Moreen walked down the hallway slowly. Ostensibly, she was taking her time so she could observe every detail of her surroundings. In reality, she wanted to spend as much time outside of their rooms as reasonably possible. Every second was a blissful reprieve. Moreen had barely been able to handle one roommate in college; now she was sharing living quarters with four of them. It was a good thing the trial wasn’t far off, because if she didn’t have that to look forward to, the DSA would show up at the hotel to find four murdered bodies and Moreen laughing maniacally.
At least she had her own room in the suite, and the guys were all acting professionally. Being the lone woman of the group, there were a lot of ways the situation could get shitty. (She didn’t worry about Dave, but she’d never met Agents Attwater and Chung before.) But she’d only been bothered by the standard roommate stuff: people leaving their dirty dishes lying around, the TV being turned up too loud, yada yada. She reminded herself that Puebla, Attwater, and Chung had been stuck together for weeks now. If they could stay locked in a hotel room for that long, then Moreen could handle it for a few more days. She’d just keep taking every opportunity to go do recon and stop by the lobby for coffee and cookies.
A door opened in front of her, and she tensed. Then a mother dragged two children into the hallway, scolding them for goofing off instead of getting ready to leave. Probably not working for Belmonte—unless he was recruiting a lot younger these days. Moreen returned the mother’s distracted smile as they walked past each other, the family to the elevator and Moreen to the stairs. A flight of stairs wasn’t much compared to her usual daily exercise routine, but she’d take any chance to stretch her legs that she could get.
The stairway was empty and quiet except for Moreen’s echoing footsteps. When she reached the lobby, it was almost the same. The man at the front desk spoke to someone over the phone about cancelling a reservation, but there were no other guests. The tables and chairs that were normally full during the morning’s breakfast buffet were deserted, and empty luggage carts sat along the wall. Moreen spotted the cookie basket at the front desk, but first she went to get coffee.
She was pouring cream into Dave’s when the automatic front doors opened, and the man at the front desk cut off mid-sentence. Moreen turned surreptitiously to see who’d walked in.
Madame Morphine. What was she doing here? She didn’t work for the Belmontes. The supervillain glided into the lobby, the long skirts of her Civil War era nurse’s costume swishing around her feet. Her dark hair was pulled back into a tight bun, and the predatory smile on her face matched the photographs Moreen had seen on file. This wasn’t an impersonator. She was the real thing, and Moreen was going to have to deal with her.
And she hadn’t even gotten her cookie first.
Moreen reached under her jacket and pulled her gun. “DSA! Freeze!”
Madame Morphine stopped, her mouth open, and Moreen almost snorted. Supervillains. So many of them were one-trick ponies. Madame Morphine could excrete a chemical through her skin that put people into a deep sleep, but only if they were within a few feet of her. Moreen was more like ten feet away, so she was fine. Because had Madame Morphine brought a gun or other long-range weapon to compensate for this weakness? No, she’d counted on her powers and a fancy costume.
“You at the desk.” Moreen didn’t take her eyes off the glaring supervillain, hoping the man at the front desk hadn’t run for it yet. “Call room 231 and tell them—”
Two men looked in through the window and aimed guns.
Moreen dove down as bullets shattered glass. The man at the front desk screamed, and Moreen ducked for cover behind the wall the coffee sat in front of. She could hear the liquid splattering onto the tile. A bullet must have punctured one of the dispensers. Madame Morphine fled through the doors, hands over her head. She passed the gunmen on their way in.
Moreen fired. The shot hit the wall, shattering a decorative mirror, (great, more back luck) but it drove the gunmen back outside for cover.
Crouched on the floor, Moreen waited, her gun pointed at the entrance. The man at the front desk filled the silence, speaking too fast as he talked to the 911 operator. How long could Moreen hold the lobby on her own? Long enough for the guys to realize something was wrong? Their rooms were pretty far away. They may not have heard the gunshots.
The automatic glass doors started to slide closed. Then they stopped and reversed. A man leaned in, calmly aimed at Moreen, and started emptying his gun. She flinched and fired back. The man swore and darted back outside, and just like that it was over. Had she hit him? Had he hit her?
Moreen was breathing like she’d just sprinted. She glanced down, checking for injuries she may not have noticed with the adrenaline coursing through her. No wounds. She readjusted her crouch and caught sight of the wall next to her. Two bullet holes had punched right through it. Sheer chance had kept Moreen from getting hit.
The automatic doors closed unhurriedly, like they couldn’t care less about the shootout. Moreen fought the urge to shatter them with a well-aimed shot. She had to move. Her cover was useless against bullets. She might as well be standing in the middle of the lobby. If she could get to the front desk, she could call the guys and tell them to get Puebla out of there. She rose cautiously and—
The doors slid open, and the same man strode inside. Only this time, he wasn’t holding a gun. His bleeding arm carried a wooden bench that had sat outside the entrance. Recognition hit Moreen like a baseball bat to the head. Joey Giordano, Lucio Belmonte’s super-powered bodyguard. The more pain he was in, the stronger he got.
And Moreen had just shot him.
He hurled the massive bench at her. Moreen lunged aside, but she wasn’t fast enough. Pain exploded through her world, and the next thing she knew, she was on the floor. What…? Gasping, she tried to get her bearings. She didn’t even know if it was the bench that had hit her or a chunk of the wall it had crashed through.
Where was her gun? She moved her fingers, and pain shot up her right arm. Nothing was in her hand. She turned her head, awakening all kinds of agony in her back, and searched the carpet around her. She needed a weapon. She couldn’t run, not with how her body felt right now. She had to fight.
There. Her gun was lying next to a shard of wood. She reached for it, her body burning as she lifted her torso inches off the floor. A grunt escaped her throat.
Polished shoes walked up next to the gun. Giordano. Moreen grimaced as he lifted a foot and stomped. Dave would have crushed the gun, but Giordano wasn’t Dave. He brought his foot down on Moreen’s arm.
Bones broke, and her scream filled the lobby. Moreen struggled to remain conscious, to fight back somehow, but all she could do was writhe and curse. Then Madame Morphine’s skirts entered her wavering vision.
“The rest of them are in room 231.”
How had she known? Oh, right. Moreen had told the man at the front desk to call them a minute ago like a moron.
“Then let’s go.” Giordano turned and started walking.
“What about her?”
“Leave her. We brought you to deal with the big guns.”
Madame Morphine followed him, leaving Moreen on the floor, struggling to stay afloat as waves of pain crashed over her.
I hate doing that to Moreen. She’s one of my favorite characters, but that doesn’t keep her safe. 😉
I’m gearing up for The Best Man‘s release on Friday. Excited for people to finally read this story!