Hero Status, Chapter 1

Hero Status is almost ready to be uploaded to Amazon! (That sound you hear is my excited squeal.) While I’m working on the final steps, check out this sample chapter.

Chapter 1

People like to debate where superpowers come from. What genetic mutation causes special abilities beyond what seems naturally possible? Experts theorize how the traits are inherited and what part the environment plays in affecting if and how they develop. I don’t have much to add to the discussion. Just because I have superpowers doesn’t mean I know how they work. Sometimes, though? I think they’re fueled by caffeine.

Lack of coffee was definitely my problem this morning. When the cook burst into the dining room with a shout, I should have calmly assessed the situation before reacting. Instead, I jumped and hit the table, jolting the silverware and knocking over my full cup of café con leche. Coffee drenched my wife’s favorite—and very expensive—white tablecloth and splattered onto the imported wood flooring. I winced and grabbed a napkin to sop up the spill.

Our cook was a big, burly man who’d gone to seed with age, the apron stretched across his beer gut reading, “Charred and Dangerous.” He tried to untie it, but his hands were still covered by oven mitts.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Feds outside.”

Before I could ask anything else, he rushed down the hallway, muttering something about hiding his guns. But I doubted federal agents had come all this way just for our cook’s illegal firearms.

“It’s probably nothing to worry about.” The maid smiled at me, ignoring the spill as she snatched a steak knife off the table. “They like to come around and ask questions every now and then.”

“This happened a lot in the old days?” I asked.

She shrugged and hurried off in the same direction as the cook. I stared stupidly after them for a moment, coffee still dripping onto the floor, then picked up my cane from where it rested against my chair. Standing up always made my knee twinge, but I ignored it and walked slowly into the kitchen. The room was wide, its floors and granite countertops so clean they reflected the light. The cook had left an omelet sizzling on the stove, and it filled the air with a smell that made my mouth water. I walked past it to the big window over the sink, and sure enough, two black SUVs were coming down the palm tree-lined driveway.

The omelet hissed and crackled angrily. I flipped it over, but the fluffy yellow egg mix was already crusted with black. I turned off the burner with a sigh. If I was going to have to deal with a government raid first thing in the morning, I’d like to do it on a full stomach, at least.

Something trampled down the stairs. A person might have assumed it was a herd of cattle, if that person didn’t have kids. A second later, my teenage daughter, Elisa, barreled into the kitchen, her face flushed with panic.

“Dad, there are—”

“Federal agents outside. I know.”

She tugged on my arm. “They’ll be here any second.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll deal with it, whatever it is.”

“But we can’t just sit here. We have to do something.”

“Like what?”

She made a noise somewhere between a groan and a sigh to convey exactly how hopeless she thought I was. “I’m getting Mom,” she said, storming off. Which left me to get the door.

As I walked, my cane sank into the hallway carpet then clunked on the white marble of the entrance hall. It was a big room full of white pillars, a spiral staircase, and expensive paintings my wife swore were brilliant art. The ceiling held a golden chandelier, its light mixing with the morning sun, and floral arrangements provided a touch of bright color and a fresh scent that wafted through the air like perfume. Elisa’s dirty sneakers were lying next to her half-open backpack in the corner.

The front door came into view, and I glared at it like I could see the agents on the other side. My wife and I had been retired for almost four years now. If they wanted to arrest us, they’d had plenty of time. Why pick today to ruin my morning? Now don’t get me wrong—I respect the various agencies of our government and what they do to protect this country. I’ve worked with most of them over the course of my career. But it’s never good news when one shows up at your front door.

The doorbell chimed, and I took a deep breath and answered it.

Two men in suits and sunglasses stood on my doorstep, tall, broad, and just generally taking up a lot of space. I drew myself up in response. It wasn’t as easy for me to look intimidating as it used to be, not with the cane, but I was still six-foot-four and built like a tank. An old, rusty tank that hadn’t seen the battlefield in years, but a tank, nonetheless.

“Good morning,” I said. “How can I help you?”

They were federal agents, all right. From the Department of Special Affairs, to be exact. I should know, because I used to work for them. All superheroes did. The DSA was the go-to agency for law enforcement and intelligence involving people with special abilities.

“Good morning, Mr. Del Toro. I’m Agent Cox; this is Agent Sosa. May we come in?”

“Don’t let them inside without a warrant,” Elisa said.

She’d reappeared at the bottom of the stairs, clutching the banister as she all but snarled at the agents. I opened my mouth to scold her but was beaten to it.

