It couldn’t be avoided, so Riley decided to just get it over as soon as possible.
It had been a week since the disastrous failure of his last heist had forced him to lay low in his apartment. He hated being idle, so he divided his days between hours of exercise, practicing the guitar, and perfecting his tomato sauce. After seven days, he was feeling the grip of cabin fever starting to set in.
When Wainwright had called him into the office, he almost looked forward to being chewed out, if it meant he could get outside for a while. Taking that job had broken all of his rules, but he couldn’t resist the payday that Wainwright had offered. When he worked heists, he always worked in other cities, never in his own backyard. It was just common sense. This city was supposed to be his haven, a place to rest and make plans. Now it was a prison where it wasn’t safe to walk the streets.
Dressed in his best suit he looked at his reflection in the lobby of the Luna Corp headquarters. A week’s worth of stubble showed on his scalp. Despite only being thirty-four years old, his hair was already showing signs of thinning on the top and turning grey at the temples. He was still in great shape, however, and the suit jacket hung off his shoulders like he was a runway model. Riley straightened his tie and headed upstairs. He couldn’t put it off any longer.
In the elevator, he had time to mull over what he was going to say. It had been an impossible task to begin with. Watson Industries was one of the most heavily guarded private buildings in the country. Nevertheless, Riley had managed to infiltrate the most sensitive laboratories in a matter of days and had provided his employer with some valuable if not critical information about his biggest competitor.
It was not his fault that some overzealous supervisor had pulled him aside at the worst possible time. He had managed to escape despite insurmountable odds and had almost gotten a treasure trove of intelligence, but one lucky shot from a security guard had fried his hard drive. Human nature and random chance were the two things even he could not predict in advance. In the end, he had only just made it out alive.
“Go right in, Mr. Marlowe,” said Wainwright’s assistant. “He’s just finishing a conference call, but he’ll be right with you.” She was a plump, middle-aged woman who eyed him like tigress stalking her next meal. Riley thanked her politely and walked through the large oak doors to the president’s office.
Wainwright was hanging up the phone just as he walked in. “Riley,” he said, “take a seat. We have a lot to talk about.”
“Seamus, before we begin, I just want to say I’m sorry. I could hide behind all the things that went wrong, but I wouldn’t have taken the job if I didn’t think I could do it. I take full responsibility for the failure.”
“Oh, relax,” he said. “I was half-joking when I suggested it in the first place. I didn’t seriously think it would ever work.”
“So you say, but I don’t feel right taking your money for this one.”
“Keep it,” said Wainwright. “The personnel records you got alone were worth the price I paid. And the techs are working on recovering the drive, so there’s still a chance they’ll pull a rabbit out of that hat yet. In the four years we’ve worked together, you’ve not delivered one hundred percent exactly one time. And your worst day is still better than anything most of my other employees could do.”
“Still, I can’t help but feel I let you down.”
“That’s just professional pride.” Wainwright smiled. “It’s such a rare thing nowadays, it takes an old fart like me to even recognize it. But if you still feel bad, you can make it up to me by taking care of a little problem that’s come up.”
“Sure, boss. Anything.”
“It’s a pair of problems, actually.” Wainwright handed Riley a file folder from his desk. “Marcus Williams and Marsha Timmins. They were fixing the books and funneling off funds to an offshore account. When their supervisor confronted them, they bolted and nobody’s seen them since.”
“And by take care of them, you mean…?”
“Oh nothing sinister, my boy,” said Wainwright. “We’re not gangsters here. I just need to know where they’re holed up so I can call in the cops. It’s not about the money. Let’s just say I have my professional pride too. I don’t want anyone to think they can just stick their hand in my wallet, and I won’t do anything about it. I need to make an example of these two.”
Riley took a moment to look though the file. “This happened a week ago. I can’t believe you haven’t had someone looking for them already.”
“Oh, I had several someones looking, but they all came up empty. You’re my ace in the hole. The one who always manages to do the impossible.” Wainwright took a sip from the coffee mug on his desk and waited for Riley to finish skimming the files. “It’s like these two fell off the surface of the earth.”
“Okay, I’ll do it. Regular fee, plus expenses.”
“Of course, but make it quick. I want to put all this behind me.”
Riley had to admit it felt good to have a purpose again. He would have done the job for free just to be out if the apartment.
His mind started to work overtime, formulating strategies and looking for angles. Time was a factor so he would go straight to the weakest point. From the files he had learned that the girl’s father was a cop. If anyone knew how to find her it would be him, even if he didn’t know it himself. He got in his car and headed for the police station.
Sergeant Bradford Timmins was sitting at his desk, idly tapping a pencil. He was trying to get through a backlog of paperwork, but he just couldn’t focus on the job. The events of the past week had turned his entire world upside down. He had been tossed around like a rag doll by some lunatic who claimed he could read people’s minds, and then his daughter had gone missing after allegedly embezzling from one of the richest and most spiteful men in the country. The first one had broken his arm, but the second had broken his heart.
Staring at the picture of his family on his desk, he blamed himself for his failure as a father. It would have been awful to have one of his children land on the wrong side of the law, but her brother had beaten her to it by several years. Steven had been bitten by the gambling bug before he had even turned eighteen, often losing all the money from his part-time dishwashing job on shady poker websites. Now in his late twenties, he was a full-time bum and card sharp, eking out a meager living with petty hustles.
Bradford wondered if his life would have been different if he hadn’t gone into law enforcement. Maybe he was to blame for how his kids had grown up. It was hard enough being a single father without seeing on a daily basis what other people were capable of doing.
He was so lost in thought, that he didn’t see the man in the suit until he was almost on top of him. Great, he thought, here comes another slick lawyer to make my job even harder. This was the last thing he needed today.
“Sergeant Timmins? I’m Riley Marlowe. I’m an investigator for Luna Corp. I’d like to speak with you about your daughter.”
“If I knew where she was hiding, she would be in a cell,” said Bradford. He surprised himself with the coldness of his tone. “I really don’t know how much help I can be.”
“I just have a few questions if you don’t mind.”
Marlowe had a professional air to him. Bradford didn’t think he was the kind of man to give up easily. “What’s your angle in this?” he asked. “Insurance?”
