David Del Toro saw the crowd in front of the courthouse the moment the car turned onto 6th Street. His head thumped against the back of his seat, and he resisted the urge to groan.
“I don’t suppose you know a back way in?” he asked the driver.
“No, sir. Sorry. I’ll get you as close to the front door as I can.”
“I appreciate it,” Dave sighed more than spoke. He looked out the side window and pointedly ignored the glare of the woman next to him.
“Thanks a lot, White Knight,” she said, her tone half-joking. No, make that only a quarter joking.
He turned to face Agent Moreen Lee. At five-foot-five, with chin-length brown hair and a drab brown business suit, she was more intimidating than most supervillains he knew.
“Please don’t blame this on me,” he said.
“They’re not waiting out there to see me.”
Dave glanced back at the crowd. They were close enough for him to see details now, like the woman in a full wedding dress holding a sign that said, “Marry Me, White Knight!”
“You’d think it was a rock concert,” he muttered, “Not a trial that’s going to determine the outcome of a boy’s life.”
“Yeah, well, they must not get to see very many superheroes here.”
“But Ft. Lauderdale has its own superhero.”
Moreen drummed her fingers on the door handle. “Who can talk to birds. It’s not a very impressive power.”
“Those birds are one of the best surveillance networks in the country.”
“I’m not saying he’s not a good hero. I’m just saying you can see why his fan club might not be as big as yours.”
The car reached the courthouse before Dave could argue any further. The sidewalk was swamped with people. Men and women with cameras stood on top of benches to get shots over the heads of the crowd, and parents carried children on their shoulders to give them a better look. Fortunately, uniformed police officers had managed to keep a clear path to the front entrance.
Dave wished he wasn’t in costume. Without his mask, he’d be just an ordinary brown-haired man who could blend into the crowd—or blend in as much as was possible for someone who stood at six feet four inches. But he was testifying officially as White Knight, so he’d just have to deal with the mob.
The driver pulled up to the open path and wished them luck.
“Straight to the door,” Moreen told Dave. “No stopping.”
She kept her gaze on him a moment longer, as if she thought he wasn’t trustworthy for some reason. Then she opened the door and got out.
Dave followed her, and the steady hum of the crowd’s voices instantly turned into a roar. Some of the people were reporters, and questions like, “What do you think will be the outcome of today’s trial?” and “Do you think the Prophet Kid deserves jail time?” came his way, but the vast majority of the crowd were fans. They cheered, shouted, and waved, and Dave gave a professional smile and tried to focus on Moreen’s back as she made her way to the glass doors. A hundred different things tried to distract him: people screaming “I love you,” clever phrases written on handmade signs in neon marker, and a little girl at the front of the crowd who was crying.
Dave stopped. The girl could only be six or seven years old, and she wore a child’s version of his costume: a white suit trimmed with gold and sleeves of fake chainmail, except she had sneakers on instead of boots. She’d also added a white tutu around the middle, a princess tiara, and a plastic sword. She rubbed her teary eyes with a tiny fist, knocking her mask askew, then gaped as Dave walked up and knelt in front of her.
“What’s wrong?” he asked. “You’re not sad, are you?”
She stared. Dave might not have cheered her up, but he seemed to have shocked her out of crying. That counted for something, right?”
“What’s your name?” he asked.
She looked up at her mother behind her, who smiled encouragingly. “Tell him your name, sweetie.”
The girl looked back at Dave and said in a small voice he could barely hear over the crowd, “Laurie Wexler.”
“Well, Laurie, I love your costume.”
“I’m Princess White Knight,” she said in a more confident voice.
Dave smiled. “You look great, Princess White Knight. I wish my costume had a crown like yours.”
“If you throw it at bad guys, it cuts off their heads.”
Laurie gave him a look of solemn consideration. Then she took off her tiara and held it out to him. “You can have it.”
“I can’t take your crown, Princess. What will you wear?”
“It’s okay. I have two more at home.”
“Laurie, sweetie,” said her mother worriedly. “White Knight doesn’t want your crown.”
Laurie looked at the crown, lowering it, then turned her big brown eyes on Dave.
