Truman “Papa Bear” Foster ran his hand through the cool water of the fountain and marveled at his good fortune. He had first seen the basin on his trip to Italy two years ago. It had sat empty in the courtyard of a run-down villa in a small rural town outside of Florence. From the first moment he saw it, Truman knew that he had to possess it. He felt guilty for the sin of coveting another’s property, but they obviously didn’t value its beauty the way he did.
The fountain itself dated back to the time of the Roman Empire, with the villa being built around it in later centuries. The owners were poor but proud, and refused his initial offers to but it outright. However, as the family’s financial position weakened, so did their resolve. It had taken months, but they had finally conceded and sold the entire villa to him.
Local law had declared the fountain a historical landmark and forbade its removal, but with enough money in the right hands, any law can be bent or broken. Political corruption was another survivor from ancient times. Within a week, the entire fountain had been crated up and shipped to his ministry’s compound.
It now sat at the entrance to the manor house. Being nearly twice as wide as he was tall, it dominated the building’s façade and the gardens that surrounded it, so that everyone who arrived would be forced to marvel at it. The central spire featured a hooded maiden pouring out a never-ending stream from an earthenware jug. The serene face on figure always reminded Truman of the Virgin Mary.
If it wasn’t heresy, he would have claimed the water spoke to him. It certainly calmed him just from being nearby, and he needed that now. Big changes were coming, and he would need to be at his best.
He looked up to see Celeste Green coming towards him. No doubt she had found something or someone else about which to complain. Truman swore if he didn’t need her gifts, he would have sent this troublesome woman packing long ago, but she was his ticket to a national stage. Like it or not, his fate was tied to hers.
As he wiped his hand dry on his pant leg, he prayed, “God save me from your servants. They will be the end of me.”
She was still small and frail from her bout with cancer, but in the few weeks that she had been here, she had recovered remarkably. “Reverend!” she called out. She was waving a pointed finger at him. That was never a good sign. “Reverend, this will not do.”
“What seems to be the problem, my dear?”
“You know very well that I said I wasn’t going to do any more private sessions,” she said. “My gifts are for everyone, not just a privileged few.”
“And if you’ll remember I said that such things are still an unfortunate necessity,” he said.
“God did not give me this gift to waste on the vain and greedy of this world,” she said.
“On that we can agree. However, this is a flawed, imperfect world, and the people in it have needs that can only be satisfied with money. It is a hard truth, but it is truth nonetheless.”
“We’ll, I don’t like it.”
“Of course you don’t, my dear,” he said. “And I don’t like all the time and effort it takes to keep you out of the hands of those government people, but we do what we must. We all have our crosses to bear.”
Celeste remained prickly and bitter, but the idea of being captured and experimented on by mysterious and anonymous agents of the government was usually enough to force her back in line. She was a handful at the best of times, but they were stuck with each other. He needed her remarkable healing gift, and she had nowhere else to go.
“Who are these people anyway?” she asked.
“They are friends of a very dear friend of mine,” he answered. “Someone who was very generous when I needed help, and now it’s our chance to return the favour. It seems the poor dear’s mother has a nasty pancreatic cancer and won’t live much longer.”
“You know how much a healing like that tires me out. I won’t be able to do anything else for days.”
“When I heard about her condition, her plight moved me so. I immediately invited them to the compound without considering the strain it would put on you. For that I am truly sorry, but we need this man’s support if we are going to spread the word of God’s grace to the masses and keep you safe. The time to reveal ourselves has not yet come, but it is fast approaching. I will not insist that you do this healing, but I ask that you do me this one favour in return for all this ministry has offered and will continue to offer you.”
“I am grateful for everything you’ve done for me, Reverend,” she said. “I just want to be consulted before any decisions are made.”
Feeling he had won this round, Truman smiled, “Of course, my dear. I would never dream of keeping you out of the loop. In fact, I should have told you this, but I’ve already made inquiries into hiring an assistant for you, to handle scheduling and your personal needs.”
“Why, Reverend,” she said. “You think of everything. I shouldn’t have doubted you.”
“Think nothing of it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m late for my morning prayers.” Truman watched as she walked back to the manor house. Yes, he thought, an assistant to keep you in line and out of my hair. Why God should choose such a disagreeable vessel for his works, I’ll never understand. But she was his key to greatness, he could feel it.
He stared once more into the placid water of the fountain, but it had no serenity to offer him now. All he could see was his own reflection staring back up at him. He slapped the water sending ripples out across its surface, and headed back towards the house. There was still much to do.
She leaned against the car door and tried to catch her breath. For the better part of week, Lisa had made weapons for Bob to distribute to his various operations throughout the city. The work grew harder for every gun she copied, but she was close to completing her quota. Soon he would take her to meet this mysterious healer who could cure her mother once and for all, but until then she was his indentured servant.