“I’m sort of a problem solver for Mr. Wainwright,” Marlowe answered. “Think of me as a personal security consultant.”
Bradford considered the man again. “What exactly does that mean?”
“It means,” he said, “I’m being paid a lot of money to find your daughter and her friend. And I always get results.”
“A lot of people are looking for her, myself included,” said Bradford. “What makes you so confident?”
“No offense,” he said, gesturing to the officers around them, “but the police are understaffed and underfunded. You’re looking for hundreds of people for everything from parking tickets to murder. I’m looking for two and only two.”
“Why should Wainwright care so much? It’s not like he would even miss a few hundred thousand dollars. He probably makes that much in a few days.”
“More like a few hours,” said Marlowe, “but that’s beside the point. It’s a matter of professional pride for him. He can’t appear weak to his rivals.”
“So my little girl goes to prison to satisfy an old man’s desire to look tough to a bunch of other old men?”
“No, she goes to prison because she stole a bunch of money,” he said. “And we both know that if she comes forward sooner rather than later, the system will be more gentle with her. Isn’t that what you want? For your daughter to be safe?”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Bradford. “She hasn’t contacted me. I don’t know where she could be or even if she’s still in the country.”
“What about her friends?” he asked. Marlowe looked at the picture on the desk. “Or family?”
Bradford reached across the desk and turned the picture away from the man in the suit. “I already told the detective in charge of the case – I don’t know her friends and I haven’t spoken to her brother in years. Not since I kicked him out of the house.”
“Has she been in contact with him?”
“She helped to raise him after their mother died,” said Bradford. “Marsha has always had a soft spot for him. She would give him money when he got in serious trouble, which was too often. She couldn’t see that he was just using her to feed his own addictions.”
“Do you think she’s been in contact with him recently?”
“You would have to ask him that.”
“I will,” Marlowe said. “Do you know where I can find him?”
“At this hour? Probably still in bed. Or at the racetrack betting on the ponies. I have an address here somewhere.” he said and started to rummage through the drawers of his desk.
“That’s all right,” he said. “I have it.”
Of course you do, he thought. You probably have files on all of us. If nothing else, this character has done his homework.
As a cop for many years, Bradford had developed an uncanny sense to judge a person’s character and abilities. Looking him over now, Bradford was certain that this man could find his daughter. And that worried him. He wasn’t certain he liked the idea of such a dangerous man hunting down his little girl, but she was running out of time and he was running out of options. If she didn’t come forward soon and give herself up, they would throw the book at her, and he would be visiting her in prison until he was a very old man.
“I know I cant stop you from looking. Just promise me you won’t let anything happen to her.”
“I’ll do my best.”
As the strange man in the suit got up to leave, Bradford thought of one final request. “If you do find her, tell her to call me.”
“I will,” he said. “I promise.”
This is nothing like the movies, thought Marsha.
The romance of the renegade outlaw hiding out from an unjust persecution did not translate to reality. Instead, her life was full of daytime television and empty take-out containers. Not only did crime not pay, she mused, but it was fattening as well.
In truth, she wasn’t even a criminal. She had been framed by the real crook, a greedy son-of-a-bitch supervisor called Bruce from her old job. He was the one who had siphoned off hundreds of thousands of dollars into phony accounts and pinned the blame on Marcus. She was only guilty by association with a man she barely knew. A man she had taken pity on in a drunken moment, because he had seemed desperate and cute.
Now, she was cut off from her friends and family, a prisoner in a low rent apartment that still smelled faintly of tobacco and cat piss. If she stepped outside she risked being picked up by the police or worse, one of the thugs that Bruce kept on his payroll.
If one of them found her, she would be dead. Bruce had already demonstrated his desire to get rid of Marcus and her on one occasion. Marcus had shown that he could take care of himself. She had watched as he had taken down a man nearly half again his size in a matter of seconds.
When he had told her the story of his visions and the things they let him see and do, her first reaction was to run away screaming. If she was going to be caught between a murderous psychopath and a delusional wannabe superhero, she would take her chances with the cops and prison.
Eventually and with a lot of hesitation, he had shown her that his abilities were genuine. First he had listed off a bunch of information about her that only made her more frightened, thinking he was some kind of crazy stalker. But he had known things that nobody should know, not just about her but other people as well. When he had given her the phone number of her favorite actor, she had immediately called it to verify it was genuine. When she heard his voice, she blushed and hung up like an embarrassed schoolgirl.
That was a week ago now, and she’d had time to adjust to her new situation. She could only leave the apartment with Marcus, and even then it was only for short periods of time. He always knew where the cops and Bruce’s boys were so he could avoid them, but that meant she was either chained to him or stuck in the apartment. That didn’t make for much of a social life, however. Besides, he had snuck out early this morning, leaving a note that he would be back this afternoon. So she was stuck here until he got back, leaving her to clean house like she were his maid. She tried to call him to complain, but he wouldn’t answer the phone. Typical man, she scoffed.
Honestly, she liked the guy and probably would have slept with him if he hadn’t dragged her into the middle of his problems, but she had always gone where she wanted with whom she wanted. He had said that he had a plan to clear their names, but her patience was starting to wear thin. If he didn’t come through soon she would take her chances and go to her father. We would help her get out of this mess, or at least minimize the damage. It was one of the few advantages to having a cop for a father.
The only other person she could talk to was her brother., Eric. He had found the apartment for them. Being a little shady himself, he knew people who would take cash for rent and not ask questions. So when her phone rang she knew it was either Marcus or her brother. She smiled when she saw is was Eric. She was still pissed of at Marcus for leaving her here alone.
“Hey, little brother,” she said. “What’s up?”
“Thank god, you’re there, sis,” said Eric, desperately. “I’ve really gone and done it this time. I think they’re going kill me!”
“Okay, just calm down, Eric,” she said, “and tell me what’s wrong. Who’s trying to kill you.” In the back of her mind, she imagined Bruce was going through her family to get to her. If that was the case, she would cut off his balls and feed them to him. Her family was all she had left in this world and nobody was going to fuck with them.
“They’re serious this time. If I don’t pay them today, they’re going to make an example of me. They already broke my arm, and they said next time it’s my neck.”