“Elisa, show the agents respect until they give you a reason not to.”

Elisa clamped her mouth shut, and the rest of us stared. My wife could have that effect when she walked into a room.

She had long black hair, eyes so dark they were nearly black, as well, and a faded burn scar that covered the right half of her face. A black pencil skirt and low-cut red blouse showed off her curves, and her heels clicked against the floor as she walked. She was beautiful in the same way as a jeweled knife: people admired the gold and gems on the hilt but never forgot that the blade could cut. And she hadn’t dulled with age. I’d known her for twenty years, and she was still as alluring as she’d been on the day we first met.

Of course, when we’d met, she’d been holding up a bank.

“Valentina Belmonte?” asked Agent Cox.

She arched her thin eyebrows, looking down on him even though he was taller. “Yes?”

“You’re under arrest.”

The shock hit me like a bullet. And yes, I’m bulletproof, but the things still hurt. I forced my voice to remain calm as I asked, “For what?”

Agent Cox gazed at us with an expression trained to give nothing away.

“Murder.”

A statement like that demanded to be followed by a moment of silence, at least. The utter lack of sound seemed to fill the entire hall, from the floor to the high, arched ceiling, until my daughter shattered it.

“Bullshit! You fucking assholes are out of your—”

“Elisa,” I said sharply. “Go upstairs.”

“But—”

“Listen to your father,” Val said. “You need to get ready for school. Everything will be fine.”

Elisa opened her mouth like she was going to start swearing again, but then she closed it, hung her head, and hurried up the stairs. When she was out of sight, Val turned back to the agents with a dramatic sigh. “I suppose you’re going to handcuff me? Goodness, this brings back memories.”

Sure enough, Agent Cox pulled out handcuffs. Agent Sosa pulled out a syringe.

I was in between them and Val in a flash, limp or no limp. “This is ridiculous. She didn’t kill anybody.”

“Just doing our job, sir.”

Val put a hand on my arm, and I met her eyes.

They have a SWAT team, five telepaths, and half a dozen of your costumed contemporaries standing by.

Her words formed in my head, and I didn’t need to express my reaction; she could telepathically sense that as well.

We had no choice.

Well, we did, technically. Val could resist arrest. If it came to a fight, there was a chance she could win. She might be retired, but she was still the Black Valentine, one of the most infamous supervillains in the country. But a fight in our home, with none of us prepared for it… Better to just go along with the agents.

And of course White Knight would never suggest I try to evade the law, Val teased.

No, but I don’t have to like it, I replied.

Well, I don’t like it either, dear. And it’s sweet of you to worry, but this is hardly my first arrest.

She broke contact and smiled at the DSA agents. “You’ll have to excuse my husband, gentlemen. He’s just jealous someone else gets to handcuff me.”

Agent Sosa uncapped the syringe. Val’s blouse was sleeveless, so he had no trouble reaching her inner elbow to inject the exatrin. The drug was standard procedure for arresting telepaths and would completely shut down her abilities. It would also leave her drowsy and muddled, not the best state for someone being interrogated on murder charges. She turned around and put her hands behind her back, and Agent Cox wasted no time in snapping on the cuffs.

“I’ll get to the bottom of this,” I promised her.

She gave me a smile, thin and secretive, leaving me clueless as to whether she thought I was being noble or just plain stupid.

I loved that smile.

“Take care of Elisa,” she said.

“Of course.”

For a moment, we just looked at each other, neither willing to be the first to turn away.

Agent Cox cleared his throat. “Ms. Belmonte.”

The agents took her by the arms and escorted her out. When they reached the door, she glanced over her shoulder and winked at me.

I followed them out into the humid Miami morning and watched as they walked her down the stone path to the driveway. Val held her head high, striding forward as if the whole thing had been her idea. Her hair fluttered in a breeze that rustled palm leaves overhead and sent waves lapping against the dock in our backyard. Our property was large, trees obscuring the view from the road. I was the scene’s sole witness, and my grip on the smooth metal handle of my cane began to shake.

They put my wife into the back of the SUV and drove away.

●●●

“Your mother’s been arrested.”

I stood in the doorway of Elisa’s bedroom. The walls were covered in photographs, magazine clippings, posters, and drawings, but it was still more visible than the floor. Clothes spilled out from open dresser drawers and littered the carpet, and scattered books lay open where they weren’t in stacks. The sheets had been kicked off the bed and lay in a pile half-covering an expensive flute not put away in its case. Val had told her to clean this up last night. Such a short time ago and everything had been perfectly normal. I was still reeling from the change.

