaking. My first task was to go and pick up some clothes for her, and she even gave me a credit card to do it! I blew like a thousand bucks on clothes, and that got precisely three outfits. And even with expensive stuff like this she has me weakening the seams.

While I was shopping I had another idea, and I put it to the test at home. Buttons are a trick, but I can undo zippers fast enough to surprise someone. It sure surprised Sonya’s boyfriend when her dress fell down in front of him! I know I’ll pay for it later, but if I can help Sexy Beast undress quickly it’ll save on clothing.

After supper, and after doing the dishes like Mom ordered me to as punishment for pranking my sisters’ clothes, I head out to 117 Parkdale. It’s near home, and Sexy B says the old couple that live there are in on her secret. Maybe they’re the mad scientists that gave her her powers!

As I get there I hear Sexy B talking to someone. She doesn’t sound happy.

“… not to take her apart!”

“But she needs cleaning, Mistress. And her head has been rotating three degrees per minute. It was on backwards.”

“Twelve! Look, can you get her reassembled quickly? Kelly will be here in less than five minutes.”

I almost feel guilty letting myself in. Almost.

“Hi Sexy B!”

She’s staring at me like she was caught in the headlights. Sexy B is wearing a pink power suit, though it looks like it might be last year’s cut. It shows off her curves and makes her look hot. God, I feel like a lesbian. If that’s what Sexy wants, I could do it. Heck, I drool over girls anyway; I probably am one already. Next to her is a white plastic robot, skinny and formed of sort of oval shapes with long arms and legs. Also, there’s an old woman’s head on the coffee table; her body is sitting on the couch spasming mechanically.

“Kelly! You’re early.”

I run over and hug her and show her my new trick. In about three seconds she’s down to a shirt and panties.

“What are you doing?”

“Now when you transform you won’t tear up so much clothing.”

She’s struggling with her temper, I can tell. Mother gets that same look sometimes. Maybe I should have told her what I was going to do first. After a couple of seconds she gets control.

“Kelly, that’s …” She pauses. “… actually very clever. Good girl!” She scruffles my hair, which is not my favourite thing. I can get used to it, though. I kind of wish she’d transform so I could bury my face in that soft fur, but instead she puts her skirt back on.

“Did you do the shopping I asked you to?”

“Yes. I was also able to make the modifications myself so there won’t be a waiting period.” I knew that sewing class would come in handy. “Do you want to try them on?”

“You have them here?”

“Of course! What kind of sidekick would I be if I wasn’t ready at all times?”

She undresses completely to try them on. She’s older, like maybe twenty or twenty-five, but that just gives her a kind of Hollywood hot. As I hand her the clothes she tries them on and I’m starting to get warm and tingly. I am definitely a lesbian. Twenty-five’s not that old…

“Are you all right, Kelly?”

“Yumm. I mean, yes!”

“Kelly, there’s two things you should be aware of. First, I’m married and I love my husband very much. Second, the legal age for what I think you’re contemplating is eighteen, not sixteen. You’re a bit too young, even if there wasn’t jail time involved. If you want to drool, okay, but nothing physical. Are we clear?”

But she didn’t say no. “Yes, clear.” I am going to have to do some heavy thinking when I get home.

23. Derek Charles

I float the two motorcycles over to me and address the men riding them.

“Climb off; it’s only a three-foot drop.”

They do as they’re told. I flick motorcycle number one towards the river and number two in the direction of the ocean.

“Now, you two boys are off the clock for the rest of the night. I see you again, you get to visit with those bikes.”

They both run off without pulling their guns and I breathe a sigh of relief. I don’t know how to make a bulletproof shield yet. It takes no time at all to catch up with the truck. I don’t know what the Maroni Gang is shipping out tonight, but I intend to find out and keep it for myself. Maybe it’s suicide to rob organized crime, but it’s better than having every super hero and cop in the city come down on me after my first caper. Mobsters have insurance for this kind of thing.

The truck is weaving through the cargo containers on the docks. I’m not sure which one is their destination, but I really don’t care. I’m stopping it before it gets there. I reduce the weight on the rear axle to zero and they lose traction, allowing me to casually float up to the front.