Marsha sighed. She had heard this same story from her brother half a dozen times before. He would get in over his head with gambling debts and then play the family card to get her to bail him out. And like before, she knew she would, because she needed him, especially now. “How much?”
“Twelve thousand,” he said. “I know it’s a lot, but…”
“Jesus, Eric!” she cried. “What were you thinking.”
“I know, I know. It’s a lot, but I wouldn’t have called you if it wasn’t life and death, considering your, um…circumstances.”
“Don’t play me, little brother,” she chided. “I can still beat you up, you know.”
“I’m sorry, sis, but this shit is real. Can you do it?”
She didn’t need time to think. He was still her brother and she would walk through hell for him. “Yeah, I’ve got enough to cover it.”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you. You’re a life saver!”
“When are you going to come by and get it?” she asked. “Maybe you could pick me up some lunch on the way.”
“No, they wont let me out of their sight. You’ll have to bring it to me.”
Marsha hesitated, but only for a moment. It would be risky to go out alone, but if her brother was really in that much danger she didn’t have a choice. “All right, give me the address. I’ll be there right away.”
“It’s an empty building on Pine Street. Five-thirty-two. Come around the back,” he said. “And hurry. These guys aren’t known for their patience.”
The line went dead and she hung up. He’s really done it this time, she thought. One of these days I’m not going to be there and he’s going to get himself killed. But not today.
Marcus had set up a dummy account at a bank and had somehow fooled the computer into thinking there were thousands of dollars in it that had been transferred from overseas. So technically, they were criminals, only out of necessity not greed. And that didn’t count, morally speaking. Marcus had promised to return the money to the bank, with no one the wiser, as soon as they cleared their names. With his abilities, he could make a killing on the stock market, but he needed some capital to get started.
Marsha went to the closet and pulled out a duffel bag. Marcus had made a few withdrawals for expenses or if they needed to run. In the bag was about twenty-five-thousand dollars in cash. She counted out twelve-thousand and tucked a few hundred extra in her pocket for good measure. She tossed the rest in a paper bag from the Chinese take-out.
She called Marcus again. She didn’t want to do this alone, and she really needed him now. Again he didn’t answer. I know what you can do, she thought, and I know you know it’s me, you moron. Just pick up the damn phone. It rang ten times before she gave up in disgust.
She stormed outside and hailed a cab. She stewed in her anger the entire ride over to the rendezvous. Mr. Williams is going to get a piece of my mind when he gets back tonight. If he’s going to be a stubborn child and try to ignore me I’m going to kick his ass to the curb and call my father. He can take care of himself.
The cab let her out in an old commercial district that was just starting to be gentrified with boutique stores and hipster lofts. Most of the buildings had been empty for years as businesses had fled to the suburbs. She walked down the alley to the rear doorway which she found unlocked. She went in and closed the door behind her.
“Hello,” she called. “Is anyone there?” The building was musty and run-down. It gave her an uneasy felling to be here alone. She thought about turning around and leaving when she heard her brother answer.
“Over here. To your left and down the stairs.”
She walked down the hallway with a single dim bulb to light her way. She went down the flight of stairs to an open doorway. Inside the dark room she could just make out her brother rubbing his hands together, nervously. She walked towards him.
“Did you bring the money?”
Marsha held up the bag and handed it to him. He opened it and looked inside. She asked, “What kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into this time?”
“I’m sorry, sis,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”
Marsha looked at him in disbelief. He was here alone. His arm wasn’t broken as he had claimed. None of this was right and she should have known it. She had been blinded by her love for him – a love he had betrayed.
“Eric how could you?”
Her instincts told her to run, to get out of this room as fast as she could, but it was already too late. Another voice boomed out into the empty room from the doorway behind her. “Thank you, Mr. Timmins. You have what you came for and so do I. You may go now.”
“I never would have sold you out, but this guy left me no choice.”
She fought back the tears that were struggling to burst through. “Just go, Eric. Just go.”
Clutching the paper bag, Eric ran up the stairs and disappeared without another word. Marsha looked at the dark silhouette of the man in front of her. “You’re a hard woman to find,” he said. “If it’s any consolation, I paid off the rest of your brother’s debts. He was in substantially more trouble than he let on, and they were about to make an example of him. You probably just saved his life by coming here.”
She ran for the doorway. She hoped the surprise coupled with her momentum would be enough to rush past him and get back outside, but he caught her and threw her down on her back with hardly a motion of his arm. Before she knew it he was dragging her by her wrists across the dust floor to the other side of the room. She kicked and tried to pull away but he was unnaturally strong, and all of her struggling was futile. He lifted her arms and handcuffed her to a low-hanging pipe. He wiped his hands with a handkerchief as if this sort of thing was beneath him and he didn’t want to get his hands dirty.
“As I see it, this can go one of two ways. You can tell me what I want to know and I’ll let you go, or you can be stubborn and I’ll tell the cops exactly where you are.”
“Go fuck yourself.”
“My employer wants to make an example of someone, and personally I would prefer it not to be you. I only really need one of you to take the fall, so if you’ll tell me where he is I’ll make it easy on you. You can even keep the money and disappear.”
Marsha said nothing. He walked up close and looked her in the face. His hair was cropped close in a military buzz-cut, but he wore an expensive-looking suit. This didn’t look like one of Bruce’s flunkies, but it didn’t matter. She was not going to get out of here without help.
“Let’s have a talk about your boyfriend.”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” she said, “and he is so going to kick your ass.”
When his phone rang, Marcus instantly knew who it was without looking. After all, Marsha was the only one who had this number and who wasn’t standing in front of him. She must be really mad to call three times in less than an hour, he thought. He shut off the phone and put it back in his pocket. Her wrath was something he would have to deal with later.
Being locked up in an apartment with Marsha had not turned out to be the fantasy he had thought it would be. While she was every bit as smart and sexy as he had imagined, she was also bitter at being pulled into the middle of his problems. He’d had to get away from her, even if it was just for a few hours.
Not that he could completely relax even here, however. He had to keep an eye out for cops or thugs who might show up at any time. His ability let him see them coming, but if he got distracted for too long, someone might sneak up on him. He had never mentioned the bowling alley or his friends at work, so he was fairly certain that no one knew to look for him here. Still, he couldn’t rule out a chance encounter and had to keep checking the surrounding block for signs of danger.