Elisa stood on a clear patch of floor in front of the mirror, brushing her short hair with hard, forceful swipes. It was closer to my pre-gray brown than her mother’s black, and the way she was attacking it with the brush, you’d think she was trying to tear it out.

“I was there, Dad. I know.”

The two of us were alone. Last I’d seen of the maid, she’d been on the phone with Val’s lawyer, and I had no idea where the cook had gotten to, but they’d both been with Val for decades; they knew how to handle this sort of thing. They’d probably know exactly what to say to Elisa to comfort her, but that was my job. I just hoped I wouldn’t screw it up.

I watched her in silence, trying to figure out what must be going through her head. She glared into the mirror and ignored me, the strokes of her hairbrush falling with rhythmic precision. Elisa had the misfortune of taking a lot after me. She was already taller than her mom, had a more athletic frame, and though she resembled Val in the face (thank heaven), she had my eyes. But that didn’t mean we saw the world in the same way. Not even close.

“It’s going to be okay,” I said finally.

“You don’t know that,” she snapped. “You can’t know that.”

“She didn’t murder anyone.”

“Of course she didn’t!” Elisa slammed the hairbrush down on the dresser and rounded on me. “She’s retired. She doesn’t do that stuff anymore. Everyone knows that. It’s not going to stop them from trying to lock her up.”

“The DSA is investigating a murder. They’re not out to get your mom.”

“Yes, they are. They’re a bunch of bast—”

“Elisa.” My voice came out with an edge. “Those men and women put their lives on the line to protect this country every day.”

“But they don’t care about us. Last time they took Mom away, they put her in prison for two whole years.”

Her voice broke, and she looked away. I kicked myself for not realizing sooner that this was the problem.

Val and I had only tied the knot three years ago. Before that, Elisa had lived with her mom. I hadn’t known she existed, so when Val got sent to prison, Elisa had been left alone. Oh, Val’s relatives had taken her in, but Val’s side of the family… “Dysfunctional” was too kind a word. It hadn’t been an easy two years for Elisa.

I wasn’t the most emotionally sensitive guy in the world, but I wasn’t that much of a blockhead. I walked up to Elisa and hugged her gently.

“It’s not going to be like that this time.”

She sniffed and shuddered, trying hard not to cry. “How do you know?”

“Because this time, she’s innocent. I’m not going to let them put her away for a crime she didn’t commit.”

Elisa let out a trembling breath and pulled away from me. She looked down and wiped her eyes and nose.

“Okay.”

“Good,” I said. “Now go on and get ready for school. Your mom will want to hear about your day when she gets back.”

She returned to the mirror, and I walked out of her room. The moment my back was to her, my face abandoned its encouraging smile and settled into a more natural glower. I didn’t like seeing Elisa cry. My first instinct was to fix everything for her—well, no, my first instinct was to hit whoever had caused her tears, but I didn’t know who that was yet. A criminal who’d framed Val? A DSA agent with a grudge? And what kind of evidence did they have against Val anyway? I knew how to fight crime, but my job had always ended after the arrest. I was no lawyer, and if they prosecuted Val for murder and won, I didn’t know what I’d do.

But none of that mattered. I’d basically just promised my daughter I’d keep her mother out of jail, and I’d do everything humanly possible—superhumanly possible—to keep that promise.

●●●

I dropped off Elisa at her high school and watched until she’d disappeared behind the doors. Maybe I should have told her to stay home. If I were in her place, I wouldn’t have been able to pay attention in class. But I didn’t know how serious things were with Val yet, and it was Elisa’s first week as a freshman; I didn’t want her to miss a day this early. Anyway, it would probably be better than her sitting home alone all day and worrying. I shook my head. Elisa would be fine. The best way I could help her was by getting her mom home as soon as possible.

The roads around the school were congested with the morning rush, so I took the chance to use my phone. I just hoped Moreen hadn’t changed her number. It had been ages since we’d last talked.

“Dave,” she greeted after the third ring. “Took you longer than I thought.”

“I had to drop off Elisa at school. You want to explain what’s going on?”

I’d have been surprised if she wasn’t aware of Val’s arrest. Moreen Lee was the director of the DSA; the agency didn’t do much she didn’t know about. She and I went way back from before my days as White Knight, when we’d gone to college together.

She was also my ex.

“I’m not going to discuss an ongoing case with you,” Moreen said. “Especially not over the phone.”

