“You’re not going to suit up?” Dave asked as the car pulled up behind the cafe.
He wore his White Knight suit, the mask not completely covering the bandage on his nose, unfortunately. Lightblade had changed out of his flannel shirt and into his costume, which Dave didn’t envy. The spandex was a weird mix of camouflage green and bright orange, plus brown combat boots and a matching jacket. The Illusionist, though, was still wearing the same jeans and Seattle Seahawks T-shirt that she’d had on in the meeting.
“Have you seen my suit?” She made a face like a kid who’d been forced to eat Brussels sprouts. “If I’m not tripping over the three-inch heels, I’m tripping over the cape. But you can’t take away the cape, because it’s the only thing that hides how far the stupid leotard rides up my ass.”
A DSA agent opened the cafe’s back door, waving them inside.
“Besides,” the Illusionist went on, “there’s no point in actually wearing the thing when I can do this.”
She held out her hands, and the illusion of a black and gold leotard and impractical crimson cape suddenly replaced her jeans and T-shirt. She’d even made it look like her hair had been curled and styled instead of being in a messy ponytail.
“I’m impressed,” Dave said, “And jealous. So very, very jealous.”
The Illusionist grinned.
They entered the cafe’s kitchen, and while the staff must have been told to ignore them, they all looked up from what they were doing to stare. The room was warm from the ovens and noisy with the humming of dishwashers and clinking of silverware. The smell was almost divine: baking bread mixed with a hint of garlic and other spices, but with an undercurrent of dish detergent and other cleaners.
“Remember,” Lightblade told the Illusionist, “Don’t project the illusion of Carl over yourself. The Kurodas put a bullet in his head, and if they see him up and about, they might just take another shot. Find a corner to conceal yourself in and make it look like Carl’s sitting by the window. By the time they get close enough to realize he’s an illusion, we’ll have them.”
“You got it, Boss-man.” She changed her image into that of a middle-aged woman in a flower-printed dress, and Dave realized why someone would recognize it as a fake if they got too close. The dress was so realistic that it looked like you could reach out and touch the light cotton, but there was something off about the face. Dave didn’t know if it was the eyes or the wrinkles around the mouth or something else, but there was an uncanny quality to it, something that the back of his brain recognized as not right. The face smiled eerily, and the Illusionist walked towards the door to the dining area.
“And be careful,” Lightblade called after her.
She waved in acknowledgment without turning around and disappeared through the door. Dave and Lightblade found an out-of-the-way spot to stand, which just happened to be next to a trashcan. But it was close enough to the door for them to reach it fast if there was trouble, yet far enough that no one in the dining room could see them when the waiters and waitresses pushed open the door to bring out food. All that was left to do was wait.
“So,” Dave said, “How long have you two been working together?”
“A little over a year now.” Lightblade’s voice turned sharp. “So if anything goes wrong out there, you’d better stay out of my way.”
Great. This again. Dave barely managed not to roll his eyes.
“You got a problem?” Lightblade grunted. Apparently, Dave hadn’t restrained his eye-roll as well as he’d thought.
“That’s my line,” Dave said. “Look, I get it. You don’t want me here. But we’ve got our orders, so can we try to get through this without the clichéd threats?”
Lightblade took a step closer. “Buddy, when I threaten you, you’ll know it.”
Dave refused to step back. “Well, when you do, you’d better get creative. Because I can’t think of anything you could do that would actually hurt me.”
“Just stay out of my way.”
“What does that even mean? Do you think I’m going to stand in front of you and stop you from getting to her if things go wrong?”
“We’ve never worked together before. We didn’t even have time to do a drill. We don’t know what’s going to happen, and both of us are used to calling the shots. The chances of us tripping over each other are higher than you’d think.”
Dave considered that. It was more reasonable than he’d expected. “I’m not used to calling the shots. You did meet Agent Lee, didn’t you?”
Lightblade almost smiled. Almost.
“I really do get it,” Dave said, “I don’t think they should’ve sent me out here either. The whole thing’s just for appearance’s sake.”
“That’s what I told the brass, but nobody listens to me.”
“The Illusionist seems like she listens.”
Lightblade gazed towards the door. “Nah. I told her she should head down to Hollywood and get into the special effects industry, make some decent money. But she said she wanted to help people.” His voice held the most emotion Dave had heard in it since they’d met.
They lapsed into silence, and Dave decided to quit while he was ahead. There was a plain white clock on the wall over the ovens, keeping them informed as 3:00 came and went. The kitchen staff went about their business, sneaking glances at Dave and Lightblade only occasionally. Dave returned a friendly smile whenever he caught them, having to consciously keep his foot from tapping impatiently.
He pressed the button on the small microphone pinned to his collar to update Moreen. “Everything’s quiet in here.”
“No activity out here, either.” Moreen’s voice came through the headphone stuck in his left ear.