Every person around him had a coloured circle superimposed on the ground at their feet, like they were characters in a role-playing video game. Marcus knew by the colour whether they were friend or foe. The vast majority of people were a pale blue showing that they were neutral. As a personal joke, Marcus referred to them in his own mind as NPC’s or non-player characters, in keeping with the video game theme. His three friends were green and his own circle, for some reason, was yellow. If anyone approached who meant him harm, their circle would be red, and he would know it was time to flee.
In the past week, Marcus had had the time to work on honing his skills. He no longer got a flood of information all at once about people and things he didn’t need or want to know. When he looked at an object or a picture of an object he could still pull out of thin air all the useful information that he wanted. He only had to concentrate for a moment and think of what he wanted to find and it would come to him.
Yet even with his abilities, he was helpless to clear his own name. The evidence he needed was sealed up tight inside the Luna Corp building behind a dozen security guards who were all out for his blood. Bruce had not let up his pursuit for a moment as Marcus was the only obstacle between him and about forty million dollars in stolen assets. Marcus could track the flow of money across the Internet, but without hard evidence linking it to his corrupt former boss, he was stuck playing the patsy.
“Thanks again, you guys,” said Marcus. “You don’t know how much I needed to see a friendly face.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Jamal. “Hanging out with a wanted felon just increases my street cred.”
Daryl sneered at him. “You’re a podiatrist, Jamal. What do you need street cred for?”
“Just throw the ball. It’s your turn.”
The three of them had known that Marcus was in trouble before he had called them to meet at the bowling alley. Apparently, he had been the victim of a slow news day, and someone had caught him on video outside of the bar laying out Phillips, one of the hired goons Bruce had sent after him. With the media attention, the story of the embezzlement had come out, increasing the scrutiny on Marsha and him. There had been a brief manhunt, but in a city this size there was always a more pressing problem to deal with, so the story had faded into the background noise of everyday life.
Ted, Jamal, and Daryl had been his best friends since fourth grade and knew him better than anyone. When he had told them of his innocence and how he had been framed, they took him at his word. They had even offered to help, but Marcus had refused. Being seen with him was bad enough. He didn’t want to ruin their lives as well.
He had decided not to tell them the rest of the story about how he had suddenly acquired superhuman abilities. It wasn’t that they wouldn’t believe him; he knew they would, eventually. His three friends were the only normal thing in his life right now, however, and he wanted to keep it that way.
When he had tried to explain it to Marsha, at first she had thought he was crazy. It took several hours of demonstrations for her to come around to accepting it was real. Even now, he was sure she wasn’t entirely convinced. Marcus decided it would be best to keep it a secret from anyone who didn’t need to know.
The rest of the afternoon passed without incident and he felt sorry that he had to leave and get back into hiding. He wasn’t looking forward to seeing Marsha. He considered getting her a present before heading back, but he couldn’t think of anything that was appropriate. Marcus knew the only thing she really wanted was her old life back.
As he was tying his shoes he looked up and saw something odd. Out in the parking lot, coming towards him, was a man in suit and short-cropped hair. He had a confident, military air about him, like he meant business. That made him more than a little out-of-place for a bowling alley on a Saturday afternoon, but that wasn’t what drew Marcus’s attention to him. The circle around his feet was yellow, and the man was coming straight towards him.
His first instinct was to run, but curiosity got the better of him. He’d never seen anyone else whose circle was yellow, and he knew it had to be important. Marcus decided that he would listen to what this guy had to say. It might be the key to unlocking the mystery of what had happened to him and where he had gotten his powers.
The man approached confidently, like he owned the place. He sized up Marcus as he came closer, pausing momentarily to glance at his friends. Finally, he stopped a few steps away.
Marcus stood there holding his ball, waiting for him. He looked him over and waited for his visions to start giving him information on the man, but as he stared at the stranger, he drew a blank. He looked at Daryl to make sure his ability had not vanished as suddenly as it had begun, but all his friend’s vital information start scrolling across his vision as soon as he tried. Either this stranger lived so completely off the grid that there was no trace of him anywhere or he was somehow immune to Marcus’s vision. Whichever it was, Marcus was regretting not running away at the first sign of danger.
“Marcus Williams?” the man asked. “You have something that doesn’t belong to you.”
“Who sent you?” Marcus countered. “You certainly don’t look like one of Bruce’s boys.”
“I work for Mr. Wainwright, the man you stole so much money from. I’m here to get it back.”
“Look, I don’t have the money because I never took it in the first place,” pleaded Marcus. “It was Bruce, my old supervisor, who framed me.”
“I’m not here to debate with you,” he said, as he slowly circled around Marcus. “You can explain it to the police. If you have evidence, I’m sure they’ll listen.”
“That’s the problem. All the evidence is locked up in a safe a Luna Corp, and that’s the last place I can go right now.”
“Unfortunate for you,” the man said, “but I’m just here to collect you. I’m not here your confession. So why don’t you come along quietly? We can finish this business like civilized human beings.”
Marcus still got nothing from the man. He could hardly believe how dependent he had become on a power he’d only had for a week. His inability to read this man left him feeling blind and helpless. He needed more information, but it looked like he was going to have to get it the old-fashioned way.
“How did you find me?” asked Marcus.
“We have a mutual friend. Marsha.”
Marcus felt the blood rush to his face. “If you’ve hurt her…”
“You’ll do what, exactly?” The man flashed a smug smile. “Never mind. She’s quite safe I assure you, and she’ll stay that way as long as you cooperate.”
This changes everything, thought Marcus. With his free hand he dug into his pocket for his phone. He had gotten new SIM cards for their phones, but if he had Marsha, then he also could track him with her phone. That must be how the man had found him.
“Where is Marsha?” Marcus demanded.
“You honestly don’t believe I’m going to tell you, do you?”
Marcus looked down at the phone. “I wasn’t talking to you.” On the screen was a picture of Marsha. He saw the address 532 PINE STREET appear in his vision. The words receded and a map appeared with the fastest possible route plotted out. It was only a few blocks away. The only thing standing in his way was this mystery man.