“Then I’ll fly up to Washington, and we can discuss it in person.”

“You do that,” she said, amusement in her voice.

I paused. “You’re in Miami.”

“Yeah.”

That wasn’t good. For her to come down in person, the case must have been serious. Just who did they think Val had murdered?

“We need to talk,” I said.

She groaned. “We really don’t.”

“She’s my wife. You owe me that much, Mo. I’d do the same for you, and you know it.”

The line went silent, but I knew she was still there. I waited her out.

“Fine,” she said. “I told myself I wouldn’t do this, but—” She sighed noisily into the phone. “Stop by the Miami branch. I can spare five minutes for you.”

“Thank you.”

“And I mean those five minutes literally. I’m bringing a stopwatch.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said with a smile, and hung up.

It was a start.

I put on my blinker and inched closer to the car in front of me. The DSA’s Miami office was downtown along with pretty much every government building, from the local county courthouse to consulates from all over the world. My foot itched to stomp on the accelerator, to tear across town and demand answers, but there were half a dozen cars between me and the stop sign. Traffic packed the main road, making it almost impossible to turn onto, and the usual morning rush hour wasn’t completely to blame. People were pouring into the city for Miami Hero-Fest this weekend.

Officially, Miami Hero-Fest was a celebration of American superheroes to honor the sacrifices we’d made for this country. Realistically, it was just a big beach party, second only to Spring Break. And this year would be the worst, because the Idols were special guests.

Mr. Tomorrow, Starbright, and G-Force: the Idols were superheroes, supposedly. They wore costumes and had special abilities, at least, and once upon a time, had even fought crime. Now they just appeared in movies, went to parties, and showed up plastered in photographs in the tabloids. I could work up a good rant on how they were everything that was wrong with superheroes today, but Val would usually tell me to shut up after the first minute or so.

The security for the event would be a nightmare. I didn’t envy the superheroes on duty for it. Maybe that was why Moreen was in town, and the thing with Val wasn’t serious after all.

And maybe spandex would make a comeback.

Eventually, I made it downtown. The closest parking garage was two blocks away from the office, leaving me to walk the rest of the way. In less than a minute, my T-shirt and jeans were damp with sweat. I probably should’ve worn a suit, since I was meeting the director of the DSA, but I hadn’t wanted to waste time by going home to change. Besides, if this meeting didn’t go well, it would be because I’d done something a lot worse than underdress.

The twinge in my knee had turned into a light ache by the time I reached the office. Its automatic doors slid open, and I stepped into the air-conditioning gratefully. The DSA might seem glamorous, but they had budget troubles like every other government agency and didn’t spend much on interior decorating. The floors were clean but scuffed from years of use, and everything was the same dull mix between gray and brown. American flags hung listlessly by the door, faded from years of sun. The dozen or so people in the waiting room were either playing on their phones or staring dully at the outdated TVs hanging from the ceiling. I walked past it all and stopped at the back of the line at the receptionist’s desk.

As I waited, my gaze drifted to the TVs. Some informational program was giving a guided tour of the main DSA building in Washington, and the footage looked pretty old. I wondered if I was in it.

“David Del Toro,” I told the receptionist when I reached the front. “Director Lee should be expecting me.”

“I’ll let her know you’re here,” the woman replied. “Have a seat, please.”

I did so, and despite my best efforts to resist, my gaze kept getting drawn back to the television. A cartoon superhero in a garish costume was narrating the program, and he flew around the screen explaining a chart of the different divisions within the DSA. My gaze went to the Special Criminal Response Branch, where I used to work.

The receptionist hadn’t seemed to recognize my name, but that didn’t surprise me. The DSA kept our identities locked away in secure databases, and most people only knew superheroes by their code names. True, my mask hadn’t been nearly big enough to really obscure my facial features. People occasionally recognized me, but your average person didn’t expect to run into a superhero in the frozen foods section of the grocery store, so most days I was safe.

“Mr. Del Toro.”

A young man in a suit was standing just outside one of the side doors. He had to have been fresh out of college.

“This way, please.”

I rose and followed him down a nondescript hallway where a security checkpoint waited at the end. I had to hand over my cane to be X-rayed and empty my pockets just like at the airport. The young agent offered to help me through the metal detector, and I thanked him politely but limped through under my own power. Then they returned my belongings, and I was free to proceed, the whole thing having been pointless, honestly. A man with super-strength didn’t need to smuggle in weapons to be dangerous.

