“I call him Laser Guy because he’s got lasers under his arms.”
Cassie said, “Armpit lasers?”
She thought she was funny. That’s the kind of thing that drives me a little crazy about Cassie. She’s totally intense one minute and then the next minute she’s making jokes. It’s not that I have a problem with jokes, but sometimes I don’t want to laugh. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel respectful.
“Big lasers, CC. Car melting lasers. We’re not going to be able to just jump him. Anyway, I can’t talk now. Find me, but stay out of sight. I’ll tell you when you can catch up.”
“Got it. I’ll be there before you know it.”
I heard a motorcycle start as she hung up. It sounded like the Commando Cycle, so she’d already made it to HQ, and got into costume. I quietly hoped that she’d catch up soon, but not until after I found where he lived. I mean, I like Cassie, and don’t want to say anything bad about her, but she’s kind of a hothead…
“Hey,” the guy driving the jeep glanced at me through his rearview mirror. “Did you say lasers?”
“Yes. Don’t get too close, okay? I think he’s a little crazy.”
“Yeah, right. I’ll watch out.”
Ahead of us, Laser Guy kept on going straight. He’d made a couple turns while Cassie and I were talking, and we weren’t on a main road anymore. We were riding through an older section of the northwest side of city. It’s not the kind of place I like to be. It’s not a nice part of the city. It’s old houses with lawns that never get mowed with junky plastic slides sitting in the front lawn. Half the houses are rentals whose owners are slumlords that don’t want to pay to keep them up.
I don’t like going places like that because I might get attacked, and what if I don’t keep control of the Change?
“Hey,” the driver said again, “you’re going out with the Rocket, right?”
“Yes.” I didn’t like where this was going.
“Cool. And was that Captain Commando on the phone? Is she dating anyone?”
Oh god, no.
“She’s kind of hot.”
Laser Guy slowed down and turned into driveway almost a block ahead of us. Crouching low in the back seat, I heard his van’s engine stop, and saw him step out onto the lawn. He gave the street a once over, his sunglasses twin squares of light, even staring at the jeep for a second, but then he turned, and walked down the driveway to the house’s side door. I heard him open and close it.
“Thanks for the ride. Sorry, I don’t have time to talk.” Because there’s nothing I like more than talking about my friends, and my dating life with slightly creepy strangers.
I jumped out of the jeep, landing on the front lawn, and ducking around the corner of the house. Then I pulled out the grappling gun, letting it bring me to the roof, and after that I leaped from one roof to the next until I stood on the one opposite Laser Guy’s.
Crawling slowly toward the front of the roof, and over it to the top of a dormer, I settled down to wait for Cassie, and to see if couldn’t learn something before she arrived. The first thing I learned was that the guy in the jeep had made a U-turn, and was already driving away. I couldn’t blame him. He knew about the lasers. If I were him, I wouldn’t want to risk it, but since I wasn’t, I found myself a little worried Laser Guy might have noticed.
If he had, he hadn’t noticed where I was, or at least he didn’t start firing at me.
Unmoving, I let sounds and smells wash over me, trying to pick out anything I could. To a normal person, it must have felt like a quiet night. To me, it felt like a noisy crowd. Two houses down, a boy argued about whether or not he had to go to bed. Three houses away, on the block behind this one, a baby cried. It had a dirty diaper. One house to the right of me, someone fried a late night steak. Only barely cooked, it smelled delicious.
And that was only the people. Raccoons dug through a garbage can. An owl dropped, catching a mouse in its claws, snapping the mouse’s neck with its beak, and flying away. On the next block, a lone deer nibbled quietly, bolting away at the sound of a car. Part of me wanted to chase it, but I didn’t. Most of me still thought deer were beautiful animals.
I filtered out the electronic noise of dozens of televisions, cellphones, stereos to finally be able to concentrate on the house across the street. A toddler lay in bed sleeping. Her second floor window stood open. She smelled of soap and baby shampoo.
On the lower level, a man sat in the front room and watched an old show on TV—a western. He smelled nervous, and I could guess why. In the kitchen, near the back, Laser Guy argued with a woman that I guessed (from the similarity of their smells—aside from his reek—and the heaviness of their footsteps) might be his sister.
They argued in whispers, but with the windows open.
“What were you thinking? You think you might have been followed, but you still came here?”
“Donna, I said might, but that doesn’t mean I was. I didn’t see any sign of her the whole ride home.”
“Who’s ‘her’? Which one of them is it?”
“Must have been Night Cat. She was small, moved quickly. Had to be.”
“Night Cat? Have you seen what she looks like? She’s a monster.”