Marcus hurled the bowling ball straight at the man’s head. He watched in amazement as the man caught it an threw it back at him. The ball crashed into the next lane as Marcus stepped aside just in time to avoid getting hit. The man regarded him with a sly grin as if to say, “Is that all you’ve got?”
But the man was so focused on Marcus, he had forgotten that he was not alone. With a yelp, Daryl rushed at the stranger and leapt on his back. A moment later Ted and Jamal joined the fray. Marcus saw his chance and made a run for the door. He would have to make it up to his friends later.
A line appeared on the ground and he followed it as it snaked its way down the sidewalk. He had learned to trust the visions. They had never let him down, especially when he had to push his body to the limits like he was doing now. He weaved his way among the crowd like they were standing still. Only when he was a block away did he pause to look back.
The man had apparently made quick work of his friends and was right behind him. He was moving fast, much faster than Marcus could ever hope to. If he didn’t slow him down or lose him somehow, the man was going to catch up to him.
As he came up to the corner, the line ended and he saw the word STOP in his vision. Even though the man was closing in on him, he waited. His visions had never let him down before. A moment later he saw a count down: 4, 3, 2, 1, GO.
Marcus launched himself into the oncoming traffic. The line led him between the cars and trucks which didn’t even have time to slow down. With only a few honks and some choice swear words from one of the drivers, he was across the street and moving away.
He went another block and he looked back again. The stranger was still too close. He had managed to get across the street and close the distance in almost no time.
Marcus was beginning to think maybe this guy had some ability of his own. That would explain how he could keep up and the yellow circle. It was a shame that they were on opposite sides. He might have the answers to why all this was happening, but for right now he had to get away from him.
He could feel a plan coming together. As he passed a bookstore with a display table out front crowding the sidewalk, his vision highlighted a nearby hot dog vendor’s cart. He made his way quickly towards it. When he approached, his visioned narrowed to two cans of soda on display for sale. Marcus dug in his pocket for money and pulled out a ten-dollar bill. He slapped it down and grabbed the two cans. To the startled seller he hollered, “Keep the change.”
Marcus rolled one can down the sidewalk back towards the book store. The other he began to vigorously shake before he threw it down on the ground. The resulting spray caused a commotion as the crowd moved away to avoid getting doused.
At the same time, a man distracted by the sudden disturbance, tripped on the first can and fell heavily on to the bookseller’s table, knocking its contents to the ground. The scrambling shoppers gave Marcus the minute of time he needed. He slipped away and left the stranger behind.
She didn’t know how long she had been left standing there, but her arms were starting to hurt. Marsha had lashed against the handcuffs, but the pipe had refused to budge. After what felt like an hour, her rage was spent, and she started to worry about what was going to happen to her. Being trapped in a crummy apartment had been bad, but being left chained up in the basement of an abandoned building was far worse. She wondered who would come to get her. Was it going to be the police or the psycho who chained her down here with the rats? And then she had a horrible thought. What if no one came?
Marsha heard a banging upstairs and called out, “Help, I’m down here.”
She let out a sigh of relief. It was Marcus coming to save her. “Down here!” she called again. When he poked his head through the doorway, never had she been so happy to see anyone in her life. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust before he spotted her near the far wall. He rushed forward to where she was pinned and asked, “Are you all right? Did he hurt you?”
“I’ll be fine,” she said, “but we need to get out of here. Help me get out of these cuffs.”
But Marcus only stood there looking at her helplessly.
“What are you waiting for?” she demanded.
“Well…I thought you would be locked in a room or tied up to a chair. Sorry, but I don’t carry around a handcuff key with me everywhere.”
“Dammit! Look around. Maybe you can find something to jimmy the lock with.”
“I am looking, but there’s nothing to work with here. The place is empty.”
“Maybe this will help.”
Marsha gasped as she realized her kidnapper had returned and was standing in the doorway. She saw Marcus brace himself for a fight and tried to pull away, but the handcuffs still held her tight. But instead of attacking, the man tossed the key to Marcus. He caught it, but continued to eye the man for a moment before he released her, unsure whether this was a trick.
Her arms tingled as the blood rushed back into them. She shook them out and rubbed her hands together, trying to drive the life back into them. “Does someone want to tell me what the hell is going on?”
“I’d like to know too,” said Marcus. “Ten minutes ago, you were ready to take my head off, and now you want to talk? What’s changed your mind?”
“When I was chasing you, you stopped to pay for the drinks instead of just taking them. A man capable of stealing wouldn’t have bothered. The idea wouldn’t even occur to him. I am, at least for the moment, willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and listen to your story.”
“That’s an awful lot of trust based on such a small detail,” Marcus said.
“On the contrary, it’s the small details that betray our inner nature. For instance, a man who is pleasant towards his date, but unkind to the waiter is only pretending to be nice. A genuinely kind person is always kind, regardless of the person to whom he is speaking. You felt guilt taking a couple of cans of soda. It is unlikely you stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from your employer.”
“It’s true,” said Marsha, “we didn’t take the money. I didn’t even know about it until Marcus told me what was going on. And then suddenly I was in the middle of it, and they were trying to kill me…”
“It’s worse than you know,” interrupted Marcus. “Bruce only let on about a small portion of the missing money. He’s embezzled more than four million dollars in the past three years, and he’s getting ready to flee the country. If we don’t do something soon, he’s going to get away with it. So, I guess the only question left is are you going to help us, or are you going to try to stop us?”
“No, there are other questions that come before that. How did you manage to figure out there was missing money when some of the best accountants in the world couldn’t spot it? How did you manage to evade both the police and half of Luna Corp security? And how did you manage that Rube Goldberg escape from me? The chances of that happening by accident are a million to one.”
Marcus paused as if considering how much to betray to his new-found ally. “Let’s just say I have a way with numbers and other information. An ability that for some reason doesn’t work on you. That leads me to suspect that you have hidden talents of your own. Would you care to share them with us?”
For the first time, the man looked surprised. Marcus had hit a nerve there. “Well, it seems we have something more to talk about than some missing money.”
“So, what?” asked Marsha. “We’re all friends now? Am I supposed to trust you after you locked me up in this dungeon?”
“If it means anything,” he answered, “I apologize. From my perspective you were a dangerous and wanted criminal.” He gave her the hint of a smile and added, “I am glad that this has turned out not to be the case.”