The agent took the lead again without speaking. He seemed nervous, glancing at me out of the corner of his eye every few seconds. He’d probably been briefed on just who he was escorting. I’d been one of the good guys, but I could still tear apart a car with my bare hands, and that kind of power made people a little twitchy sometimes. Then again, for all I knew, he had super-strength too or pyrokinesis or something. You could never tell with the DSA.

We walked through the hallways quietly, passing other serious men and women in suits.

“You’re White Knight,” the agent blurted out.

Then again, he could also be nervous because he was a fan.

“I used to be,” I said.

“Sorry.” The agent’s face was red. “It’s just… I had your action figure when I was a kid—and a poster of you. And the pajamas that looked like your costume. And… I’ll shut up now.”

I smiled. If you asked me, fame was the worst part of the job. I’d never been comfortable with all the attention, but this—the ability to inspire people—had made it worth it.

“It’s fine,” I said.

The agent looked away in embarrassment, and the next several steps were taken in silence.

“Was it the action figure with the grappling gun?” I asked.

He scratched his head. “Uh… yeah.”

“I always liked that one.”

He beamed.

A minute later, we stopped at an office door identical to all the others. The agent knocked, cracked it open, and poked in his head.

“Director Lee? I’ve brought Mr. Del Toro.”

“Send him in,” Moreen said.

I walked in, and the door immediately closed behind me.

Moreen had a big window office, but it was obviously only a temporary one. Someone had put in a generic painting of a bald eagle and some tropical potted plants in an attempt to give the room a little personality, but it hadn’t worked. The space felt incomplete, like an apartment someone had just moved into. The desk Moreen sat behind wasn’t cluttered with papers, and the shiny black computer still had the protective film stuck to it. The air even had a stale sort of smell, like the room had been unused for a long time.

Moreen probably couldn’t care less. Function was ten times more important than appearance in her book. For all the years I’d known her, she’d worn cheap, plain clothes and didn’t so much cut her hair as chop it off to keep it out of her face. But that had been before she’d taken up the high-profile position of director of the DSA.

Now, her pantsuit was plain black but unmistakably high-end. Her graying hair was still cut short, but layered and styled in the latest fashion. It looked like someone had even gotten her to wear make-up. I didn’t envy whoever had had to enforce that PR decision. But some things never changed, and she still looked at me with the same sharp gaze that used to make people joke she had laser-vision.

“It’s been a while,” she said.

“It has,” I agreed. “And I’d love to catch up, but I think I only have four minutes and fifty-six seconds left.”

She smirked. “Sit down.”

I eased into the hard chair in front of her desk and got straight to the point.

“Val didn’t kill anyone.”

Moreen rolled her eyes. “Of course you’d say that.”

“I think what you mean to say is, ‘No, Dave. Of course she didn’t.’”

“No. I don’t know that for a fact, and neither do you.”

I didn’t blink as I met her harsh stare. “Of course I know. She’s my wife. I know her better than anyone.”

“And you’ve always been an idiot when it comes to her.”

I took a deep breath and resigned myself. It was going to be one of those conversations.

“Don’t give me that look,” Moreen said. “I can bring up the Black Valentine’s rap sheet and show you every crime she’s ever committed, maybe give you some idea of all the lives she’s ruined. Do I need to remind you that she kept your daughter’s existence secret for over a decade? It’s like you just forget all that when she’s around. I’d think she was mind-controlling you, but she doesn’t need to, does she?”

I took a slow breath and did my best to keep my tone diplomatic.

I failed.

“Fine. What do you think she’s guilty of? Who do you have evidence she killed?”

The anger drained from Moreen’s face and was replaced by silent camaraderie, the kind shared by two old soldiers who’d lost a lot of friends over the years.

“It’s Harris,” she said.

I stared at her, unable to speak for a moment. Harris Holt, better known to the world as Supersonic, could run fast enough to keep up with cars on the freeway and had worked with me over the years more times than I could count. We’d both kept in touch after retirement, meeting every month or so to reminisce over a few beers. Harris was one of my few colleagues who hadn’t shunned me after my relationship with Val came to light. He’d even been the best man at my wedding.

“When?” I asked, my voice scratchy.

“Last night. It looks like a brain hemorrhage caused by psychic attack.”

“Any number of telepaths could have done that. What makes you think it was Val?”

“He was found with a heart drawn on his face. In black lipstick.”

So she’d been framed, then. Val had used a calling card like that way back in her early days—on people she telepathically knocked out, not killed. Mention it to her now, and she’d blush and say something about being young and cocky.

