The most important decision was what to wear.
Okay, that was an exaggeration. Val had other important decisions to make: how much to threaten versus when to play nice, whether to demonstrate her strengths or trick them into underestimating her. But her wardrobe would make or break everything. No, really. It was true. There were few greater opportunities for a fashion faux pas than when meeting other supervillains. Show up in regular clothes when everyone else is wearing their costumes, and it’s like coming to a job interview in a torn T-shirt and ratty jeans. But arrive in costume when everyone else is in their civies, and you look like an idiot. You had to gauge your associates and the situation beforehand.
Fortunately, Val knew a little about Blueblood and the Fox Woman. The Fox Woman hadn’t worn a costume since her fortieth birthday, and Blueblood’s version of a uniform was a suit and tie. There was no need to don her mask and all the leather, especially not for a private dinner. Val wore a black dress, long-sleeved and knee-length. It would be perfectly acceptable for a business setting if not for the plunging v-shaped neckline that showed off her formidable cleavage. She completed the look with a necklace of black pearls and the most kick-ass heels she could find. They were mostly black except for the heels themselves, which were shiny metal spikes that ended in points sharp enough to pierce flesh. She wouldn’t be able to run in them, but she’d risk it to make a fierce first impression.
She rode in an elevator with Joey and two other of her father’s men, all of them in expensive business suits and smelling of aftershave. When the doors opened with a ding, Val stepped out into a restaurant.
It had floor-to-ceiling windows along every wall, offering an incredible view of the Chicago night skyline and the dark waters of Lake Michigan. Cream-colored, cushioned chairs surrounded small tables covered in immaculate white tablecloths. Each of them had a vase with pale pink orchids in the center, and was set with crystal glasses and gleaming cutlery. But every table was empty except one, where Blueblood and the Fox Woman waited.
Rafael Arcaño, aka Blueblood, was younger than you’d expect such an accomplished crime boss to be. Mid-thirties at the latest, he was tall and lean, with a pointed face and brilliant blue skin. The color permeated his whole look: his eyes, the gleam in his slicked-back black hair, and—deliberately—his wardrobe. His pinstriped suit was navy, his shirt so dark blue it was nearly black, and his tie azure. His tie pin and cufflinks glittered with sapphires, and even the carnation pinned to his lapel was baby blue.
Evelyn Sakai, the Fox Woman, wore a stylish wine-colored dress suit over black stockings. She was in her early fifties, with short hair curled in a style reminiscent of a movie star from some old black-and-white film. She had a narrow face, thin eyebrows, and an aura of subtle dominance. Val’s gaze was drawn to her hand holding a champagne glass. It was long-fingered and elegant, wrinkled with age, and had long nails painted ruby red and a collection of intricate, jeweled rings.
Val had definitely chosen the right outfit. The theme for the evening seemed to be “classy and dangerous.”
“Miss Belmonte.” Blueblood rose from his seat like a proper gentleman. “How nice to meet you at last.”
“Same to you. And just Val is fine.”
“Then call me Raf.” He held out her chair for her and glanced at the Fox Woman.
“Evelyn,” she said stonily. “Ms. Sakai if you want something.”
That was fine with Val. “Evie” didn’t suit the woman at all.
Joey and the others moved to stand by the windows with the rest of the muscle. Blueblood and the Fox Woman had each brought a few, enough to thoroughly wreck the place if someone attempted a betrayal. Only a few of them were worth special mentions. Distortion, one of the Fox Woman’s minions, was a thin girl in a lacy, ruffly dress that made her look like a doll. Her mere presence created a sort of telepathic static that disrupted any attempts at mind-reading, and Val wondered if she came to all these meetings or if the Fox Woman had brought her along specifically to deal with Val. Then there was Tidal Wave, another of the Fox Woman’s, who could control water, and Werecat, a minion of Blueblood’s with catlike eyes and increased strength and agility. Finally, there was the Prophet Kid in the corner. He stood like a statue, and Val regretted not being able to catch his eye or send a telepathic hello. She’d have to waylay him before she left.
A waiter appeared to fill her glass, and a first course of oysters Rockefeller was served.
“I was going to start the agenda with the crackdown at the east coast ports,” Blueblood said, “But under the circumstances, we really need to talk about getting Lucio back.”
“Tired of dealing with me already?” Val asked with a calculated smile.
“Not in the slightest. But we can’t just replace your old man the instant someone younger and prettier comes along.”
The Fox Woman took a long sip of champagne. “Can’t we?”
Blueblood gave her a glance. “I founded this partnership with a certain amount of loyalty in mind.”
Sure you did, Val thought. Aloud, she said, “My father wouldn’t want you to expend your own resources on his little bit of legal troubles. He can take of himself. In the meantime, I’ll fill in while he enjoys a long overdue vacation.”
