Val really didn’t want to be here.
For one reason, without her powers, there was nothing to stop Death from sneaking up and putting a bullet in her head. She wouldn’t mind the element of danger if she was having fun, but the newsroom was so boring that it could probably be prescribed as medicine for insomniacs. Even the décor was blah: beige walls, beige carpet, beige computers atop the beige desks that filled the room. The reporters, editors, and administrators were standing in groups and whispering as they watched Lee and two other agents search the dead man’s computer and tear through his file folders. The folders were—you guessed it—beige.
Val had commandeered the desk next to the late Mr. Finch’s, her feet propped up on it as she flopped idly through a printout of one of his articles. It was pretty standard stuff: a brief history of the Kuroda and Tsubaki Syndicates and the recent rise in violence because of their feud. Nothing prize-worthy, much less worth killing him over.
She distracted herself by watching Dave. He was standing by the elevator, surveying the room while simultaneously reassuring the editor-in-chief, who had lost all the color in his face when he’d heard of Finch’s murder. Lightblade and the Illusionist were downstairs somewhere. Val didn’t really care where, but she wondered if they would have the same effect on people as White Knight did.
When the DSA had first barged in, the newspaper staff had been running around like a bomb had just gone off. They wanted to know what had happened, if they were in danger, what they should do. But a few words from Dave, and they’d mostly calmed down. It was weird. Val knew a few other people whose slap on the back could break a human spine, and they didn’t exactly have a calming effect on those around them. What made Dave different? Was it the propaganda built up around his White Knight identity? Body language? Maybe it was plain old human shallowness. People liked pretty people, and Dave was…well, maybe “pretty” wasn’t the right word. He had too much brawn, his features too hard and bold to be what people typically thought of as pretty. But…no, screw it. Val was going to call him pretty.
As if he could hear her thoughts, his watchful gaze crossed the room and connected with hers. Most people would look away when they got caught staring, but the best criminals knew that when you got caught, you should act like nothing was wrong. Val held his gaze, wishing she wasn’t on exatrin, because she was feeling an intense pulsing something in the pit of her stomach and wanted to know if he felt it, too. Even without her telepathy, even with most of the room in between them, she felt strangely aware of him, of how he held himself, his focus, everything. He turned away, his blush obvious even from this distance.
Well, that settled that. Now she just had to have him.
“What are you doing to Bill’s desk? Put his stuff down. You can’t do that. Who are you?”
A petite woman in a bright yellow dress stormed up to them. She had a purse slung over her shoulder, so she’d probably just come in from outside. There was also a large camera in a leather case hanging around her neck, so one guess as to what her job was.
“We’re DSA, Ma’am,” said one of the agents. “Mr. Finch’s belongings are part of a murder investigation.”
One of the newspaper staff approached the woman. There were soft whispers, a shocked cry, and Val went back to flipping through her article, wishing she’d brought along more interesting reading material.
“You killed him.” The photographer sucked in breath the moment after the words left mouth, like she was trying to take them back in.
“We’re investigating—” started the agent.
“Wait.” Agent Lee’s gaze honed in on her like a cat that had just spotted a laser pointer. “You think the DSA killed him. Why?”
The photographer took two slow steps back. “That’s not what I meant. I just…. I’m in shock, right?”
“Ma’am.” Dave had crossed the room, but he stopped several feet away from the photographer so he wouldn’t spook her. “If you think you know why Mr. Finch was killed, I’d really like to hear it, no matter who you suspect. I understand you probably don’t want to go to the DSA building, so we can talk here, with plenty of witnesses, if you like.”
You could tell she wanted to trust him, but she was too smart to let down her guard completely. “I worked with Bill on the story,” she said slowly. “I know what he found. I have pictures.”
“Pictures are good.” Dave smiled, and Val would bet the last diamond she’d stolen that the photographer’s guardedness melted a little at the sight of it. “It’s hard to argue away photographic evidence in court.”
The photographer’s gaze darted left and right. “Are you the only costume around? Lightblade isn’t here, is here?”
“Gun!” Agent Lee shouted.
Val dove to the floor immediately. Screams filled the air, but they weren’t loud enough to cover the sound of three shots. Val looked up, trying to spot the gun so she could determine the best place to take cover. She saw Dave on the floor, and for a split-second her stomach made a horrible heaving motion. He hadn’t been hurt, had he? No, the photographer was curled up under him. He was covering her like a human shield.
There was the gun, maybe five feet away from the pair of them. Death was in the same row of desks as Val, so she needed to move fast. But he wasn’t focused on her. His grotesque floating eyeballs stared at Dave and the photographer, and he fired off two more shots. Val couldn’t see if Dave made a successful shield or not.
Agent Lee was crouched in front of her. She’d pulled out her gun and taken aim, but hadn’t fired.
“Shoot him,” Val hissed. “Just aim at the eyes.”
“There are people behind him.”
Death’s gun dropped to the carpeted floor with a thump. Was he retreating? She’d only counted five shots; he wasn’t out yet. But his eyeballs had vanished, so he could be anywhere now. Thanks a lot, Agent Lee.
“He’s moving blind.” Agent Lee jumped to her feet. “Spread out and catch him before he gets far.”
She and the other two agents descended upon the place where Death’s eyes had disappeared. They extended their hands, walking around like they were groping for the light switch in a dark room. Yeah, Val decided to sit this one out. She was just here to provide intel, anyway. Doing something that looked so ridiculous hadn’t been part of the deal.
The room was nearly silent. Someone somewhere was sobbing, and Dave murmured something that sounded comforting. Val waited for the brush of Death’s foot against the carpet or a bump as he accidentally ran into a desk. Although maybe he was good at getting around with his eyes closed. He must have gotten a lot of practice at it over the years.
The eyeballs reappeared. Val was about to shout a warning when Death pulled one of the agent’s guns from its hip holster. Then he shot the man in the leg.
“Freeze!” Agent Lee shouted. She had her gun aimed directly below the eyeballs. She would hit him if she fired, invisible or not. “Drop the weapon!”
Death dropped the weapon—and closed his eyes.
Not the best command Moreen could have given in the situation. 😉
Happy Halloween to everybody who celebrates! My apartment only got a handful of trick or treaters, but I passed out candy to all my students at the end of the day, so I feel like I’ve done my part to spread cavities. 😛