Just a few more, she thought, and then I can call it a day.
She didn’t know why he would need so many weapons. It was as if he was preparing for a war. If that was the case, she would need to make an escape plan so that she didn’t wind up in the middle of a shooting war.
She thought it was more likely that he was going to sell them off. At his heart he was a businessman, more concerned about money than anything else. She knew the type well. For him, money was the key to power, a shield against his enemies, and the measure of his manhood. Unfortunately, there was no amount wealth that would satisfy a man like that. There would always be something he didn’t have or couldn’t control.
She had to admire his vision though. After all, one gun could be traced through its serial number and ballistics profile. But a hundred guns, or a thousand, all with identical properties? It made identifying any particular weapon impossible. The evidence would be tossed out of court as meaningless.
She held the pistol in her left hand and put her other hand over what remained of the engine block. The car was someone’s old trade-in, full of rust and dents, and would never be missed. The front end was half-missing as if it had been sheared off in a collision on cut off with a blow torch. In truth, it had been whole until Lisa had gotten her hands on it. Slowly, another gun began to form and a bit more of the car disappeared.
A piece of the motor broke off and fell to the concrete floor of the garage with a clatter. Anything that wasn’t needed to make the guns would stay where it was until its supports eroded away and it broke off. Often a fine dust would appear and drift down to settle quietly on the ground like sawdust in a mill. However her power worked, it seemed to operate on a molecular level, taking only what it needed and discarding the rest.
When the pistol was complete, she picked it up and placed it in the wooden crate with two dozen others just like it. She paused when she heard the door open and footsteps coming towards her. The only person to visit her in the garage since she had started had been Bob. Lisa did not relish another encounter with him, especially in her weakened state. She hated that man and everything he represented. Setting aside the fact that he was the city’s biggest crime boss, he had kidnapped and tortured her, and then dangled the promise of a cure for her mother in front of her for weeks. She wanted nothing more than to stab him in the eye, or better yet, shoot him with one of his own guns. If only she had a bullet, she could end this now.
“How’s it going, princess?” he bellowed.
“Almost done,” she answered.
“Good,” he said. Bob looked her over making her feel even more uncomfortable.
She hoped he wasn’t getting any ideas, or she really would kill him, cure or not.
“You look like crap,” he said finally. “Why don’t you go home and rest. Tomorrow’s going to be a big day for you.”
Lisa was worried. Was he going to have her make a tank or something? “What’s so special about tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow’s the day we go to see the preacher, and get your mother fixed up.”
His pronouncement softened her contempt for the man, but only slightly. “It’s about time.”
“So ungrateful,” he said. “Maybe I’ll reschedule for next month.”
“At the rate you’ve got me working,” she said, “I won’t be here in a month. Haven’t I told you I can’t keep up this pace? I need to recharge my batteries.”
“Fine, fine,” he said. “Finish up here, and then you can take a couple of days off. I have a new scam I want to try next week.”
She watched him go out and wondered how long this arrangement could go on. It was only a matter of time before he saw her as a liability. When she became more trouble than she was worth, he would kill her, or worse, he would hand her over to the government agents that were always looking for new freaks to experiment on. Bob had connections even with these men, and had told her the horror stories of how their kind was treated. Better to take a bullet to the brain than wind up on their operating tables, she mused. Still, she had to get away from Bob soon. She would not meet a kinder end at his hands when he was done exploiting her.
When Lisa had finished copying the last gun, she tossed it on the pile and left as fast as she could. Her mother’s condition had worsened rapidly and she didn’t like to be away for too long, even when the nurse was there to take care of her. Bob had let her take one of the cars from the lot of the dealership, so she made it home in only a few minutes. As she unlocked the door, she had a sense that she was being watched. She glanced around but saw no one. Nevertheless, she suddenly felt vulnerable, so she hurried inside where it was safe.
Lisa found her mother sleeping in her bedroom. She slept a lot lately, weakened by the disease eating away at her and by the doctors’ futile attempts at treatment. If this healer couldn’t help her mother, Lisa knew she didn’t have long to live.
Tomorrow will be better, she promised as much to herself as her mother. Just wait. You’ll see.
He ducked out of sight just in time to avoid being caught. Philip knew the woman had some part in Smilin’ Bob’s operation, but he couldn’t be sure how she fit into the puzzle. He had followed her home from the dealership on his motorcycle, hoping to get her alone and ask her some questions. The streets had been full of people, however, and he didn’t want to risk being seen.
When she had gone inside, he raced up the fire escape of the building across the street. From the roof he had a clear view of the apartments, so he watched and waited. After a couple of minutes a light went on in a room on the top floor. He brought his binoculars up to his eyes and looked through the open window.
