You would think after all that that we were on the edge of some sort of attack, that the Executioner would just start killing people, but you would be wrong. Nothing happened.
December continued its steady march toward Christmas.
I finished off reviving Cassie’s dad’s normal motorcycle (even though she wasn’t going to do much with it during the winter), worked on the prototype for the guitar, and logged a few hours on the flight simulator that Isaac assured me would be a close match to the Heroes League jet.
The Friday afternoon of the week before Christmas, Isaac passed on some information about the Executioner, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t find out from the state or federal databases.
“Don’t get involved,” Isaac told me. “He’s psychotic. You won’t survive setting him off. Besides, we’ve already got people on this.”
He looked down at me from the big screen in the front of League HQ’s main room. He smiled a little.
“Not Protection Force. We’ve got our own people out there.”
I thought about pressing it, pointing out that FBI agents with just barely understood powers might be even less of a match than we would be, but I didn’t.
I didn’t officially know about the agents being loaded up with drugs so why reveal it?
I probably should have mentioned something. Isaac had been straight with me, but I couldn’t quite make myself do it. Some part of me felt that keeping information in reserve would help. I wasn’t completely clear how.
After a few more minutes, he signed off, leaving me alone in League HQ. I worked on the guitar for a little while in the lab after that. It was coming along.
* * *
The walk home left my fingers cold. I’d worn gloves, but near zero temperatures made me think I needed thicker ones. Snow fell in small particles, blown by the wind to cover the sidewalks and the streets.
It would be great snow for skiing and sledding, but the temperature was far too cold.
As I walked up the driveway, I checked the cars on the block for police or FBI agents doing surveillance. I didn’t see any.
I opened the door to find that Rachel’s suitcases at least were back from the University of Michigan and sitting next to the shoes and coats hanging next to the side door.
Rachel stood in the hall between the side door and the kitchen, pulling a Diet Coke out of the refrigerator.
“Hi Nick.” She opened up the can. “I hear you’ve got a girlfriend.”
From around the corner in the kitchen, I could hear Mom’s voice saying, “He does?”
“Where did you hear that?” I shut the door and started to take off my boots.
“A message from Travis on Facebook.”
“You’re talking about me on Facebook?”
“Haley’s talking about you on Facebook.” She watched the reaction on my face and then laughed.
Rachel looked a lot Grandma Vander Sloot (or as we sometimes called her Grandma Romy). I’ve read that genetically a person’s more likely to be similar to one of their grandparents than their parents and having seen old pictures of Grandma, I was prepared to believe it. Despite not being blond, Rachel had her face and her height. She was almost as tall as me — which made her taller than average for a woman.
“Is she talking about me a lot?”
“Not that much. Maybe a couple times, but Travis thought it was funny.”
Finished taking off my boots and hanging my jacket, I stepped into the kitchen. Mom stood in front of the counter chopping beef into strips. From the wok on the stove and smell of rice, I guessed that we were having stir fry.
“He would, I guess.”
Rachel grinned, obviously finding the situation much more amusing than it deserved. “He said better you than the last person she dated.”
“I’ve heard that.”
“Would you mind helping me take my things up?”
“What if the answer was yes?”
“I’d tell you to take one anyway.” She stepped out of the kitchen and handed me a suitcase.
Her room looked exactly the same as it had the last time I’d been in it — about three months ago when she’d visited at the end of summer. A poster for Evanescence’s album “The Open Door” hung on the wall above her dresser, the woman on it forever just about to step through an otherworldly doorway. A few stuffed animals lay on the bed. The bookcase still held a mixture of things — Harry Potter books, Little House on the Prairie books, classics (mostly assigned in school), and more vampire novels than I personally had any interest in.
She shut the door as she walked in behind me, putting the suitcase on the bed, and starting to put things in drawers.
“What’s the New Heroes League up to these days?” she asked.
“Oh, well… not much. We’re kind of grounded for the moment, and it’s probably safer not to tell you why.”
She put the t-shirt she’d been holding back into suitcase.
“So what’s it like? Reviving the League, I mean.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Mostly terrifying so far, mixed with some of the weirdest questions. What are you supposed to do with fan mail anyway? It seems rude not to reply, but I don’t think they even want a reply from me. I think they really want the old League back again.”
“I got a lot of questions from my friends at school,” Rachel said. “They wanted to know if I’d ever seen the original League or the new League and all I could say was ‘no.'”
“No. It’s long gone. Just hope I don’t run into any telepaths.”
“If you wanted, Daniel could probably strengthen it.”
“Thanks, but no. Are you really doing that again?”
“Only if people agree. Not involuntarily, and it’s not really the same block. It’s more of a mental shield.”
“Good, because that was wrong. They had no right to do that.”
“They were just trying to protect people.”
“Look, I know. Grandma didn’t like it.”
“I don’t think Grandpa really did either.”
She picked up the t-shirt (along with a couple others) and stuffed them into her drawer. Then she started hanging up pants in her closet.
I put the suitcase I’d carried on her bed. “Do you want me to open this up?”
My mom’s voice carried up from downstairs, “Nick, Rachel, supper’s ready.”
We went downstairs.
Someone had already set the table and placed the rice and stir fry in the middle. Mom stood next to her chair. “Time to eat,” she said.
Through the doorway, I could see Dad standing in front of the television, remote control in his hand. CNN showed paramedics moving a woman on a stretcher into an ambulance. The reporter’s voice over began “Model Tiffany Sanchez was shot today in Chicago…” and went on to describe the details, mentioning that she’d been in the company of her boyfriend, another model named Brian Perry.
The television showed a blond man in a leather jacket, caught in the midst of obvious grief.
“Can’t talk,” he said to the reporter. Then he jumped into the ambulance.
I recognized the lower half of his face and his build. The man was Solar Flare.