“Whoever Carl was meeting probably knows he’s dead,” Lightblade said. His headset was a bigger affair that looped around his ear and had the microphone attached. “There’s no point in waiting.”
“It’s only 3:05,” Dave said. “It won’t hurt to hang around a little longer.”
Lightblade glared at him. Was he really so easy to piss off?
“Stay alert,” Moreen ordered.
They went back to waiting, and Dave didn’t bother trying to engage Lightblade in conversation again. Lesson learned.
“I think we’ve got something,” said the Illusionist through the speaker.
“White guy, khaki suit?” Moreen asked.
“That’s the one.”
“We’re moving in,” said Lightblade.
He nodded at Dave, and they made for the door—not tripping over each other, Dave might add.
While the kitchen smelled like bread and cleaners, the other side of the door was all coffee. The cafe had brick walls covered in framed abstract paintings in neon colors, and college students seemed to make up most of the clientele. Dave focused on the booths by the window. A blond man built like a quarterback and wearing a gray suit and tie sat in one: the illusion of the late Agent Rundstrom. A thin man in a khaki suit and black shirt, stylish glasses on his face, slid into the seat across from him. He said something to the fake-Rundstrom, who didn’t reply. Then the illusion vanished, and Khaki Suit jumped up in shock.
“Don’t move,” said the Illusionist, her imaginary cape billowing out behind her as she strode forward.
Khaki Suit gaped at her. Then he spotted Dave and Lightblade. “Stay away from me!” He scrambled out of the booth so fast that he nearly fell. His arms waved wildly as he tried to regain his balance. Then he dashed for the glass door.
“Stop him!” Lightblade sprinted forward, Dave right behind him. But the Illusionist was closer. She lunged and tackled him, causing several customers to gasp as they hit the floor.
Dave and Lightblade slowed. The Illusionist sat on the man’s back, pinning his arm behind him. She had it under control.
“Let me go!” Khaki Suit was still struggling. “Let me go. I haven’t done anything wrong!”
“Then why’d you run?” the Illusionist shot back.
Dave scanned the rest of the room. People were whispering and staring, and there was at least one coffee cup that had been knocked over in the excitement, but nothing suspicious. It looked like Khaki Suit had come alone. If he turned out to be some random acquaintance of Agent Rundstrom whom he’d made a coffee date with, Dave was going to feel like a real jerk.
Dave caught movement in the corner of his eye. He turned—and it took his brain a second to process what he was seeing. There was a gun. Just a handgun, floating in midair at chest-height. No, wait. There was something else. Behind and above the gun hovered two round eyeballs. They were slick and white, filled with red blood vessels in the back, hanging there like special effects in a bad horror movie.
The gun angled downwards, the barrel pointing at Khaki Suit and the Illusionist.
“Look out!” Dave was already running forward when the words exploded from his mouth.
The shot went off, and blood and brain-matter splattered onto the Illusionist’s face. She stared down at the mess of Khaki Suit’s head, her mouth open in horror.
Dave lunged for the gun before Death could shoot again. It clattered to the floor. Death had dropped it. Dave reached for where he’d last seen the eyes, but they’d vanished. He couldn’t see them anywhere. Listen, he told himself. You can’t see him. Hear his footsteps. But people had started screaming at the sight of the murdered man. He didn’t have a chance.
He’s still in here somewhere. Dave spread out his arms, walking forward like a blindfolded kid trying to find a piñata. The cafe had looked narrow and cramped at first, but now there seemed to be so much space for him to hide in. Where would Death go? What would he do? He wouldn’t want to stay here long. He’d try to run. Front door or back?
A chair fell over, hitting the floor with a bang as its occupant surged to his feet. More people screamed in fright. Others ran for the door. Everyone wanted out, away from the corpse on the floor. A man in a tie-dye shirt bumped into empty air and stumbled back. The eyeballs popped back into visibility.
Dave rushed for them. Then he jerked to a halt as a man got in his way. He couldn’t run in here. If he bumped into someone, he’d break half the bones in their body. The eyes spotted him, and suddenly people stumbled left and right, pushed out of the way by invisible hands. Death was heading for the front door. Dave hurried after him as fast as he could carefully go—which wasn’t fast enough. It was just too crowded. A woman shoved open the door and ran out. Dave lost sight of the eyes. Had Death slipped out the door when it had opened? Was he still in the cafe?
Dave reached the door just as Moreen opened it from the other side. “What happened?” she demanded. Dave stepped out of her way as she stormed inside, dragging the Black Valentine behind her. Dave looked out into the street, but there were no eyeballs floating over the sidewalk. If Death had made it outside, there was no catching him.
He was gone.
Sorry for the delay. The day job is kicking my ass. I think I was at work for twelve hours yesterday, which wasn’t fun. But I hope the longer update makes up for the wait.
We’ve got some male bonding this week, plus a mission that probably could have gone better. This episode’s title hopefully makes sense now. I have a virtual cookie for anyone who comments correctly on why only Death’s eyeballs are visible. 😉