“Evening, boys. I’m here to check your cargo. Any objections?”

The driver pulls a gun and I reverse gravity inside the cab. He and his buddy fall up out of their seats and drop with a thump onto the ceiling. Why is it criminals never use seat belts? The driver lets go of his gun and I flick it out and away. The passenger lives up to his position name and raises a shotgun. Another rotation of gravity and he’s busy hanging on to the doorframe for dear life so as to avoid dropping forty feet sideways. I turn my attention back to the driver.

“You going to run?”

He nods. Smart boy.

“Off with you then. Tell your boss Artificial Gravity has your cargo, and may or may not return your truck depending on how he feels tonight.”

I normalize gravity for him and he runs off. I know he’s not going far, but that’s okay.

“What about me?” Mister Shotgun is still hanging on for dear life.

“I think I’ll just leave you hanging there for a while. How long can you hold on?”

“No! Mercy!”

“Where are the keys to the back?”

“Sun visor! Driver’ side!”

I let him hang while I check his information. The keys are there all right. I float him straight up, over a ways, then drop him off the edge of the pier. He’ll be sore, but should be okay. Assuming he can swim.

I pause to get a look at myself in the side mirror. Black spandex with a glowing wireframe whirlpool on the chest, like those pictures they use on TV to describe black holes. Silver piping on the gloves and boots, motorcycle helmet and a one-way reflective visor over my face. Not bad. I look a bit like a sci-fi biker dude, but overall the effect works. The cape may be a bit over the top, but you can’t go wrong with gloss black and silver piping.

I float to the back to check my spoils. Good thing for me I practiced gravity flight. At first I got queasy whenever I accelerated; now I’m fine. The key does its job and I open up the back.

Kids? What the f--? There are about thirty kids in here, ranging from maybe six to nineteen. Mostly girls. They look like they’ve been through the wringer and are wondering what tonight’s torture is going to be. I may be a super villain, but I don’t sink that low.

“Okay kids, you’re safe now.” Well, as safe as little kids wandering the roughest part of town in the middle of the night. I untie the two nineteen year olds and put them to work freeing the others. What the hell am I going to do now? The only loot value here is the truck, and even that isn’t worth much.

“Good work, hero!”

The voice is deep, booming, confident, and instantly recognizable. It’s Guardsman, the nominal leader of the Justice Sentinels. This guy has been a hero longer than I’ve been alive. There is no way I can take him.

“I’ve been cruising the docks trying to find these child-smugglers for weeks.”

Wait! He thinks I’m a hero! I may be able to get out of this without eating my faceplate after all.

“Welcome to the fold, lad! Now, if only we had a clue as to who’s really behind this operation.”

“It’s the Maroni Gang. They own the truck.”

“Well, the next step is to go to Maroni HQ and explain to them that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable in My City.”

Yeah, you do that, Big Blue. But he’s not moving. I wish he would just get lost.

I feel a tug on one of my boots. It’s one of the kids, a six year old boy. I float down to where he can talk to me easily.

He reaches up and hugs me. “Thank you, mister sooper hewo.” I’m glad he can’t see me blushing behind the visor. Soon I’m surrounded by kids expressing their thanks to me and Guardsman for rescuing them. They seem to think we’re a team.

A bright light comes on and there’s a woman in a power suit approaching us.

“Guardsman! What’s the situation here? Children?”

“Yes, Melanie. These children were being smuggled out of town as part of a white slavery ring when the two of us stopped them.” That means she’s Melanie Chambers, ace reporter for City Broadcasting and long-time girlfriend of the Guardsman. I can sort of see a cameraman in the glare of the floodlight.

She turns to me. “And you’re a new hero come to protect our city. Please, introduce yourself.” She kills the mike and leans in close. “Say something good, newbie; you only get one chance to make a first impression.”

Great. There goes my speech about taking everything that isn’t nailed down. I think up a new lie on the spot. “Hello Melanie, and hello Capital City! I’m Artificial Gravity, and I hope you all feel safer with me around.” Yeah, that way you won’t be looking when I rob you blind.