The woman appeared briefly, so he knew he had found the right place. He studied the layout but found there were no guards, not even a doorman in the lobby. There were only a pair of cameras covering the front and rear exits, but they did not worry Philip. He would not be going in that way. Deciding to wait for nightfall before he moved, he found a corner of the roof where he could watch the building without being observed.
Being so late in the summer, it was almost midnight before he was convinced it was dark enough to move. He slipped back down quickly the way he had come and walked casually across the street, so as not to draw attention to himself. Glancing around he saw that he was alone in the alley. Her fire escape was out of reach, but clambering a pipe on the building next door gave him access to the roof. It was a simple matter from there to drop down on top of her building.
He checked the access door but it was locked. Using one of the small throwing knives he had started to carry in the past few weeks, it was a simple matter to pop the latch and open the door. He slipped inside the dark hallway and let the door close behind him. Here he paused to get ready.
He took out his phone and ran the montage of video clips he had prepared. As each segment played, he took on the knowledge of the people they featured. He used to play as many as fifty different clips, but he had found that sometimes having too many choices was as bad as having too few. He couldn’t afford to be paralyzed, not even for an instant, trying to decide whether he should do a judo flip or a roundhouse kick. That was all the time it would take to get himself killed. He had it narrowed down to half a dozen of his favorite fighters, including the carnival knife thrower. If he needed any special skills, all he had to do was upload them from his phone.
Philip was now a virtually unstoppable fighting machine, or at least he would be for the next three hours and eighteen minutes. He pulled on his mask and hood and made his way down the stairs to the exit door and the hallway beyond. He found the right door and paused to listen, but heard nothing from the other side.
Using the locksmith knowledge he had uploaded earlier, it was a simple matter to open the apartment door and sneak inside. It was a spacious apartment, well decorated and clean, as if its owner had money but didn’t want to be ostentatious about it. Enough light came in through the open window from the street outside that he didn’t need a flashlight to keep from bumping into the furniture. Still, he moved cautiously to avoid making any noise and giving away the element of surprise.
He found her asleep on the couch, still dressed in the same clothes he had seen her wearing earlier. Philip took two zip-ties from his pocket and fashioned them into makeshift handcuffs. He slowly slipped them over her wrists, being careful not to wake her. Just as he pulled them tight, her eyes flickered open. She inhaled to scream out, but he slapped his hand over her mouth and held a knife to her throat.
“I’m not here to hurt you,” he said. “If you cooperate and answer my questions, I’ll let you go. But if you don’t…”
He never got to finish the sentence. Unexpectedly, she had freed her hands and tossed him across the room like he was a football. He staggered back until he hit the far wall, knocking down a shelf which spilled its contents noisily on to the floor. She had a smaller build, but she was at least as strong as he was.
Changing tacks, he threw two knives to distract her, but she was quick too. She grabbed a book from the coffee table and the blades stuck harmlessly into its thick cover. In seconds, she had pulled them out and tossed them back at Philip, who barely managed to dart out of the way. He was starting to think that he was in over his head this time, when a light appeared down the hallway.
“What’s going on. I heard a noise.”
He turned his head to see who it was, and instantly regretted it. He felt a sudden stabbing pain in this guts, unlike anything he had ever felt before. The old woman was sick, and she had infected him somehow. His power had never betrayed him like this before, but he grew instantly weak and nauseated. He did the only thing he could and bolted for the door.
He heard the younger woman calling out, “Go back to your room.”
Philip didn’t wait but took advantage of the distraction. He took the elevator down and stumbled out into the lobby. As quickly as he could manage, he ran out the door and got on his motorcycle. He was in so much pain, he wasn’t sure he could even ride, but he had no choice. By now she had called for help, and he was in no condition to fight.
There could only be one answer, he thought. Before he had died, Lorne had said that there must be others out there with powers like Philip. If that was true, and one of them was working for Smilin’ Bob, then his mission to bring down the criminal kingpin just got a whole lot harder.
Philip would need new tactics to deal with this threat. He needed to turn the circumstances in his favour. It was time to go to war. But if he was going to feel this bad for more than three hours, he was going to have to go home and lie down first.
From her bedroom window, Celeste watched as the limousine pulled into the driveway. She knew the visitors were here to see her, and she did not relish the thought. Everyday there were more people begging her for help until there were more than she could manage. At first she had felt bad at having to turn some of them away, but now she wasn’t so sure. She wondered how many were truly deserving of God’s grace.
Ever since she had healed herself of cancer, and then cured that woman of arthritis, her gift had defined her life. There had been no question that she would share His love with any who asked for it, and Truman Foster had been her obvious ally from the start. She had watched him on television for years and had even sent money when she could afford it. He had even come to rescue her when the government agents had shown up at the hospital to take her away.