“That doesn’t prove anything,” I said.

“It’s not enough to convict her,” Moreen agreed. “Not yet, anyway. But it’s definitely enough to warrant her arrest.”

“And while you’re wasting your time on Val, the real killer is still out there. Have you run down Mental? He’d be my first suspect. He served what—ten years in prison after Supersonic brought him down? That’s an actual motive; something Val doesn’t have.”

Moreen leaned back in her chair. “Harris went up against the Black Valentine his fair share of times. And Mental has an alibi vouched for by witnesses.”

“Whose memories he could have altered.”

“You think I haven’t thought of that? We know what we’re doing, Dave. If Valentina Belmonte is really innocent, then you have nothing to worry about.”

It was the same argument I’d used on Elisa, but it didn’t make me feel better. Someone had deliberately set up Val, and the DSA was already biased against her.

“Dave.” Moreen’s expression softened. “You know I’ll do everything in my power to—”

The door burst open, and a balding, beefy man nearly two decades my senior charged in. “What the hell is he doing here?” he demanded.

“Nice to see you, too, Walter,” I said.

Walter Franke had been my boss once. Now he was Deputy Director of National Intelligence. He ignored me completely and glowered at Moreen, but it was like a white belt challenging a karate master; Moreen could glower better in her sleep.

“Do I really have to respond to that?” she asked. “You know the answer.”

“You’re leaking details of an ongoing case to a man who’s probably an accomplice to the murderer,” Walter said.

Were I a less restrained man, I would’ve decked him then and there, but I’d spent a lifetime building restraint. There was no other choice with super-strength, when one wrong move could break someone’s bones or even kill them.

“I want him out of here now,” Walter said.

“And I want a month-long vacation in Tahiti,” Moreen replied. “Looks like we’ll both have to deal with disappointment.”

“You’re putting the security of the entire investigation at risk.”

“It’s my decision to make.”

I picked up my cane and stood. “It’s fine. I’ll leave.”

“Sit back down,” Moreen barked.

I sat.

Moreen turned back to Walter. “I’m in charge. If you have a problem with the way I’m running things, you can take it to your superiors.”

Walter’s face was red. He might not have mastered the art of the glare, but he’d been with the DSA practically since it had been founded, and his anger wasn’t a thing to be taken lightly. “I will,” he said, and walked out.

The door slammed, and I wished Moreen had let me leave when I’d asked. Walter was high enough in the chain of command that complaining to his superiors meant the President of the United States might just hear about it.

“I’m sorry,” I said to her.

“You knew you were asking me to bend the rules when you called.”

“Yeah, but I’m still sorry.”

She shrugged. “Walter’s always been an ass.”

But he was also one of the best men a superhero could have at their back in a bad situation. Or at least he had been. I shook my head. “He’s an idiot, if he thinks I had anything to do with it.”

Moreen looked at me thoughtfully. As the silence lengthened without her agreeing with me, my stomach went cold.

“Mo, you can’t possibly think—”

“No,” she said. “I don’t think you killed him. But a decade ago, I wouldn’t have thought you’d had a relationship with the Black Valentine and kept it secret from the Department—and me.”

I couldn’t meet her eyes. I wanted to argue, to insist I’d never done anything to jeopardize national security, to say my rendezvous with Val had been harmless, that they’d stopped before I’d started dating Moreen. But even in my head, those sounded like pathetic excuses. Moreen was right, as usual.

“I guess my five minutes are up,” I said.

“Just remember I’m the one in charge. You know I’m fair.”

I nodded and pushed myself to my feet. “Thank you. For everything. I appreciate it.”

She smiled wryly. “I should hope so, with all the crap I’m going to get for this.”

I smiled back and walked toward the door.

“And Dave?”

I turned back around. All traces of the smile had vanished from her face.

“Go home, take care of your kid, and sit this one out,” she said. “I don’t want to see you doing anything stupid.”

“I don’t want that, either,” I said, closing the door on my way out.

Especially since, if she saw me, it would mean I’d gotten caught.

Not a particularly admirable thought, but I was married to someone who’d once topped the DSA’s most-wanted list. She was bound to rub off on me at least a little.

I’d go home and take care of Elisa—but not yet. Right now, my wife was being held on murder charges, and I was the only one who truly cared about proving her innocence. I needed a place to start, and Mental was still the person most likely to have murdered Harris by psychic attack, regardless of his so-called alibi.

And that meant I had a supervillain to see.

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