“Two Eyeballs and a Gun” – Part 6

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.Continue reading ““Two Eyeballs and a Gun” – Part 6″

“Two Eyeballs and a Gun” – Part 5

The cafe still smelled like coffee, but now a metallic undercurrent of blood lurked below. The staff and customers had all been cleared out, some of them being interviewed by DSA agents outside. Khaki Suit’s body lay where it had fallen, a medical examiner crouched over it. Moreen was standing over the examiner, arms crossed as she oversaw his work. The Illusionist sat in one of the booths across from Lightblade. She’d wiped Khaki Suit’s blood from her face, but there was a messy red stain on the front of her T-shirt. She’d given up on keeping the illusion of her costume intact, and Dave couldn’t say that he blamed her.

“It happens.” Lightblade’s rough voice was surprisingly gentle as he spoke to her. “No matter how good you are, no matter how long you’ve been doing this, people die, and sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it. You can shoulder the blame for each one until the weight pins you to the floor, or you can put it behind you and do your best to save the next one.”

It was good advice. Dave should think about taking it. He leaned against the brick wall, watching the medical examiner work. He wasn’t sure why they even needed one. It wasn’t like the cause of death was hard to figure out, but these things needed to be official.

“Let’s get a coffee,” said the Black Valentine.

She stood next to him, a little too close than he was comfortable with. A hint of her honey-scented perfume mingled with the smells of blood and coffee beans.

“I think they’ve shut down for the day,” Dave said.

“There’s another place right down the street.” She gestured out the window.

“We’re staying here.”

“Come on.” She somehow managed to make the two words sound almost musical. “They won’t miss us. You standing here all sullen isn’t exactly a critical part of the investigation.”Continue reading ““Two Eyeballs and a Gun” – Part 5″

“Two Eyeballs and a Gun” – Part 4

“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.Continue reading ““Two Eyeballs and a Gun” – Part 4″

“Two Eyeballs and a Gun” – Part 3

“His name is Hong-Jae Chun,” Val said. “Born in Japan. Ethnically Korean. Started working as a freelance assassin in ‘87, hits all across Europe and Asia. As of four years ago, he’s been working exclusively for the Kuroda Syndicate. They must be paying him a small fortune.”

Val looked over the small group assembled in front of her in the bland meeting room at the Seattle DSA branch. She hadn’t had the attention of so many superheroes and DSA agents since the time she’d taken Wall Street hostage, and she was keenly aware that she currently had no powers and no weapons. She sat on the desk in the front of the room in a deliberately casual pose, reminding herself that everything was going according to plan.

“He can turn invisible,” she said, enjoying the face Dave made upon hearing this statement. It was like he’d walked outside to find bird crap all over his car. “So I can’t give you an accurate number of his kills, since no one ever sees him coming. The underworld has taken to calling him Death, which, as far as supervillain names go, is simple but incredibly evocative, don’t you think?”

No one answered. These people were no fun at all.

“How do you know he’s responsible?” asked Lightblade—or Mitch, as everyone here called him out of costume. Seattle’s hometown superhero was a tall, burly man with one of those perpetual five o’clock shadows that must have taken hard work to maintain. The stubble was peppered with gray hairs that you wouldn’t notice just from seeing him on TV.

“I read his mind,” Val answered. “The Kuroda Syndicate sells my family some of their imports. They met with us, and Death was lurking invisibly in the corner. I scanned him to make sure he wasn’t a threat. This job was on his mind.”Continue reading ““Two Eyeballs and a Gun” – Part 3″

“Two Eyeballs and a Gun” – Part 2

“You’re going to Seattle.”

Dave took the news better than Moreen, who groaned loudly. “We’re taking her deal?” she asked.

“We’re taking her deal,” their supervisor, Walter, confirmed. They were sitting in front of his desk, which was a mess of overstuffed files, loose papers, and stapled reports. Walter Franke was a beefy, middle-aged former agent who’d had the misfortune of being excellent at his job. It led to his promotion, making him responsible for nearly the whole department instead of just his own cases. The stress left him permanently grouchy.

“You know we can’t trust her,” Dave said.

“No, I never would have guessed. Thanks so much for letting me know.” Walter rolled his eyes. “We don’t have a choice. The pressure’s coming down hard to solve this murder, and right now, the Black Valentine’s our only lead.”

“But there are so many better options we could try first,” Moreen muttered, “Like a magic 8-ball or a phone psychic.”

“I don’t like it any more than you do,” Walter said. “But if you want to take out your frustrations on me, by all means, keep griping. I’ll wait.”

Moreen prudently opted not to say anything. Dave raised his hand.

“Jesus, Del Toro, this isn’t a classroom. What’s your question?”

“Why am I going?” Dave asked. “I know I’ve resisted the Black Valentine’s mind-control before, but she’ll be on exatrin the whole time, right?”Continue reading ““Two Eyeballs and a Gun” – Part 2″

“Two Eyeballs and a Gun” – Part 1

Dave stared at the blinking cursor on his computer screen, which had been in the same spot for several minutes. Incident reports were never fun to write, but this one took the prize for being the worst. He tried to think of a way to type “Then I threw a plastic tiara at the suspect” that wouldn’t make his supervisor call him over for a very long and loud talking-to. He replaced “plastic tiara” with “projectile.” Yes, that sounded much more professional.

“Dude, is your nose broken? Can you even get a broken nose?”