It was only now, after living in his house for the last few weeks that she began to doubt his convictions. She began to wonder if he truly believed as she did, or whether he was taking advantage of her for his own gain.
There was a light knock at her door.
“The guests have arrived. They need you downstairs.” It was the voice of Rachel, one of Papa Bear’s many acolytes, who had been given the job of looking after her. She was a timid and meek girl, barely out of school. She did her best to stay out of Celeste’s way, an arrangement that suited them both.
When she wasn’t performing healings, Celeste preferred to spend her time in prayer and contemplation. It not only gave her the solace she desperately needed, but also allowed her time to recharge her batteries. The miracles took a lot out of her, but it was a price she was more than willing to pay.
“Tell them I’ll be there in half-an-hour,” she said. The staff would see to their needs, and it would give them a chance to relax. The one thing she did not doubt was Papa Bear’s ability to make people at ease, and he had cultivated that trait in his staff. The pause would give her time to think as well.
Who were these people, she wondered, and why do they deserve special treatment? Truman had said they were special friends, and that meant large donors. Was that what she was to be reduced to? A horse and pony show to bring in investors? If that was the case, she wanted no part of it. And yet, Truman seemed genuine in his belief. Was it just his methods that she didn’t approve of? What was God’s plan for her? She must have been brought here for a reason, but she couldn’t see it.
There were too many questions and too few answers running around in her head. She needed to clear her head and she knew of no better way than prayer. She knelt beside her bed and clasped her hands together like a child getting ready for bed. She begged for guidance and clarity, but no answer was forthcoming.
Celeste’s half-hour of grace had nearly expired when she heard the door open behind her. Convinced further prayer would not help for now, she got to her feet. “I’ll be down in a few minutes,” she said. “I just want to change…”
She turned around to find not the meek girl Rachel as she had expected, but instead a strange man with a hood dressed all in black. It was a surreal moment for her, and at first Celeste wasn’t sure that she wasn’t imagining it. She stood and stared at him until fear started to sink in. Her next impulse was to run but he was blocking the only exit from the room.
“Wait, I’m not here to hurt you.” He held up his hands to show they were empty. “Are you the healer that people are talking about?”
Celeste backed away from him until her legs touched the bed and she almost stumbled. “What do you want from me?”
“I have a message for you,” he said.
“A message?” she asked. “For me?”
“The young woman who has come to see you today to have you heal her mother, she is a part of a criminal organization that is responsible for the majority of drugs, illegal weapons, gambling, and prostitution in this city. Their leader is Smilin’ Bob Carmel, who also happens to be a major contributor to Foster’s ministry. I have made it my mission to take these monsters down.”
“If that’s true then why don’t you go to the police?” she demanded.
“He has too many cops on his payroll,” said the masked man. “It is impossible to know who to trust.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” she asked.
“They say you are a devout woman,” he answered. “I came here to ask you not to help these people.”
“That’s a lot to ask. How do I know anything you are saying is true? Why should I believe some masked stranger that just barged into my room?”
“I have no proof to offer,” said the man, “but talk to them yourself and you’ll see the guilt in their eyes.”
There was another polite tap on the door. “The Reverend would like to know if you’ll be joining us soon, Ms. Green”
“I’ll be right there,” she called out.
“Just do what you believe is right,” he said. “That is all I ask.”
Celeste walked to the door and the man did not try to stop her. She opened it, but paused to ask one more question. “How can you be sure I won’t tell the guards that you’re here?” As she looked around the room, she saw that it was empty. The man had disappeared as quickly as he had come.
She went down the stairs to the salon where she knew everyone would be waiting. Besides Papa Bear and the usual staff, there were two women, one young and pretty, the other older and frail. She could feel the pain if the older woman from across the room and felt a need to reach out and help her. This time she fought the urge, and instead turned to the younger woman and said, “Tell me why I should help a bunch of criminals like you?”
Everyone in the room was shocked into silence. It was as if she had walked in and fired off a gun. No one could figure out how to respond to Celeste’s outburst. It had been so sudden and unexpected.
Truman was the first to regain his senses. He put down his cup of tea on the mantel and asked, “What makes you think anyone here is a criminal, Celeste? Where did you get that ridiculous notion?”
“Her,” she said, “She works for that Smiling Bob. I’ve heard that he’s involved with practically every crime that happens in this city, and that makes her just as guilty.”
“I’m not a criminal,” said the woman.
“What about that Bob character?” demanded Celeste. “You work for him, don’t you?”
“Celeste, dear,” interrupted Truman, “Bob Carmel is a successful businessman and a pillar of the community. You’ve probably seen his commercials on television.”
