“You worked for the Cabal? When?”
“Not recently,” Lee said. “I helped overthrow a couple emperors during the Roman Empire. Second time around, they didn’t pay me, so I killed the guy they were trying to get in, and took power myself.”
Haley looked up at me. Her expression probably meant, “Is he serious?”
I looked back at Lee. “You were a Roman Emperor? Which one?”
“I didn’t stay long enough to get an official name. Maybe a month, tops. I figured out that I’d have to do a lot of political bootlicking if I actually wanted to stay in power, and I didn’t. All I wanted to do was piss Magnus off, so I found a guy who did want to do politics and put him in charge.”
“Don’t remember. It was a long time ago. You might not believe it, but five hundred years of emperors all blend together.”
“Okay… Then what about Magnus? Someone named Martin Magnus called me a couple times to propose an alliance against the Mayor. Is that the same guy?”
“It’s got to be. I’d heard he’d left the Cabal.”
Haley looked and me and then at Lee. “Are you going to help us against them?”
“It’s not part of the deal. Teaching’s part of the deal, and the only part you need to worry about. I’ve got my own projects to keep me busy. I’m not your babysitter. Or Nick’s. You want advice, though? I’ve got advice.”
“Sure,” I said.
“They’re targeting you. Track them down, and take them out. Don’t hesitate, and don’t leave any of them alive.”
“Uh…” I said.
“Imprisoned people eventually get out,” he said. “Yeah, I know you won’t, but if you want advice, that’s mine.”
Haley didn’t say anything.
Lee grinned at both of us. “While I’m giving advice, I’ll give a little more. You guys did pretty well with the Executioner. I wasn’t in town for it, but I read about it, and I’ve got a few sources. When he gets out, he’ll be gunning for you. Start preparing for it. Create safe houses, alternate identities, and make your secret identities air tight. Talk to me as a group, and I’ll give you some guidelines. In fact, call me when you hear he’s out.”
Haley had an odd look on her face. “That sounds like you’re going to give us more than advice.”
Lee laughed. “Maybe. The deal’s mostly teaching, but there are a few other things thrown in. Here’s what you have to think about. Ray and his people’s strength is preparation. When you met them they weren’t prepared. I don’t know why. Maybe they’d gotten too comfortable in Grand Lake. Maybe they didn’t think you were a threat.
“Now, you’re on their elimination list. They’ll go in, find out everything they can, and start picking off your families and friends one by one. They’re not like the Cabal. They’re competent all the time. So… If you keep things separate, he’ll only be able to go after you. And if he only goes after you, my presence around here will be a surprise.”
“Wait,” I said, “are you saying you’re going to stop him yourself?”
“We’ll see. Ray and I have a little history, and I’d like to talk to him first before we… stop him.”
That gave a new twist on the word “stop.”
Haley’s eyes narrowed. “I thought you just said that wasn’t part of the deal.”
“There are exceptions,” Lee said. “When I’m completely sure you’re going to die if I don’t help, I’m in.”
The next morning, I came downstairs to find that Mom and Dad had already left for a weekend conference.
Rachel sat at the kitchen table in a black t-shirt, and blue jeans. She looked tired, and it wasn’t hard to guess why. She’d been working on something when I went to bed at midnight, and I’d overheard Mom comment recently (kind of loudly) that she hadn’t been getting up before ten in the last few weeks.
NPR news played on the radio while the coffeemaker sputtered and hummed.
“I’m bringing you to school today.”
“I could bike.”
“Have you looked outside?”
Past the sliding doors to the backyard, clouds covered the sky, making it darker than normal at seven-thirty in the morning. Worse, rain fell steadily. I could hear the drops.
“I can drive myself.”
“I’ve got errands to run. I can’t run them if the car’s sitting in the school parking lot.”
“What kinds of errands? You don’t have a job or anything.”
“Don’t you start. I get enough of that from Mom and Dad. I’m meeting with a coffeehouse owner about playing there, and it’s kind of an audition. I’m not going to haul my guitar around in the rain.”
She had me there.
“Which coffeehouse? Not Solid Grounds, right?” If Justice Fist held a team meeting there again, that could get weird.
“No. It’s downtown. Remember Four Friends?”
“Oh, yeah. Okay.”
I poured myself a bowl of cereal, and pulled some milk and orange juice out of the refrigerator. In the background, the radio station had gone from the national news to local.
“–Grand Lake Police Department reports two shootings on Thursday night. The first shooter attempted to fire on members of the New Heroes League and was apprehended downtown. The second shot a member of the recently formed Justice Fist team, and is still at large…”