She rolls her eyes, then turns to face the camera. “And I for one would like to say I do indeed feel safer tonight. Cut! Steve, get that byte on the 11:00. Guardsman, get this noob out of here and give him the spiel. Go do something heroic. I’ll be home in a couple of hours to interview you.”

“Sure thing, Mel. Come on, hero, we’ve got a job to do!”

He leaps into the air. Guardsman can’t fly, but he can jump over half a mile.

“What are you waiting for, dumbass? Get going!”

I lift off and follow him. I’m not sure about Guardsman, but I can see why this witch is in danger all the time. At least the police are showing up to save the kids from her.

24. Leandra Moon

I wake up in the middle of the night, too terrified to even scream. There’s a nightmare rapidly fading from my mind back into the dark place where nightmares go, leaving nothing but fear. This wasn’t a dream of being chased; this was a dream of being caught. I was caught and I was held down and something was terrifying me. There’s no memory of what.

I throw off the covers but they’re so completely sweat-soaked that they still cling to me. My nightgown is like a second skin, plastered to my body and nearly transparent. I start to peel it away but suddenly stop. I feel self-conscious. I look around the dark room; somebody is watching me. I don’t know how I know, but that fact is a certainty. And I can feel the lust in their eyes.

I stand in the middle of the floor, scrunching myself in and covering myself up as much as possible. A glance at the mirror and I can still see … well, everything. My nightgown and my panties might as well be made of thin paint. I close my eyes to hide from myself and start to slowly sob. My room is supposed to be a place of refuge. Now it’s a prison.

“Princess? Are you okay?”

It’s Dad’s voice. Don’t come in! But he does. He puts his big hairy arms around me like some giant teddy bear and I start to feel just a little better. I still shudder at the touch but I hug him closer.

“What happened, Princess? You’re soaked.”

I blubber a few things, but finally manage to get out “bad dream”.

“You should have a shower. It’ll wake you up and clear the bad things from your mind.”

He walks me to the bathroom and lets me go in. I lock the door behind me. Another prison.

The warm water sprays me, tiny droplets stinging just enough to remind me of reality. I start peeling off my nightgown, but it’s resisting. Not like it’s alive or anything, but like it’s been glued onto my body. Eventually it and the panties are under my feet. I don’t know if I can bring myself to wear either of them again. I may just throw them out.

The body wash fills my nose with its desert-scented freshness, clearing my head and restoring my confidence. I languish in the fragrance, carefully washing myself head to toe. The shampoo washes the last residue of fear from my hair, and I even get a bit naughty and use a few drops down below. Life has come back to me finally. But I have to follow the rules; I take time to use the conditioner as well.

When I finally leave the bathroom the only thing I’m wearing is a small towel around my hair. My skin is all dry and fresh and powdered and I’m looking forward to an hour with mister blow-dryer. Back at my room Dad has changed the sheets and made my bed for me. Maybe I should have bad dreams more often. No! That was definitely not worth it.

By the time my hair is dry and brushed out it’s nearly time to get up. I admire myself in the mirror one last time before getting dressed. Like I heard Mom say once, “This is the body that God gave me. Can I help it if it’s gorgeous?”

25. Derek Charles

Guardsman lands on a rooftop about two miles from the docks and turns to me. “Okay, kid, here’s the drill. We’re going to hit the Maroni Gang, and we’re going to hit them hard enough to put an end to this people trafficking. But we don’t want to totally wipe them out.”

“Uh, okay. Why?”

“Because if we wipe them out there’s no chance of a repeat encounter. What’s the point of taking out a villain if they never come back?”

“Wouldn’t it make more sense to put them out of business for good?”

“No kid, another gang we don’t know would just show up and take their place. This way the Maronis will just move their HQ and try a different type of dumb move.”

It actually kind of makes sense. But in the press this guy is all about Law and Order and Stamping Out The Criminal Element Wherever It Hides. Hearing this leaves me feeling a bit soiled. Which is more than a little disturbing given that I’m supposed to be a villain.

“Now, Maroni Headquarters is about one jump that way.” He points. “We’re going to go in and hit hard. Don’t worry about the ones that try to escape, just take down the ones that fight. And remember, they’re playing for keeps.”