Celeste studied Truman’s face. Here was a man who regularly spoke in front of crowds that numbered in the thousands, yet she had never seem the man more nervous. Obviously, he knew more than he was willing to say. “Well, I’ve heard he’s involved in drugs and who knows what else.”
“We’ve been friends for many years,” said Truman. “If he were the head of a criminal organization, I think I would know.”
“I didn’t say he was the head of anything,” said Celeste, “but that slip just confirmed that you knew all along what he was.”
“What’s going on here?” asked the woman. “I thought this was a done deal.”
“I don’t understand,” said her mother. “ Will someone tell me what this is all about?”
“Not now, mother!”
“Yes, now,” she insisted. “You drag me out here with the promise of a surprise and then some crazy woman calls you a criminal. Tell me what’s going on.”
“Perhaps I can be of assistance there,” said Truman. “Our dear Ms. Green has a certain talent for healing, something your daughter tells me you are in dire need of.”
“So…she’s some kind of doctor? I’ve been to the best doctors in the country, and they all say the same thing. There is no hope for me.”
“Mrs. Parker,” he answered. “Her healing powers are…well, miraculous. If you just give us the chance, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. We’re offering nothing less than a complete and total cure.”
“You brought me to a faith healer?” The mother rose with as much indignation as she could muster in her weakened state. “Let’s go, Lisa. I have so little time left. I don’t want to waste it talking with charlatans.”
Celeste was furious. “There are good, honest, God-fearing people begging to be healed, and she’s not even a believer!” She walked up to the young woman and pointed accusingly. “You should go. Go and repent for the evil you’ve brought upon this world.”
“You have no idea what I had to go through to get here,” said Lisa. “Now are you going to help my mother or not?”
“Is what she saying true, Lisa?” asked her mother. “Are you involved with some kind of gangster?”
“Of course not, mother,” she answered. “Don’t believe her when she says that.”
“I want to believe nothing’s wrong, Lisa,” said Mrs. Parker, “but if you’ve been forced to do something, then I don’t want it. I’d rather die knowing you were safe than have you suffer one minute for trying to help me.”
“Why am I wasting my time with this woman? She doesn’t even want to be here.”
“Now hold on there,” said Truman. “Let’s all just calm down, and we can work this out. We don’t want to do anything rash now.”
“I’ve had enough,” said Celeste. “I’m leaving.” She stormed out and went back upstairs to her room. Pacing back and forth, she tried to decide what to do next. From her window, she watched as the limo pulled away with the two women inside. She honestly felt bad for that woman’s mother and a little guilty for not helping her even when she could tell that the woman was in great pain. Yet in her heart, she knew it was the right thing to do.
What troubled her the most was what she would do next. She couldn’t stay here, but her apartment was probably still being watched by government agents. It was only a matter of time before Truman would show up demanding answers and she didn’t have any.
She didn’t have long to wait. He barged into the room without even bothering to knock. “What were you thinking, Celeste? Do you even know what you just did?”
“I won’t help criminals, and you shouldn’t either.”
“Look,” he said, “Bob is a colourful character to say the least. There have certainly been rumours about him over the years, but no one’s ever been able to prove any of it. And that was certainly no reason to treat those women the way you did. It’s going to take a lot of fast talking to dig my way out of this one.”
“You don’t even realize what you’re doing is wrong anymore,” she said. “You take that man’s money without even considering who he may have hurt to get it. In some ways you’re just as bad as he is, but at least he doesn’t hide behind God.”
“The money we collect goes to help spread the word and comfort the less fortunate,” said Truman. “I can’t police the actions of every donor. If society doesn’t see him as a criminal, then who am I to judge him?”
“But I can see that you have your doubts and you refuse to act on them. I can’t stay here if you continue to take money from criminals.”
“Be reasonable, Celeste,” he said. “It’s not safe out there for you yet. In time, once you’ve built up a reputation, you’ll be too big for them to touch, but we’re a long way from there yet. Where will you go?”
“She can stay with me.”
Truman turned to find the masked man standing behind him. The sudden appearance of a hooded figure surprised Truman and before he could even think to call out for help, the man spayed something from a small steel canister into his face. Papa Bear clawed at his face with his fingers but it was already too late. He had inhaled too many of the fumes and passed out on the floor.
“You killed him!” shrieked Celeste.
“No,” he said, “he’s only sleeping. He’ll wake up in a few hours and not remember anything. I have a safe place you can stay, at least for a while. Now pack up anything you need and let’s go. If you’re leaving, we have to hurry”
Celeste saw the man had left a bag beside her bed. It seemed like the choice had already been made for her. She could only hope that this strange man turned out to be her guardian angel and not just someone else who was trying to use her gift for their own ends. She got her clothes from the closet and started to pack.
