I caught Vaughn on the way out of the lunchroom. We didn’t have any classes together and we hadn’t eaten together lately because Cassie had been spending a lot of time with Kayla. Repairing relations, I guessed.
Vaughn had been talking with a couple other guys. Neil leaned against the wall next to the door, tracing the tattooed dragon on his forearm while Dave talked. “… someone called the cops and we ended up climbing the fence while holding our skateboards. They caught Mike, but Neil and I got away.”
“Have a second?” I asked.
Vaughn stepped away from them. “What’s up?”
I gave him a quick summary of what I’d heard the mayor say and my guesses about what it meant.
“So watch out for the mayor,” I said. “Not that you aren’t already.”
“I’m still more worried about Vengeance,” Vaughn said.
“He says he just wants to talk,” I said.
“I”m not going to bet my ass on that.”
“I’m just passing it along. Is there any way we could talk about the stuff you gave Magnus’ people?”
“I’ve got nothing going after school,” he said.
“Uh… how about tonight?”
“What’re you doing after school? I know you’re not going to Cross Country Finals.”
“No. I’ve just got an appointment.”
“Sure thing,” Vaughn said. “You want to meet at Hardwick House around eight?”
“You mean the museum?”
“I mean the mansion my family lets the city use as a museum. I’ve got keys, but you might want to wear your armor.”
“Partly traps and partly just in case there’s a cave-in.”
“There are traps in the museum?”
“In my grandfather’s secret lair, yeah.” Vaughn grinned. “It’s pretty cool. Not in the best of shape, but they had some kind of massive battle there back in the 60’s so I should just be glad it’s still there.”
“Okay, I’ll go,” I said, guessing I’d be able to get away with a short jaunt like that without pissing off Daniel’s dad.
* * *
“Solid Grounds” was within walking distance of my house, one of four businesses in a strip of brick buildings that probably sold hardware or groceries back in the 1880’s. They had kept the original tin ceiling, but painted it black and run red neon lights near the top of the walls.
The music alternated unpredictably between jazz and indie rock.
Haley and I sat at a table next to the smoking section, a glassed in area almost half the size of the coffeehouse. We drank our coffee silently.
Glancing across the table at her, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen her without a mask very often. Her eyes were green even when not slit like a cat’s.
She caught my gaze and looked up from her coffee, giving me a faint smile.
“I was just thinking you looked different without a mask,” I said, realizing even as I said it that “different” could mean anything and that I’d just missed a chance to compliment her hair, or clothes or something.
“Not as different as you look,” she said, smiling a little more this time.
Well at least I hadn’t started her worrying about what she looked like when she transformed.
We talked about school for a little while after that. Then we finished our drinks and pulled on our coats, deciding to take a walk before dropping by my house and borrowing my mom’s car.
It felt cold. November started on Friday. Thursday was Halloween. The trees were mostly bare of leaves, a few stragglers waiting to fall.
Her hand bumped mine as we walked down the sidewalk. The first time I didn’t notice, but on the second I realized that she might want to hold hands and caught it. She didn’t pull away.
“Do you think this will cause any trouble,” she said, “with the team?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. Oh, hey that reminds me…” I told her about what I’d heard from the bots, what I’d figured out, and that I’d be meeting Vaughn.
“Does everybody know?”
“Just you and Vaughn so far.”
“I know you don’t want to release the recording to the media but you ought to tell all of us. Keeping it to yourself will just make people angry.”
“You’re probably right.”
We walked quietly for a little while.
“Can I come along tonight? I heard stories from my grandfather, but I never got to go there. I always thought they destroyed it.”
I snorted. “It doesn’t sound like it’s in great shape. Vaughn told me to wear armor because of the traps. I was halfway to asking him if I should bring a whip and fedora.”
“You can come along if you want to,” I said. “We’re meeting there at eight. By the way, what kind of stories did you hear from your grandfather?”
“The same kind you heard, I bet. How at the end everybody ended up captive in the lair and how your grandfather freed them.”
“My grandfather didn’t talk about it much. I don’t think he was particularly proud of the way he did it.”
“Oh. I can see that.”
She gave my hand a squeeze.