“That means they’re going to be shooting at us, right? I’m not sure …”

“Don’t worry about it. Even these guys have trouble hitting a moving target in total chaos. If you get killed we’ll take care of your widow; heroes are like that. Who is your widow, by the way?”

“Widow!? She’s not my widow, and I have no intention of letting her become that! And nothing personal, but I’m not sharing my secret identity with someone I’ve barely met.” Who happens to be a hero.

“Your funeral, kid. Just so you’re aware it’s a dangerous business we’re in.” Easy for him to say, he’s bulletproof.

He makes the final leap and I fly after him. I’m going to need that bulletproof shield sooner than I thought. How did this all go wrong? I wanted to rob somebody, not attack the headquarters of one of the larger mobs in Capital City! And certainly not in the company of the gung-ho asshole who leads the super group that was responsible for my father’s death!

Maroni Headquarters looks more like a dance club than a fortress. Guardsman cracks the pavement as he lands, then storms in, knocking the doors off their hinges. The coat-check guy pulls a gun but Guardsman backhands him away. I definitely heard bones crunch where Big G hit him.

“MARONI! IT’S TIME FOR YOUR RECKONING! NOBODY KIDNAPS CHILDREN IN MY CITY!”

With that he wades in, punching and kicking as he goes. People fly like rag dolls when he hits them, and like rag dolls they don’t get up again when they land. I’m almost ready to vomit. This bastard is killing people! Heroes don’t kill!

I rapidly change my plan. Rather than take part in the assault, I start shunting people to safety. I blast a couple of extra holes in the walls so people can escape through them. These kids may be addicts and creeps, but nobody here deserves what Guardsman’s dishing out. It bugs me that some of the child-stealers are probably getting away, but that’s the price you pay when saving lives.

One thug pulls a gun on me. “Well, hero, this ain’t your lucky day!” He fires, and I dodge just enough that the bullet only pierces my arm. I increase the weight of the gun twentyfold and he drops it.

“You want a fight, go talk to him!” I point at Guardsman, who’s just buried someone’s face in a brick wall. “Otherwise get the hell out of here!” He takes the hint.

The whole building suddenly starts shaking. I look over and Guardsman is pulling out the support pillars. There are still dozens of people inside!

I fly over. “What are you doing?”

“Bringing the house down! What does it look like?”

Just that. As the ceiling cracks and starts to come down I reduce the gravity on it so people at least have a chance to get out of the way. Most of them do. It takes all my concentration to slow the collapse. Meanwhile Guardsman is laughing and calling out to Maroni to show himself. Maroni’s got to be miles away by now.

Finally the dust settles and Guardsman and I are standing in the middle of a demolished shell.

“Good work, son.”

“Good work? Look at all the bodies! Did we need to kill all these people?”

“Culling the horde, son. There’s plenty more to take up where these ones left off.”

“But … but … heroes don’t kill!”

“Thanks for the message from the 1970’s, kid. This is the twenty-first century. Heroes do what’s needed to get the job done. If you don’t have the stomach to be a hero, go back and hide under your mother’s skirt.”

I’m shouting before I can stop myself. “I AM NOT A HERO! I AM A VILLAIN!” Then I calm down and my voice goes soft. “And I’ve never been prouder of that fact.” Gravity flings me up and away from him before he gets a chance to flatten me. Right now I want nothing to do with so-called heroes.

26. Guardsman

“That kid thinks he’s a villain, Mel. He wasn’t trying to save those kids, he just did it by accident. He seems to think this is Dad’s era, when everything was a big game. He doesn’t realize we’re playing for keeps now.”

“Well Gary, not everyone’s cut out to be a hero.”

“Yeah, but this kid’s an idealist, and that means troublemaker. I think we may need Protocol on this one.”

“Ugh. Why him? That creep’s no more than an assassin.”

“He’s more of a surgeon, dear. He takes care of people who decide to become cancers on society.”

“By killing them.”

“It’s necessary, dear.”

“I know, Gary, but why Protocol? He enjoys it too much.”

“You take what you can get, dear. Now let’s go to bed; things will look better in the morning.”

27. Doug

The Cosmic Ego lets me go. He must want someone to gloat to.

