“OK,” I said, “I’ll take a look at the recording tonight and put something together for the local news.”
“Thanks, Nick,” Travis said, “Once we get this asshole off our backs, we can get back to fighting crime instead of other heroes. Which reminds me, how did you end up fighting Tomahawk anyway?”
I told him.
“Red Lightning’s lair? That’s unbelievable. You’ve got to take me down there.” Travis put down the Denali book and not, I noticed, on the pile. It was placed diagonally next to the pile.
Fighting an urge to pick it up and put it back, I said, “No reason you can’t go. Just talk to Vaughn. He let me and Haley in.”
“Haley?” Travis looked surprised.
“Yeah. She came along.”
“That’s good,” Travis said. “That’s what I was hoping for when I pushed her into the group. Ever since the press went after that wrestler and she quit gymnastics, all she’s done is mope around the house.”
Evidently she hadn’t told him about the two of us going out for coffee. Not that it really was any of his business, but I wasn’t going to mention it if she hadn’t.
“Did I ever tell you I had a match with that guy in high school? I pinned him.” He grinned at me. “I wonder what he’s doing now?”
“If he’s lucky, he’s in California,” I said. “Don’t they have a statewide, powered high school sports league there?”
“Last I heard they were having financial troubles,” Travis said. “Well, anyway, I better get moving. Nice to see you, Nick. Let me know when you’re ready.”
I looked down at the picture book, put it back on top the correct pile. On the floor, I could see the imprint of our shoes, small, regular indentations on either side of the coffee table.
I could have pulled out the sweeper and removed them, but I didn’t. Instead I walked upstairs, recognizing even as I did so that as gestures of rebellion go, this one was fairly pathetic.
* * *
Despite constant interruptions by children shouting, “Trick or treat” at the front door, I made my way through my homework quickly — largely because I only had math.
By the time I walked to Grandpa’s house around nine, the kids were off the streets. Trick or treating was over for the night, but I still saw some pumpkins on porches, their eyes and mouths aglow from the candles inside.
Using the computers in League HQ to cut the mayor’s conversation out from the context took a little work, but not much. I burned a CD of it, then listened to it. As I did, I wondered how much an ordinary person would get out of it.
I listened to it again.
All I’d said to Travis was true, but the mayor didn’t lay it out in as many words as I might have liked.
I listened to it yet another time. Then I did something I knew Travis wouldn’t like. I called Daniel’s dad.
He walked out of the tunnels minutes later in a navy blue costume similar to a uniform, the Greek letter “psi” visible on the left side of his chest. The costume looked more professional than the standard skintight thing, but personally, it reminded me more of Babylon 5’s Psi Corp than anything else. For those of you who never watched the TV show, the Psi Corp was evil.
“Hi Nick,” he said, walking over to the command console and sitting down. “What have you got?”
I didn’t bother to explain. I played the CD, figuring he’d grab it straight from my head anyway.
When it finished, he said, “That’s not bad. What else do you have?”
“Nothing,” I said.
“Then don’t use it,” he said. “Do you know why I’m saying that?”
“Because it’s not clear enough?”
“It’s not clear,” he said, “but that’s not it. At the right moment, what you’ve got there could be devastating, but you need more of it. As a vigilante, you’ve got two tools — violence and public opinion. You’ve got to put just as much work into the latter as the former. You don’t need one snippet like that. You need five. If you can’t find more, you have to look for other things like irregularities with campaign contributions or hints that he might be embezzling money. The key point is that you need to have a story, and then you use the press to put it into people’s heads.”
“Oh,” I said. It seemed obvious when he put it that way.
“I make the initial accusation,” he continued, “then release supporting details, and when they’re beginning to respond, I hit them with something totally new.The way you win is to pound and pound at them until they resign or make a mistake — and then you jump on that.”
After he started giving examples, I realized that the police chief’s resignation a couple years ago hadn’t been as much of a surprise to him as the rest of the city. Next, it occurred to me that he was basically teaching me how to run a very negative political campaign.
“Is there any other kind?” He asked. “Call me back when you’ve got more evidence. In the meantime, I’m heading home. The Midwest Defenders’ telepath quit, so I’ve been in Chicago twice today already.”
Seconds later, I sat alone in HQ, reflecting on the fact that I never wanted Daniel’s dad as an enemy.
Then I went into the command console to check on the roachbots. According to the monitoring program, I had more than nine hours of audio to listen to and less than an hour before my curfew. I decided to go home.
During the walk, my cellphone rang. I answered it despite not recognizing the number.
Opening the phone, I heard the word, “Hello,” delivered in an unrecognizable voice and accent, followed by, “I’m Martin Magnus.”