“Don’t forget it,” Russ said. “No business can survive without good people. You and your father have both been good influences in his life.”
The sound of helicopter blades ended that conversation as everyone in the crowd turned to watch the copter land.
As it came down, Vaughn’s mom turned to me and tapped my shoulder. “Good to see you, Nick.”
I managed to get out, “Good to see you too,” but not much more. The noise made conversation impossible and I was fine with that. It’s not that I disliked her, but the last real conversation I’d had with her involved her informing me that she knew I was the Rocket and that she didn’t want Vaughn to be involved with the new version of the Heroes’ League in any way.
Vaughn was so far past “not getting involved” that we couldn’t see it in the rear view mirror—leaving me to assume that his mom would hate me.
If she did hate me, she hated me deep down, but not enough that she couldn’t be friendly on the surface—something that would be a useful skill for an executive at a multi-billion dollar company.
On the other hand, that bit Russell Hardwick had said about my father and me being a good influence on Vaughn might have been something she’d told him. My dad had been Vaughn’s therapist and I assume Vaughn made progress under him. Plus, however dangerous fighting supervillains might be, Vaughn hadn’t relapsed into drugs and alcohol since I’d come back into his life and he’d joined the Heroes’ League.
I’d give more credit to the League as a group than myself, but either way, maybe it was what he’d needed.
Whatever the case, we sat down in our usual seats in the front of the helicopter and couldn’t talk about it at all because Russ and Vaughn’s mom sat next to us, meaning that conversation turned toward business and family.
I zoned out, staying aware enough to answer when one of them noticed I wasn’t saying anything. One observation I got out of the ride? Their family vacations sounded more expensive than mine.
Vaughn held out his phone so I could see the villa they’d rented on the French Riviera. “We ought to invite everyone out next year for a week next summer. It’d be pretty crazy.”
I didn’t have any doubt who he meant by everyone—the whole League plus a few. I doubted that his mom had missed that either—she blinked and said nothing. She had to be thinking what I was—that that would be the week nuclear terrorists or supervillains attacked.
Aside from the inevitable disaster, it might be fun. “It’s something to think about. I have no idea what any of us will be doing next summer.”
Vaughn nodded. “No kidding. The summer after our senior year? Me neither.”
Vaughn’s mom let out a breath and leaned back in her seat.
Then Vaughn grinned. “We could do it right after graduation, though. It’d be awesome.”
Russell Hardwick leaned forward to grin at Vaughn, a grin that broadened after glancing at his sister’s expressionless face. “Did I ever tell you what I did after graduation? I rented a…”
He spent the rest of the flight telling us drinking stories from when he and his friends went to Europe. They were funny and we weren’t the only ones listening. The row of executives behind us might have heard the stories before, but it didn’t stop them from laughing along with us.
Shaky morals or no, Russell Hardwick could tell a good story and the stories he told about himself reminded me of the stories Grandpa told me about Giles Hardwick.
At his best, Giles was loyal to his friends and could talk himself into just about anywhere.
When we landed, everyone else went into the Hardwick Industries half of the building and I continued into the Higher Ground offices with Emmy.
“I know you don’t need me to lead you back,” Emmy walked next to me, matching my pace, “but I need to hand these files over to Sandy and they’re private, so I have to do it myself.”
“Okay,” I looked down at the plastic file box she held, barely moving, at the full length of her arm. It looked heavy.
“Do you want help?” I wasn’t going to tell her, but the stealth suit hidden in the shape of my clothes would do most of the work.
She shook her head. “It’s mine, mine, mine or so the government says. I even have to make Sandy sign for it.”
We talked about other things, reaching the office. I held the door for her. She thanked me and we found Sandy waiting in the lobby.
Handing the file box over to him, she poked his stomach just above his suit coat’s button. “This is for you. You’ll have to sign for it and I’m not leaving you alone until you do.”
Laughing, Sandy waved toward the door on the right side of the lobby. “I’ll hold you to that.”
Emmy waved at me as she stepped through. The door shut and I turned toward the line of cubicles only to find Stephanie walking around the end of the last one into the lobby.
She stopped next to me, giving the door a pointed look.
I asked the question most on my mind. “Are they…”
She gave a lopsided grin, “Screwing? Shaboinking? Laying pipe? Making bacon? Knocking boots? Shellacking the canoe? Opening the gates of Mordor?”
I blinked. “Opening the gates of Mordor?”
She shrugged. “It’s an expression.”
I didn’t ask where.
Stephanie folded her arms over her chest. “Office rumor says yes. Office rumor says that they are definitely doing the horizontal greased-weasel tango. Office rumor does not say what his wife thinks about this.”