Marsha had had enough of talking. She had been tied up and on her feet for who knows how long, and she hadn’t had a thing to eat all day. “What do you say to taking this conversation to a more comfortable location? I for one am starving.”
“It seems we’re going to be working together.” He offered his hand to Marcus who shook it, albeit somewhat reluctantly. “I’m Marlowe. C’mon, I’ll buy us something to eat, and we can talk about what we’re going to do about this Bruce character.”
Marsha refused his offer of a handshake. She was still not ready to trust him. “Just how many of you guys are out there anyway?” she asked, heading towards the stairs.
“A good question,” said Marcus, “but I’m afraid it’s one that will have to wait until we can clear our names.”
“I don’t like loose ends,” Marlowe said. “Let’s get this mess cleaned up as soon as possible.”
“Agreed,” said Marcus.
The door opened as Marlowe swiped his pass card to the underground parking garage. His two passengers sat quietly in the backseat as he pulled into a parking space near the elevator. It was early Sunday morning, so the building was deserted except for the few security guards that kept a watchful eye for anything suspicious. Marlowe had said that he often worked special projects for Wainwright, and the guards were accustomed to seeing him come and go at odd hours. When he had called ahead to say he was coming in with two prisoners in tow, it didn’t raise any alarms.
Riley got out and opened the rear door to let Marsha and him out. They had their arms pinned behind their backs with handcuffs, so it took them a moment to slide out. “Do you think they’re buying it?” asked Marcus.
“We’ll soon find out,” was all Marlowe would say as he led them to the elevator. Once inside he pressed the button for the top floor. He had told the guards that he had caught the two thieves that Wainwright was looking for, and that the old man wanted to have a chat with them personally before he handed them over to the police.
As they approached the level where Bruce had his office, Marlowe hit the button for that floor and quickly turned to unlock their handcuffs. The doors opened just as he finished, and the three of them rushed out to the office floor.
The plan was simple. Bluff their way in until they reached the right floor. Then Marsha and he would go for the safe, while Marlowe held off the guards. When Marlowe was satisfied that the evidence was in hand, he would call Wainwright and the police to handover the real thieves.
Only one elevator was left operating on the weekends so they had a few minutes while it went all the way to the top floor. With a nod of his head, Marlowe headed towards the fire escape to head off the guards.
Marsha and he walked swiftly to Bruce’s office. It felt strange to be back in the office, especially when most of the lights were off and there was no one there, but they didn’t have time to waste reminiscing. When they got to the door it was locked, but they had expected that. Marcus pulled a hammer that he had tucked into his belt and took a thin chisel from his pocket. The lock has built for privacy, not security, and the door popped open after just a couple of taps with the hammer. They rushed into the room and closed the door behind them.
Marcus had been in this office often and knew the layout well. The small safe was built into a counter in the back wall behind Bruce’s desk. While Marsha watched the door, Marcus concentrated on the digital lock until his vision revealed the code. He punched it in and opened the door.
Nestled on top was a thick stack of hundred-dollar bills, which Marcus grabbed and stuck in his pocket. There was also a pile of papers, mostly having to do with the legitimate work that Bruce was hired to do. As he scanned the interior, three things stood out to his vision. One was a small laptop. He had expected it would be something like that. He took it out and set it on the counter before he turned his attention back to the safe.
His vision highlighted two envelopes resting against the side of the safe, apart from all the other papers. Marcus pulled them out. The were just plain white envelopes, like the kind that held birthday cards. They were blank and featureless except for a few words typed on each, words that he recognized instantly. One of the cards was addressed to him, and the other to Riley Marlowe. Marcus wanted to tear them open and figure out what the hell was going on, but it was going to have to wait. He stuffed the envelopes into his pocket as well.
There were too many guards for Marlowe to stop all of them, and they would have figured out what was going on by now. Those thugs would probably just shoot them on sight and claim the three of them came back to destroy evidence. They only had a few minutes before the guards would come. There was no time to waste.
He opened the laptop, but it stubbornly refused to boot up. Marcus examined the computer more carefully. The drive was encrypted. It required a security key contained on a flash drive before it would start. That key would probably in Bruce’s possession. Marcus could read the information on the laptop, but he needed that drive to unlock it so Marlowe and Wainwright could see it as well. He doubted they would wait around for several hours or days while he tried to hack into it. He needed that key.
Marsha caught his attention with a low hiss, “Someone’s coming.” They both tensed as they prepared themselves to fight their way out. Marcus looked out across the floor to see who it was, but the yellow circle gave him away instantly.
“It’s only Marlowe.” he said.
Marlowe moved quickly and silently towards the office. Marsha opened the door to let him in. If it wasn’t for the trickle of blood coming from the corner of his mouth, you would have thought he had just stepped out to the bathroom, not taken down several large men. “Do we have what we need?” he asked.
“There’s a problem,” said Marcus. “The drive’s encrypted.”
“Can you hack it?”
“Not in the next few minutes. It’s not as simple as knowing a password. Part of the code is contained in a pass key and that is not networked anywhere, so I can’t access it.”
“All right we’ll have to take what we’ve got and pull back. Hopefully I can sort this out with the old man…” Marlowe stopped and turned his head back to the elevator. “We’ve got company.”
Marcus looked as well. There were three red circles getting off the elevator and coming towards them. They had run out of time.
Marsha, Marlowe and Marcus hurried out of the office to avoid getting pinned down. Keeping low to stay out of sight, the three of them moved along the hallway between the office dividers on one side and the plate glass windows on the other. Their only chance to slip by the three men unseen was to circle around and try to come up on the guards from behind.
Bruce and his buddies had expected that however, and they split up to try outflank and surround them. Marcus saw them coming, one on each end of the aisle. Bruce, the coward that he was, remained back by the elevator to catch anyone who slipped by the others.
Marcus was about to grab Marlowe and point out the guy coming around the far end, but he already seemed to know. With a few hand signals, Marlowe explained his plan. First they would need to take out the two guards. Then they could move on Bruce together. He pushed Marsha under the desk in the nearest cubicle and handed her the laptop. “Stay here,” he whispered. “We’ll be right back.”
