I called Haley and asked her if she would pick us up, and she agreed. I couldn’t think of a way to tell her about Vaughn without telling Chris indirectly, so I didn’t. Knowing my identity was one thing, but I wasn’t going to blow the whole team’s.
While we waited, we talked.
After checking again to see if we were alone, Chris said, “I was kind of pissed off when I finally figured it out. I mean, what was going on with that? Were you spying on me? Were you trying to steal the ball? Then I calmed down and remembered that I invited you, and you talked about bringing the ball back, but I stopped you. So in the end, we’re okay.”
“Now that Justice Fiend’s out of town, and the Maniacs are in jail, I think I can get it back to you any time. Though… I’d like to figure out how the paralysis ray worked, and if I can’t figure that out, I’d at least like to figure out how to block it.”
“We’ll figure something out. I’d be willing to help, if you want.”
“That’d be cool,” I said, but I didn’t say much more. HQ would be the best place for that, and I’d want to warn people first.
Not long after that Haley showed up in her mom’s Trans Am. Chris talked about the car during most of the ride to his house. When he got out, I explained to Haley what was going on.
“Does Vaughn want us there in costume? Last time there were traps.”
I called him. He didn’t.
We drove to Hardwick House, parking in the Visitor’s Parking Lot. Instead of going through the main entrance, we ran through the rain, around the Gothic section, into the garden, and over to the door next to the pseudo-Medieval tower.
Vaughn, Marcus and Cassie stood inside. Like Haley and I, they were all in street clothes. Vaughn’s leather jacket had unfashionably full pockets.
I glanced over at the vaguely pyramid shaped “modern” section of the building before we stepped inside, and shut the door.
Victorian furniture cluttered up the tower’s entrance area as well as the hallway that led to the door to the cave below.
“Just a second everybody,” Vaughn said, and pulled a flashlight out of his jacket.
I recognized it as one of the flashlights from the team’s utility belts.
Vaughn must have noticed me looking because he said, “Cassie had me stuff almost all the stuff in my utility belt into my tux. I’ve been intending to bring it back to HQ, but I keep on forgetting. It’s nice now though.”
“Like it’s my fault,” Cassie said.
I took my backpack off, pulled my utility belt out of it and put it around my waist. I’d been keeping most of the stealth suit on me lately.
I pulled out my own flashlight, and we climbed over the furniture blocking the hall until we came to the door to the stairway. The device that pumped poison gas didn’t go on this time. Either Vaughn must have found a way to turn it off, or the mechanism had finally broken.
At the bottom of the stairs, we walked through the hallway where machine guns had fired on us in the fall. Haley and I had left only bent metal, broken concrete rubble, and spent shells.
Vaughn typed some numbers into a key pad at the end of the hall, and the door opened.
We walked into the cave with its floor covering of black, greasy soot, the little bits of crunching bone, and the occasional full skeleton. We didn’t go into the broken silver dome where Red Lightning had exploded, or visit the cages where he’d kept our grandparents, but I thought about it. One of these days, it might be worth checking out.
Finally, we went into Red Lightning’s private hall with its gilded trim, wall and ceiling paintings of his new order, and the room where he kept his books.
Vaughn flicked on the lights and pointed at the bookcases.
Red Lightning’s journals weren’t there. They lay on a wooden desk, some of them open. The desk had gold trim.
“I didn’t get them out,” Vaughn said. “I don’t know who did.”
Haley hesitated for a moment and then stepped toward the books. “If you give me a second, I might be able to catch the person’s scent.”
She leaned down toward the books and closed her eyes. “I’ve got it. It’s a guy. I’m not sure how old, but not really old or really young. He wears cologne. I also smell a lot of the same smells I smell in a doctor’s office.”
Vaughn snorted. “Well, that narrows it down to, like, half my family. My dad’s a doctor, and right now a lot of people are involved in the medical businesses we’ve got — like most of my cousins, and for that matter, my mom.”
Marcus stopped inspecting the paintings on the walls and ceiling. “Vaughn, what makes you think it’s got to be your family?”
“No one else has the key or the key code. I stole the key from my mom and duplicated it back when I was using, and my grandma’s house has a bunch of Red Lightning stuff in boxes. I found out about the cave and got the key code there.”
“Haley,” I said, “do you think you could follow the scent?”
“Maybe. It can’t be more than a couple hours old. Is everybody ready to go?”
“I don’t see any reason to stay,” Cassie said.
Vaughn shrugged. “I’ve been here enough. Unless we wanted to put away the books.”
Then he stared at the desk where they lay.
“Yeah, we’re the Heroes League,” Marcus said. “We clean up crime — and lairs.” Then he noticed Vaughn picking up one of the books. “Wait, are you serious?”
Vaughn appeared to be checking the number on the journal’s spine. He went through all of them. “One’s missing.”
“You gave one to the Cabal. That’s the one the Feds have now.”
“No,” Vaughn said. “Another one. The one after that.”
Cassie nodded. “What’s in it?”
Vaughn put down the journal. “Well, you know how the journal I gave away had the modified formulas for power juice and preliminary work on the power impregnator?”
“Very preliminary.” I volunteered. “None of the power impregnator stuff worked yet. They went up a couple blind alleys before they figured things out.”
“This one had the finished plans.”
Cassie waved her hand toward the door. “He could still be around. Let’s go. Haley?”
“I want to go ahead of everyone. It’ll make it easier for me to concentrate.”
We left Red Lightning’s rooms behind us. Vaughn shut the metal door, and it clanked into place.
We followed Haley through the burned mess of the main cave, our feet crunching down on things I didn’t want to think about. After a little bit of wandering around, Haley started going back the way we’d come. We went up the stairs, and climbed back over the furniture, ending up back in the tower.
Haley opened the door, frowned, zipped up her jacket and then stepped out into the rain.
Cassie turned to Vaughn. “Won’t the rain wash the smell away?”
“No,” Marcus said. “Sometimes rain makes it easier. Not that I’d know, but that’s what Grandpa McAllister said.”
We followed her out through the garden, and down the block. Hardwick House stood next to houses built by prominent families from the 1800’s, and took up most of the block. Whoever it was had parked on the north end of the grounds.
The huge old houses across the street were mostly stone and wood. Some kind of preservation law prevented them from updating the houses to more modern materials.
“Here.” Haley stood next to the road. “This is where he parked.”