Dave turned from the computer, feeling his eyeballs relax immediately after leaving the screen (he really should have paused for a break earlier), and found himself looking at Harris Holt. Better known as Supersonic to the world, Harris was tall and thin with wiry muscles and a runner’s build, which was appropriate given how he could outrun most cars. Not that most people would recognize him as a famous superhero right now. Like Dave, he wore slacks and a button-down shirt. If the DSA made them wear their costumes to the office, they’d have all quit by now.

“It’s probably just bruised,” Dave said. “The doctor’s going to check for fractures in a few days once the swelling goes down.”

“And you’ve got to wear that mummy bandage until then?”

It was a narrow, rectangular bandage that went across the bridge of his nose. Dave resisted the urge to reach up and touch it. “Dr. Ortiz said it was small and unobtrusive.”

“Yeah, she was lying, man.” The sentence faded into a laugh, and then Harris looked sharply to the right. “Hey, there he is.”Continue reading ““Two Eyeballs and a Gun” – Part 1″

“Tick, Tick, Boom!” – Epilogue

Jean-Baptiste Dupree spent maybe half an hour in the car. Eddy had on a radio station that played rock from the 50s and 60s, and he didn’t talk. JB had thought the Black Valentine talked too much, but now he wished she was there to fill the silence. When Eddy stopped the car, he got out and had a muffled conversation with someone before telling JB to get out, too.

They climbed up metal stairs and entered something that JB figured out was an airplane when the cabin pressurized. It must have been a private one, because there didn’t seem to be anyone else on it besides the pilot. It figured the Black Valentine had a private plane. She’d probably robbed enough banks to own a whole fleet of planes. Eddy spoke again, his gravelly voice asking if JB wanted anything to eat or drink. JB ended up with a Sprite and a bag of Doritos, which were the highlight of the boring, quiet flight. They landed about two hours later, got into another car, and maybe an hour after that, stopped at what JB assumed was their destination.

JB smelled pine trees before they went inside. Then Eddy led him through twisting hallways, across thick carpet and smooth wood before finally grunting “sit” and pushing him down onto a soft couch.

“Jean-Baptiste Dupree,” said a voice as dry and brittle as an old book. “We meet at last. So you’re the one that all this fuss has been about?”Continue reading ““Tick, Tick, Boom!” – Epilogue”

“Tick, Tick, Boom!” – Part 10

Once the rescue workers had cleared away as much of the rubble as they could, Dave pushed himself up, shrugging off the final slab of concrete from his back. It landed on the rest of the debris with a loud thud, and Dave fell into a sitting position beside it. It took a lot of self-control to keep his back straight and not just lie down in the middle of the disaster zone. His arms felt like silly string, his back and legs as stiff as a corpse with rigor mortis. Then there was his nose, which was throbbing so strongly he was starting to worry it was broken.

The workers clapped and cheered. Dave would have to thank each of them personally once he was actually able to stand up. Then another pair of hands started clapping, slow and deliberate. The Black Valentine had sat up, posed atop the rubble like a model in a photo shoot, never mind that she was covered in gray dust. It sat in her hair like powder and stuck to her clapping hands, hiding her deep burgundy nail polish. Dave looked down and found it covered him, too. His uniform could no longer be called white by any definition of the word.

“Well, look who’s not dead,” Moreen said.

She was standing on the rubble to Dave’s right, sleeves rolled up and hands scraped and dirty.

Dave returned her grin. “I’m surprised, too.”

“I knew we’d be fine,” said Val—the Black Valentine. When Dave gave her a look, she winked at him.

“Which reminds me.” Moreen signaled a couple of police officers behind her and led them across the rubble to the Black Valentine. “Valentina Belmonte, you’re under arrest.”Continue reading ““Tick, Tick, Boom!” – Part 10″

“Tick, Tick, Boom!” – Part 9

Val woke up coughing, her throat scratchy and dry. Where was she? She opened her eyes—and nothing changed. The world was pitch black. Had she gone blind? Was she dead? She couldn’t be dead. She could only feel a few aches and pains up and down her body. Hell was bound to hurt a lot worse than this.

She was lying on her back atop something hard. A tile floor?  She started to sit up—

“Don’t—”

Her forehead smacked something solid, and she fell back with a curse.

“Don’t move.” It was White Knight’s voice, strained and rasping right above her. “We probably shouldn’t talk, either. I don’t think we have much air.”Continue reading ““Tick, Tick, Boom!” – Part 9″

“Tick, Tick, Boom!” – Part 8

The back of Dave’s skull felt like a cash register that had been smashed open with a crowbar. He put a hand to his head, groaning, and tried to get his bearings. His eyes were closed. Why were his eyes closed? Well, that was easy enough to fix. He opened them and saw a hole in the ceiling, sparks jumping from torn electrical wires. When had that gotten there?

Jeffries spat a curse.

Oh, right.

Dave pushed himself up so fast that dizziness nearly took him back down again. But it wasn’t fast enough. Jeffries was already on his feet. His massive fist swung at Dave’s head, and Dave knew instantly that he wouldn’t be able to dodge in time. He flinched back on instinct, but Jeffries’ fist never made contact.

The bulky man screamed, clutching his head as if someone had set his brain on fire. Movement caught Dave’s eye near the hole in the ceiling, and he saw the Black Valentine glaring down at Jeffries like a vengeful goddess. Either she’d just saved Dave, or he’d hit his head so hard that he was hallucinating.

Jeffries’ eyes widened as he saw her, too, and he jumped a good four feet into the air. His meaty hand grasped for her feet, but she scrambled back just in time. Instead, Jeffries grabbed the edge of the hole and tore off a chunk of ceiling as he came down. The same chunk that the Black Valentine was standing on. She fell with a startled cry.Continue reading ““Tick, Tick, Boom!” – Part 8″