Marcus snuck back down to the end of the aisle and slipped into the last cubicle there as Marlowe made his way to the opposite end. When they were in position, they waited for the two guards to come into range. Marcus slipped the hammer from his belt and readied himself to fight. He glanced back at Marlowe to find him poised and ready to strike the instant the other guard came around the corner.
Marcus’s man arrived first, gun drawn. The guard hastily took a shot at him but missed widely. The plate glass window behind him shattered outwards as the air pressure released out of the sudden hole in the wall.
Marcus charged at the guard and threw the hammer at his gun hand. As the guard moved to avoid it, the hammer caught him in the shoulder. But that had only been a distraction. Marcus leapt into the air feet first and rammed heavily into the guard’s chest. The impact knocked the man back several feet and left him gasping for air. While he was down on the ground trying to catch his breath, Marcus pinned the guard’s arms behind him with his own handcuffs.
Just then, at the other end of the aisle, the second guard appeared. When he saw Marcus bent down on the floor, he aimed his gun. Marlowe sprung out of hiding like a coiled snake. He twisted the guard’s gun arm until the man grunted in pain, but he would not release his weapon. Marlowe twisted harder until the bones in the guard’s arm snapped and he bellowed in pain. The gun fell from his now limp wrist and landed with dull thud on the carpet. Marlowe kicked it away and gave the man a quick shot to the throat with his elbow for good measure. He could only gurgle his complaints as Marlowe handcuffed his good arm to the leg of the nearest desk.
Marcus turned his attention back to the guard in front of him and immediately realized his mistake. While he had been watching Marlowe, Bruce had had the chance to close in on him. He was only a few steps away with a pistol posited at Marcus’s face. “You just couldn’t leave it alone, could you?” he said. “Another couple of weeks and I would have been getting a tan on a beach in Mexico, and this shithole would be a fading memory. But you had to go and stick your stupid nose in my business!”
When Marcus looked at this man in front of him, he didn’t see his old boss. This man was a disheveled mess that was ready to crack at any moment. “Look, Bruce. It’s not too late to work something out. If you give back the money…”
“Give it back!” he barked. “After all I went through to get it. I don’t think so. All I have to do is get rid of you and your friends.”
“Hey, Bruce,” called Marsha. “If you want your money, let him go.” She had moved to the hole in the wall where the window had been. She held the laptop out into the void, threatening to drop it. “Let us go, or I’ll let this go.”
“How did you get that?” Bruce pointed the gun at her then, but seeing that she was serious he backed off. “I don’t care about any of you. I just want my money.”
“I’ll do it,” she said. “Put the gun down.”
Bruce huffed angrily as he considered his options. He turned the gun back on Marcus. “Go stand over there with your girlfriend.”
Marcus got up and walked over by the open window. He wished his visions would give him a quick way out of this, but for once he got nothing. Maybe there was no solution. Maybe this was the end.
“Just put the computer down on the floor and step away,” Bruce ordered, “or I’ll put a hole in you boyfriend.”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” she insisted. “You put the gun down first.”
“That’s not going to happen,” said Bruce. “You underestimate my desire to shoot the two of you right now. It might almost be worth losing the money. Almost.”
Marcus was standing beside her now. Softly, he said, “Just put it down and walk away. This isn’t worth you getting hurt.”
Marsha looked at him and then back to Bruce. Slowly, she bent down and place the computer on the carpet. She stood back up and raised her hands in submission. “There it is. Just take it and go. You win.”
“Yes, I do.” Bruce pointed the gun at her chest, and fired.
When he raised his arm and pointed the gun at her, she knew giving up her only bargaining chip had been a fatal mistake. With nowhere to go, she closed her eyes and waited for the end. She was surprised that there was no pain as the gunpowder flared sending the bullet towards her with a deafening clap.
When she opened her eyes again, she saw Marlowe looking back at her with a pain expression on his face. As he stumbled forward she caught him in her arms and guided him down to the floor. Shocked, she realized what had happened – he had stepped in front of the bullet and saved her life.
“Where the hell did he come from?” asked Bruce. “It doesn’t matter. I’ve got enough bullets for all of you.” He moved to the guard that Marcus had knocked down and kicked him in the side. “Get up and help me, asshole.”
“I can’t reach the keys,” the man answered back.
When Bruce bent over to grab the guard’s key ring, Marcus saw his chance. He scooped up the laptop and threw it at Bruce. “You want your money,” he yelled. “Here it is!”
Bruce dropped his guard for a few seconds to catch it. That was more than enough time for Marcus to rush forward and pin the man to the ground. Marsha watched as he knocked the gun from his hand and how beat Bruce repeatedly in the face. She was surprised by the savagery that Marcus seemed capable of. She had shared and apartment with him for a week, but had never suspected that even this quiet, kind man could be driven to a frenzy.
Beaten and bloodied, Marcus left Bruce lying on the floor and picked up the gun before coming back to check on Marlowe.
“How is he?”
“He’s still breathing,” she answered, “but there’s a lot of blood. We need to get him to a hospital.” Faintly in the street below, she could hear sirens now. The police were finally responding to the broken window and gunshots.
Marcus came over to examine Marlowe. He stared at him for a moment before putting down the gun. “Help me get his shirt off.”
“I don’t think we should move him,” she said.
“The bullet missed his spine,” he said, “but it’s punctured his right lung. We need to staunch the bleeding.” He balled up the shirt into a makeshift bandage. “Put pressure here. I’m going to call for the ambulance.”
But as he stood up again, there was a guttural howl. Bruce was not done fighting yet and seemed determined to kill Marcus with his bare hands. Bruce charged straight at him like a mad man, but Marcus didn’t move. Then at the last possible moment, like a matador with an enraged bull, Marcus stepped to one side and let Bruce rush past him.
Only too late did Bruce understand his mistake. His charge had brought him up to the open window. He tried to slow himself down and managed to stop right at the edge of the precipice, but his momentum was still pushing him forwards. Bruce flailed his arms and tried desperately to push himself back up but there was nothing to grab on to and he started to pitch forward.
Just then, Marcus grabbed him by the collar and pulled him back from the brink. He collapsed on the floor, panting heavily. He looked up at Marcus. Still full of arrogance, he said, “What do you want me to do? Thank you?”