“Which would be all well and good,” said the Fox Woman, “if only Lucio’s affairs were at stake. But now he has knowledge of our affairs, and I’d hate to think of him trading that information to the DSA to keep himself out of jail.”
Val speared one of the oysters with her fork, bit, and slowly chewed. She barely tasted the burst of salty flavor before swallowing deliberately and saying, “That’s an insult, Evelyn.”
The Fox Woman’s eyes narrowed. “It’s a legitimate concern.”
“Now, now, ladies.” Blueblood held out his hands in a placating gesture. “We’re all worried about Lucio. Which is why I’ve taken steps.”
Val tore herself from her staring contest with the Fox Woman to look at him. “What kind of steps?”
“I have a friend in the DSA. He found out where they’ve stashed that witness who’s so critical to the case against your father. I’m sending some people to deal with it.”
“How many people? When? Where?”
Blueblood gave her a smug grin that was going to become absolutely unbearable if she had to work with him on a regular basis. “Allow me to share the details.”
He shared, and Val schooled her face into a blank mask.
“I’d prefer to send some of my own men along,” she said.
Blueblood put a hand over his heart as if wounded. “You don’t trust me to handle it?”
“Of course I do.” Ha. “But you can’t blame a daughter for worrying about her father, can you? Let me at least send Joey. A little extra muscle never hurt.”
Blueblood glanced over his shoulder at Joey. Val didn’t have to explain his powers. Both Blueblood and the Fox Woman would know the abilities and weaknesses of all her father’s minions by now.
“I suppose he could be useful.” Blueblood turned back to her. “Fine. You’ve got yourself a deal.”
So he was allowing her to help. How magnanimous. Val would have to build statues of him to express her gratitude.
The conversation turned to the east coast ports, and Val didn’t have time to dwell on the situation with her father. She needed every ounce of her focus on the topic at hand. Every single word and gesture had to be carefully chosen, and she had to consider a dozen potential ramifications for each option they discussed. By the time she finished the crème brûlée that was the meal’s final course, she felt as if she’d just hiked ten miles.
As they began to leave, she remembered one last thing she had to do.
“Jean-Baptiste!” she called. “I see you lurking over there in the corner. Don’t think you can leave without at least saying hello.”
She strode up to him and his beefy escort, kissing him on the cheek like an over-affectionate aunt. This close, she noticed a faded bruise around his left eye that she hadn’t seen from the table. It was a nasty yellow color tinged with purple.
All three courses of the meal stewed uncomfortably in her stomach. She noted the way the escort shoved rather than guided the kid and wondered if it wasn’t time to demonstrate just how sharp her heels truly were.
“What’s this, then?” Blueblood said as if he’d only just noticed. “Hurt yourself, Mr. Dupree?”
“He’s blind,” the escort grunted. “He bumps into things.”
“Yeah,” JB said softly.
Val took a deep breath through her nose.
“Well, you’ll have to be more careful,” Blueblood said. “I’d hate for Miss Belmonte to think we’re not taking good care of you. Especially after all that trouble she went through to bring you to us.”
Steady, Val cautioned herself. She’d handed JB over to Blueblood, and she didn’t have any right to dictate how he treated him. It was out of her control.
“Allow me to walk you out?” Blueblood asked her.
Val squeezed JB’s shoulder, not sure what she was trying to convey. “See you later, kid.”
The Fox Woman had already left, and they had to wait for the elevator to come back up. There wasn’t enough room inside for more than a few people, but Joey made sure to squeeze himself in so she wasn’t alone with Blueblood, earning him a blue-eyed glare. Had Blueblood been planning to murder her while alone in the elevator? Val almost wanted to see him try.
“I’m glad I got the chance to meet you tonight.” He gave her an ambiguous look, full of as many meanings as she could read into it. “Even if your father’s coming back soon. I think you and I could have a lot to talk about.”
Ooh. Or maybe he’d wanted to be alone in the elevator with her so he could make a sneaky proposition to join forces against the Fox Woman. Or better yet, join forces and destroy everyone. With Distortion gone, she opened her mind cautiously to see if she could glean any of Blueblood’s thoughts.
Nothing. He had formidable mental shields up. She might be able to break through if she pushed, but not without him being aware of exactly what she was doing. And she didn’t want to offend him yet. Not if they were going to work together.
“You have my number,” she said. “I’m open to discussions.”
The elevator doors opened with a ding, and he smiled. “Good to know.”
He walked out, and Val thought maybe this meeting hadn’t been a total disappointment after all.
Sorry for the slightly late update, but hopefully the slightly longer length makes up for it. We’re getting into the power dynamics of the cabal. Time will tell who double-crosses who and if they get away with.
If you haven’t already, go check out my short story How Lady Nightmare Stole Captain Alpha’s Girlfriend and read about even more supervillains.
I’m still chugging away on Almost Invincible, and I’ll be posting a cover reveal for my prequel short story later this week.