“Douglas, my plan went perfectly. Guardsman is acting true to form.”

“What did you do, C.E.?”

“A little nudge. While Mr. Charles was trying out his Artificial Gravity persona and saving a truckload of children from a fate worse than death, I pointed Guardsman in his direction.”

“So now the kid’s dead.”

“Not even close. But he did get a chance to see how Guardsman operates when nobody’s watching. And judging by their manner of parting, I’d say he’s realized the truth. On a single outing. That means I win the bet.”

“C.E., you’re a bastard.” I count out six chocolates. That was the bet. It means I get none for the next two days.

28. Sandra Falcone

“Leandra, you look great this morning!” I don’t need Hawk’s sensor to know she’s radiating lust like a sexual reactor with a major containment breach.

“Thanks. I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I figured I’d spend the time giving myself a personal spa treatment.”

“What woke you up?”

“Bad dream. A real doozy. It wasn’t till I was in the shower for about twenty minutes that I started to lose the sense of panic.”

“What? Were you all sweaty and dehydrated?”

“Sweaty yes. I didn’t really feel dehydrated, just a little weak.”

“That’s a symptom of dehydration. Did you do the lemon juice test?”

“Lemon juice test?”

“For fear gas. I learned about it when I was a kid. Lemon juice turns green in the presence of fear gas.”

“You had a weird childhood, Sandy. Who would want to expose me to fear gas?”

“Duh. It doesn’t take a genius to see that you look just like Mistress O’Payne. A lot of people have a beef with her, and quite a few have very long memories.”

“Well who would have access to it?”

“Just about anybody. Nightmare Man uses it, as do the Phantasm and Spooky Steve. The Hawk has some in his utility belt and so does Gadget Guy. On top of that, ever since the Terror Twins got taken down, there’s been a bunch of it out on the street in the hands of the gangs. I could walk out of school right now and be back in about twenty minutes with some.”

“Is there any way to detect it after the fact?”

“No, it breaks down fairly quickly; the half-life is only an hour or so. It does bind to silk though and can be detected for days in that.”

“I have a silk nightgown, and a whole bunch of silk underwear. Maybe we can check those out. You will help me, right?”

“Sure. After school.”

So now I’m going to be going through her unmentionables with her. As if I wasn’t having enough trouble just being near her. Or maybe it’s just that she’s a really nice girl. Maybe I’m just … no! I am not falling for a girl! It’s her powers, just her powers.

Leandra stiffens. I know what that means. Jake walks up to us right on schedule. Could this day get any worse?

“Hi girls! Decided to hog all the sex appeal this morning?”

Leandra glowers at him. “Jake!”

His hands go up in mock surrender. “Easy, easy. I just wanted to talk to Sandy for a moment. Though you are welcome to stay and make it a threesome.”

“Ugh!” Leandra heads off to class, leaving me to the wolf. My heart soars.

Once she’s gone I start paying attention to him. “You know, you’d have a better chance of getting her to like you if you didn’t come across as a lecherous jerk.”

“I know, I know. But just being near her brings it out in me. That’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Okay, Romeo, out with it. What do you want to talk to me about? Planning some carpentry this evening?” Like maybe nailing practice. I’m pretty sure Hawk won’t get that reference; If he does I’m going to pay.

“That would be nice, but that’s not it either.”

“What is it, then?”

“Do you know how to get fear gas out of clothing? Some got into the lining of my, uh, new suit.”

“And how did that happen?”

He pulls me close like we’re making out and whispers. “Dad found it and wasn’t happy with my tailoring efforts. He says I’m too young to go public, and I have to have a mask.”

I whisper back. “Okay, meet me after school. I can get you the neutralizing agent.” And maybe we can talk about something else, too.

Finally I squirm and push away, talking at normal volume now. “Jake! I’m not that kind of girl!” As I head for class I put just a trace of hip swing into my walk so he knows I don’t mean it.

But two incidents with fear gas in one night? That’s a strange coincidence. Peregrine is going to be looking into this.

Contents - Part 1 - Part 2 - [ Part 3 ] - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8 - Part 9

(c) 2013, Tim Smith. All rights reserved.