Dave was bulletproof. Knives broke on his skin instead of the other way around, and anyone who tried to punch him risked breaking the bones in their hand. The last car that had hit him had been totaled, while he’d walked away with nothing more than a few bruises. He was as close to invulnerable as it was possible to be.
He had no defense against the weaponized cuteness that was little Laurie Wexler.
He bowed his head, kneeling in front of her like a knight before a queen, and said, “Could you put it on me?”
Laurie wasn’t exactly gentle, and the edges of the tiara jabbed into Dave’s forehead before sliding around either side of his skull. It obviously hadn’t been designed for an adult head, and the plastic pinched his temples in a way that would probably give him a headache if he wore it for long. He looked back up at Laurie and smiled. “How do I look?”
She just giggled.
“I have to go now,” he said, glancing at where Moreen waited behind the glass doors with her arms crossed. “It was very nice to meet you, Laurie.”
“Bye!” she said happily.
Dave stood and walked briskly to the entrance, not pausing again until he was inside.
“You stopped,” Moreen accused.
Her gaze flicked up to his tiara. “That’s a good look for you. You should keep it.”
“I’ll talk to PR about it.” He took the tiara off and hooked it to his belt for now. “Maybe they can—” A police officer rushed up from behind Moreen, alarm plain on his face. Moreen caught Dave’s look and turned around just as the officer blurted out, “The Prophet Kid’s gone.”
“When?” Moreen asked.
“No more than fifteen minutes ago,” the officer said. “We found the van bringing him from juvie in the middle of the road. The driver and the guard were unconscious—they still are.”
“The Monstro Gang?” Dave asked.
“We’re not sure. Haven’t found any witnesses yet.”
“Where’s the nearest phone?” Moreen asked.
The officer led her to the lobby’s front desk, where she put in the call to the DSA. Both Dave and Moreen worked for the Department of Special Affairs, which was basically the FBI for when the criminals could shoot lasers out of their eyes or teleport into a bank vault. They had resources the police didn’t, but their closest branch was in Miami. It would take time to mobilize those resources, and whoever had taken the kid already had up to a fifteen-minute head start. Dave wasn’t very optimistic.
And then everything got worse.
Gunshots went off outside, and the crowd started screaming. Dave spun around just in time to see three armed men come through the front door.
“Everybody on the ground!” one of them shouted.
Dave was on him so fast that he didn’t even notice the Monstro Gang tattoo on the guy’s neck until after he’d decked him. He immediately grabbed the second man’s gun, metal crumpling in his grasp as he tore it from the man’s hands. A gunshot went off somewhere behind him, but Dave couldn’t do anything besides hope Moreen was the one firing. The third man was swinging his gun in Dave’s direction.
Dave obliged him, stepping in front of the barrel so there was no chance the man would hit an innocent bystander by accident. The bullet punched him in the chest, and Dave grunted. That was going to leave a welt. He shoved the gunman, and the man hit the wall and crumpled to the floor.
Dave spun around. Besides the three gunmen who’d come in the front door, three others must have already been in the building, because they were standing by the front desk now. Well, two of them were standing. The third had collapsed, cursing as he tried to staunch the blood flow from a bullet wound in his thigh. Moreen’s work, doubtlessly. But Moreen’s gun was on the floor now, her hands on her head as she glared at the gunman who’d spoken.
The man had a second set of arms below his normal ones, and it looked like he did regular weight-lifting with all four of them. Two hands were holding onto a woman in a pink shirt. The third hand pointed a gun at her temple, and the fourth had a gun trained on Moreen.
“Try anything else, and I’ll put a hole in her head,” he warned.
Dave wasn’t prepared to risk it. He held up his hands in a gesture of surrender.
“Good,” said Four-Arms, surveying the room of huddled, terrified people. “Now, everybody just stay calm. As long as we get the Prophet Kid, nobody’s gonna get hurt.”
Dave shared a glance with Moreen. This…wasn’t good.
And now I’ve introduced both the main characters. The serial will switch between Dave and Val’s point of views, and there will be parts following some minor characters, too. (I’m looking forward to Moreen’s sections. I know she has fans out there.)
A very happy Fourth of July to those of you in the States who are celebrating! I’ll be eating barbecued ribs and going swimming this afternoon. Then I’ll hopefully still have energy to write later in the day. 🙂
The next update will be on Monday, July 11th.