An hour later, after dropping off her mother at home, Lisa was still enraged at what had happened at the mansion. The whole point of working for that bastard had been to get a cure. To her, there was only one reason the deal had fallen through. If her mother were healed, Bob would lose his leverage against her. There was only one way that woman could have learned about her ties to Bob. He must have done something to turn that healer against her, and he was going to have to answer for that.
The limo pulled up to the curb and Lisa immediately hopped out. She went straight to Bob’s office in the back, but he wasn’t there. She began looking through the building before one of the salesmen pointed her towards the garage. Lisa found him there. He was leaning over the trunk of a car with another man that she had not seen before. They were examining the crate of guns that Lisa had made the day before. When Bob saw her coming, he dismissed the man and walked over to her.
“So everything went well with your mother, I take it?” he asked.
“You know very well it didn’t. If you think that you can get away with this…”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he interrupted. “Are you telling me that Papa Bear didn’t deliver?
“Like the whole thing wasn’t your idea,” she said. “You can forget our arrangement. I’m done working for you.”
“Look missy,” he said, “I make no qualms about being a thief and a son-of-a-bitch, but I’m a businessman, and a deal is a deal. If the preacher is welching, I’ll tear a strip off of him. Until then, I need you to get back to work.”
“Forget it,” she said. “No deal.”
“Then we have a problem,” said Bob.
Lisa felt the barrel of a gun bury itself in the back of her head. She had been so busy arguing with Bob, she had failed to notice anyone else come into the garage. All she could do was hold up her hands in surrender.
“It was a shame,” said Bob. “We were going to do some great things together. Next week, I was going to have you go into the art forgery business. It would have been much easier for you and more lucrative for me. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen now. Hold out your hands.”
She slowly moved her hands out in front of her. Impatient, he took a roll of duct tape from a nearby workbench and roughly forced her hands together. With her palms together, he wrapped up her arms until they were held securely against her body.
“Now you may think that, because you can heal, a bullet from that gun won’t kill you, and you might be right. But I assure you, a shot to the head will take you out for a while, and you may not remember how to tie your shoelaces afterwords.”
“What are you going to do with me?” she asked
“I know a man who specializes in making people more compliant,” said Bob. “After a few weeks with him, you’ll be begging to help me.”
He ran the tape around her ankles so she couldn’t walk. When he was done, the man behind her picked her up and dumped her in the trunk of the car. She could see now that it was Bob’s lap dog, Carlos, whom he liked to call Mr. Pain.
“Please,” she pleaded, “just don’t hurt my mother.”
“I could care less about your mother,” he said, “but you get to think about how she died alone and in pain because you couldn’t behave yourself. Remember that the next time you want to challenge me.” Bob slapped a wad of tape across her mouth and slammed the trunk closed, plunging her into darkness.
Desperate to escape, she tried to dissolve the tape like she had the handcuffs, but because her hands her pinned together, she couldn’t get a grip on anything to make a copy. Her anger gave way to fear. Bob must have been planning this for some time, and he was ready for her to turn on him.
Now it seemed that her worst fears were coming to pass. Her mother would die and she would be brainwashed into a zombie. She had felt what Carlos could do for herself; his touch was like a thousand needles soaked in burning gasoline. She had no doubt that Bob had some freak on the payroll with an ability to affect people’s minds. It would explain how he had risen to power so quickly.
She had to escape, but she was helpless. Her mind raced trying to come up with a plan or something she had overlooked, but adrenalin and fear were making it hard to think. Lisa struggled against her bonds but she was wrapped to tight to move. Frustrated, she lashed wildly against the inside of the trunk trying to break free. When she banged her head she let out a muted cry of pain through the tape on her mouth.
All at once, light burst into the darkness and she thought for a moment that the had come to finish her off. Lisa shut her eyes against the sudden brightness and felt herself falling. She grunted in pain as she hit the concrete floor of the garage and the crate full of guns spilled out on top of her. She looked up to see a large oval hole cut through bottom of the car and out through the trunk lid. Emboldened by her newly discovered talent, she struggled to her feet.
Lisa looked around but for the moment she was alone. With her hands and feet still bound, she couldn’t move, but she could still do a lot of damage. She took a deep breath and concentrated. Around her the remains of the car and the crate of guns began to dissolve like ice cubes in boiling water. It reminded her of the first time she had copied a sack full of money for Bob. She hadn’t had enough materials and her power had started to strip what they needed from her surroundings. But it was different as well. With nothing to build, the destruction was indiscriminate and it happened ten times as fast. In a few seconds, the entire car was gone, reduced to a fine powder which slowly settled to the floor. The old saying was true – it is easier to destroy than to create.