“I didn’t do it to save you,” he answered. He held up a jump drive dangling at the end of a lanyard. It was the security key for the laptop. “I just needed to get this from you.”
Bruce clutched at his chest, searching for something that wasn’t there anymore. He stared to get up again, but Marcus punched him squarely in the face. The blow was the last straw for Bruce, and he collapsed in a pile, unconscious on the carpet.
Marcus shook the pain from his hand and nursed his bruised knuckles. “That wasn’t a very elegant ending,” he said, “but it was extremely satisfying. How’s Marlowe?”
“He’s still alive, but he needs help now,” she said.
“The police are in the elevator. They’ll be here in a few seconds. Keep pressure on the wound.” Exhausted, he sat down on the floor with his back to the partition wall.
It was over. They had the evidence they needed to clear their names. The only questions now were about the future. Where had their abilities come from and would they last? What was she going to do with the rest of his life? How was she going to explain all this to her father? The only thing that he was certain of at the moment was that she needed a drink.
Right on cue, the police piled out of the elevator and stormed into the office. They found the group almost immediately and called for an ambulance. Marcus and Marsha let themselves be taken into custody, but only after one of the cops started first aid on Marlowe. They could never have done this without him. He deserved the best care.
Just as they were being led out, Bruce started to stir on the floor. Seeing the cops all around him, he knew he was finished, but his hatred wouldn’t let him accept defeat. He lunged for the nearby gun that the other guard had dropped. As he took aim at Marcus, one of the cops saw him and drew his gun. Bullets ripped through Bruce’s chest, and he finally toppled over in a pool of his own blood. This time he would not move again.
Now it really was over.
“I’m not sure how you did it,” said Sergeant Timmins, “but thank you for bringing my daughter back to me. And for helping my son, even if he’ll never appreciate it.”
“You shouldn’t sound so surprised,” said Riley, “I said I would help if I could.”
“No offense,” said Timmins, “but in my line of work, you learn not to trust people who haven’t earned it.”
“In my line of work as well,” he answered.
Timmins eyed him suspiciously. “Speaking of which, there was a little matter of a break and enter a while back. The main suspect matches your description almost perfectly. You wouldn’t know anything about that would you?”
“Why Sergeant, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I thought you might say that,” said Timmins. “I suppose it doesn’t matter now anyway. All the records and evidence have mysteriously vanished. Consider it a favour for returning my daughter to me unharmed.”
Just then, the door to the hospital room opened, and Marcus and Marsha came in. She gave her father a hug and kissed Riley on the cheek. Marcus looked uncomfortable and gave Riley a knowing glance, indicating that he needed to speak with him alone. Riley nodded back. There were things he needed to talk about as well.
“So technically we’re out on bail,” said Marsha, “but they say it’s just a formality until the paperwork clears. The lawyers Mr. Wainwright sent over made quick work of their case, so the charges will all be dismissed at the hearing.”
“That’s good news,” said Riley. “Old Seamus always takes care of his people. Especially when he gets to keep all his money at the end.” He grimaced in pain as he adjusted his posture to roll on to his side. “I know you just got here but I’m still kind of tired and so full of drugs I can barely keep my eyes open. Marsha, why don’t you take your father out for lunch and we can all catch up when I’m feeling better.”
“Oh, all right,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to keep you from getting better. Come on dad, stop pestering the man and I’ll buy you a steak.”
“You two go ahead,” said Marcus. “I’ve got some errands to run and I need to talk to Riley for a minute.”
When the door had closed behind them, Riley’s demeanour immediately changed and he sat up straight in bed. He had only been pretending to be tired and sore. Now that they were alone he could be himself once more. “I need you to get me out of here in the next hour or so.”
“What’s the rush? Why don’t you just stay here for a few days and recover?”
“That’s the problem,” answered Riley. “I’ve already recovered. One of the advantages to being like we are is that you heal really fast. At least it’s been true for me.”
“I haven’t had a chance to test that out yet,” said Marcus.
“Let’s hope you never do,” said Riley. “This isn’t the first time I’ve been shot, and if my estimates are right, the wound should be completely healed by the time they come in to change my dressing. That could generate some unwanted questions. It would be best to be gone by then.”
“I see what you mean,” said Marcus.
“I’ll just sign out against doctor’s advice and tell them I’m transferring to a private clinic for treatment. But they won’t release me in the state they think I’m in unless someone is there to take care of me. That’s going to be you.”
“I can do that,” said Marcus, “but are you sure you’re all right?”
“Nothing a cold beer and a hot shower wouldn’t fix,” said Riley. “And maybe a week lying on a beach somewhere.”
“You might want to reconsider that last part,” said Marcus.
Marcus reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope. He seemed conflicted for a moment before he offered it to Riley. “I found this in the safe with Bruce’s laptop. There was one addressed to me as well.”
“What is it?” he asked.
“An invitation,” answered Marcus. “We’re supposed to meet in a park next Sunday.”
“Who sent it? I don’t see a name on it anywhere.”
Marcus paused, as if deciding how best to explain. “When I see important things, it’s like they’re highlighted to stand out. I was supposed to find these invitations, like someone knew we would be in that office before we did. I think it has something to do with our abilities. And I think you see that too.”
“I’m not sure what to think.” He turned the card over in his hands as if he expected something more to happen. Finally he tucked the invitation back in the envelope. “What I do know is I need to get out of here. The rest we’ll have to deal with later.” Riley swept back the covers and got out of bed. “Now, where are my pants?”
“They had to cut them off you. We got you some sweatpants and a t-shirt to wear until you could get home. They’re hanging in the closet.”
“Ugh, I suppose that will have to do.” Riley went to the closet and started to get dressed. “The first thing we’re going to have to do is go shopping. And we’ll get you something as well. You’re going to have to start dressing better if we’re going to be partners.”
“Partners?” asked Marcus.
“What were you planning to do?” asked Riley. “Go back to your old job as a cubicle monkey? No, you’ve tasted the life of adventure and there’s no going back. But if you not going to get yourself killed, you’re going to need someone to show you the ropes. That, and it will be good to have someone to talk to for a change.”
“I seems like you’ve got this all planned out,” said Marcus.
“Now you’re getting it. Rule number one is always have a plan. Let’s go.”