Lisa felt a giddy sense of pleasure as she watched everything around her vanish. The path of destruction grew in a widening hemisphere around her until it reached out to base of the building’s supporting pillars. They dissolved as well, leaving them dangling from the ceiling like stalactites. With the structure compromised, the roof began to sag under its own weight until it too reached the invisible wall of destruction. Sunlight streamed in as a hole opened up overhead and quickly grew in size.
A sudden shock of electricity broke her concentration. The charge sent her muscles into convulsions. With her arms and feet still bound, she fell over and collapsed hard on the ground. Her mind swam for a moment as she tried to sort out her thoughts. When she finally looked up, she saw Carlos standing over her with a taser in his hands. Lisa tried to summon her power again, but Carlos hit her with a shock again.
Without warning, a dark figure dropped from the hole in the roof to land right beside her. He pulled the taser’s spikes from her side and tossed them away. A second later he tossed two knives at Carlos. The blades stuck into his chest, but barely phased him. The big man just pulled them out, threw them away, and smiled.
She recognized the man in black. He was the same guy who had broken into her apartment last night. This time, however, he was helping her.
He charged at Carlos, and she wanted to scream out, but her mouth was still gagged. If Carlos grabbed him he could send a crippling wave of pain through his whole body. The man seemed to be headed right into the trap. The man in black swung at Carlos’s face, but he missed, and Carlos managed to get a hold of his arm. The man screamed as agony raced up his nerves to his entire body. But seconds later, the screaming stopped and the masked man sent a kick that knocked Carlos on his knees.
Lisa remembered the time Mr. Pain had her in his grasp. After the initial shock, she had momentarily copied his abilities and had become immune to the pain. This mysterious man must have a similar power. If that was true, Carlos and the masked man were evenly matched now. It would take her to tip the balance.
She struggled back to her feet and started to concentrate again. This time, Lisa tried to make the hemisphere stretch out in one direction. It was hard at first, but gradually one side of the bubble elongated and expanded outwards towards the two men. Slowly at first, but quickly gaining speed, a line of force raced across the floor, tearing apart everything it encountered. As Carlos pulled back his fist to throw a punch, her power struck his arm. Instantly the sleeve of his shirt turned to dust, but the flesh itself remained untouched.
Dammit, she thought. What is it going to take to get rid of this guy?
Then it occurred to her. If her power would not dissolve skin, she was only a thought away from freeing herself. The tape around her arms and ankles vanished in a puff of powder. She shook her arms to get the blood flowing and turned her attention back to the fight.
The two men were still trading kicks and punches. Occasionally one would get the upper hand and it looked like the fight was over, only to have the attack overpowered or the thrust dodged. She would have to wait for just the right moment to strike.
When the man in black managed to knock Carlos under one of the cars that was up on a hoist, Lisa saw her chance. She put her hands together like she was praying and sent a wave of energy sweeping across the floor. When it struck one of the posts of the hoist, the metal exploded in cloud of fine powder. Suddenly deprived of its support, the car tipped over to one side and fell to the ground, pinning Carlos underneath. Surprisingly, the car had not killed him, and he continued to struggle and flail. He tried to free himself, but the weight of the car was too much for even him to lift.
The strange man in black was bent over with his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. “Thanks for that,” he said. “That guy is one tough son-of-a-bitch.”
Lisa walked up to him and tried to get a better look. He was smaller and thinner than she had thought. He had always just been a blur of motion or a shadow in the dark. In the well-lit garage she could see that he was young, maybe still a teenager. That didn’t change the fact that she needed answers, and she was going to get them from him. “Who are you?”
Instead of answering, he rushed at her. She barely had time to raise her hands in defence before he had grabbed her around the waist. He picked her up and carried her a few steps before putting her down again behind one of the cars. Just as he ducked under cover, a jet of flame shot over them and burst against the far wall.
Bob had returned, and he wasn’t smiling.
“I tried to be understanding,” yelled Bob from across the garage. “I gave you every chance I could, and this is how you thank me!” Another burst of fire struck the car, forcing Lisa and the masked man to duck down.
“He’s going to burn down the whole building just to get to us,” said the man in black. “You stay here. I’ll handle this.”
Lisa gripped him by the arm as he tried to slip away. “No, wait. I have a better idea.”
Hunched down behind the car, Philip made his way to the front end. He turned back and gave a nod to the woman to show that he was ready. She put her hands together and started her praying Buddha routine. As she stood up, Philip was mesmerized by how the car started to evaporate. It was as though the metal was being held up to a giant invisible grinding wheel. Soon the entire car would be gone, but he wasn’t worried. In a few seconds, he would be somewhere else.
Bob sent another arc of flame hurtling at her, but this time it broke harmlessly on the barrier. It had been a calculated risk whether her power would be effective against fire, but their gamble had paid off.
Clearly frustrated, Bob only doubled his efforts in an attempt to break through her defences. “You think you can take me,” he bellowed. “I’ll show you why I’m the boss in this town!”
That was his cue to run. While Bob was distracted, Philip was able to slip out through the fire exit. He sprinted along the side of the building as fast as an Olympic sprinter until he came to the front door. He could hear the sirens of the fire engines in the distance. There wasn’t any time to waste.
The building was empty. Whether it was by Bob’s order or because the staff had enough sense to know when to get out of the way, Philip couldn’t say. He raced through the showroom to the offices. From there, he darted through the cubicles to the door to the garage. He paused only for a moment to catch his breath before he opened the door a crack to peer inside.
Bob had given up throwing fire at her, but not before starting a number of secondary fires. It wouldn’t be long before the entire garage was engulfed. Oblivious to the danger around him, he had switched to hurling tools and insults. Grabbing a hammer from a toolbox, he threw it at the woman only to watch it explode into a cloud of dust before it could make contact. “You think you’re such hot shit,” yelled Bob. “I can do this all day. Let’s see how long you can hold out.”
Philip slipped into the garage and picked up a heavy wrench. Bracing it on his shoulder, he crept up behind Bob until he was standing right behind him. The man was oblivious to anything except his rage at the woman before him.
“Behind you, boss,” came a cry from off to his right.
Still pinned under the car, Bob’s henchman was nonetheless still alive and conscious. Philip had forgotten about him and had lost the element of surprise. As he swung the wrench, Bob spun around to catch Philip’s arm before he could land the blow. In Bob’s free hand, flames sprang to life and flickered up and down his fingers. “Who the fuck are you?”
Philip answered by slamming his forehead into the bridge of Bob’s nose. Stunned, Bob released his grip and stumbled back. Philip swept the wrench down and struck him hard in the back of the skull. Unconscious, Bob slumped and fell heavily to the ground. As he stood over him, Philip drew a knife, leaned over and held it to Bob’s throat. “I’m the guy that’s going to kill you.”
“No, wait,” said the woman. “Don’t do that.”
“This man is the reason my best friend is dead,” said Philip. “He’s filled the streets with drugs and guns, and he’s brought heartache and misery wherever he goes. He deserves to die a dozen times over for all the lives he’s ruined.”
“That’s not what I mean,” she said. “If you stab him, he’ll just regenerate. We need to think of something more permanent.” She looked around for a moment before adding, “Give me a hand.”
She took a length of chain that had survived the chaos of the battle and wrapped it tightly around Bob’s torso while Philip held him up. Using her power she fused the chain so that Bob was securely bound. Outside, they could hear the sirens and firefighters setting up. “Whatever you’re going to do,” he said, “you need to do it quickly.”
“Bob once told me that government agents would lock me up and experiment on me if they ever find out what I could do.” She leaned down and touched Bob’s limp hand and flames started to flicker on her hand. “It’ll be hard to explain how he recovered from such severe burns in only a few hours.”
The woman shot a jet of flame straight at Bob’s face, scorching off his hair and skin until the muscle showed underneath. As she let the fire sweep down his body, he woke up screaming. Even with all the hate he had for the man, Philip winced at the sight of a man being burnt alive. The acrid smoke was getting too much to bear, and Philip brought his arm up to cover his mouth, but the woman did not relent until Bob was cooked from head to toe. Philip would have to remember to never get this woman angry.
When she was done she leaned over to check that he was still breathing. The pain had been too much for him and he had passed out again, but he was still alive. Seeing the look on Philip’s face she asked, “Satisfied?”
“Somehow it doesn’t seem like enough,” he answered.
“You can hit him with the wrench again, if you want.”
“No, that’s all right,” said Philip. “Let’s get out of here.”
The fire was starting to spread quickly now. Philip pulled off his hood and jacket and tossed them into the flames. The emergency exit let them out on the back lot. The firefighters were coming this way, but neither of them wanted to answer the inevitable questions, so they jumped the fence into parking lot of the office building behind the dealership. As they walked away, the woman began to cry.
“Are you all right?” asked Philip.
“I’m not hurt,” she said. “It’s just that after all this, I still didn’t get a cure for my mother. That was the only reason I ever worked for that monster. He was the only one with the connections to get me in to see that healer. Without her, my mom will be dead in a few weeks.”
Philip smiled. “I may be able to help you there. Your healer is safely stashed back at my apartment.”
“What? How did that happen?”
“That’s a long story. My name’s Philip, by the way.”
“Well, Lisa,” said Philip, “do you think that after we get your mother fixed up you could do me a favour?”
“Everybody wants something,” she said.
“Could you help me find somewhere else for that woman to stay. She’s a real pain in the ass.”
Lisa laughed, for the first time in a long while. “It’s a deal.”