He really could have been here to go after us, but I hadn’t seen any hint of it. Of course, if he were good at his job, I wouldn’t.
“Then we have to get him,” Cassie said.
She tapped away at the keyboard. “The sightings all seem to be ten, twenty miles north of Grand Lake. I wonder if he’s staying at a cottage?”
“In December?” I said. “Can people use them in the winter? I always thought they were summer only.”
“My family’s got a cottage on Lake Michigan,” Haley said. “We do our family Christmas there.”
“Really? I didn’t know.” I said.
“We use ours mostly in the summer, but it’s comfortable during the winter too. It’s a little bigger than most, but it has to be. My dad’s side of the family — brothers, sisters, cousins… They all come for Christmas. You ought to come.”
“I’d like to,” I said, “but I’d feel a little weird walking in on your family’s Christmas party.”
“Don’t worry about it. Between everybody, we’ve got more than one hundred people there most years and people bring friends… and dates. You’ll fit in. I don’t even know all my cousins.”
“It must be nice,” Cassie said. “I’ve only got two cousins my age and I wish I didn’t know them. Anyway, let’s say we’ve agreed that some cottages can be used in the winter. From what I see here, he’s come around this time in other years.”
“Which means he probably isn’t targeting us,” I said.
“He might have a cottage,” Daniel said, “or maybe a hideout.”
“You’d think they’d have caught him by now if he did,” I said. “Someone would watch for him.”
“They are,” Cassie said. “That’s what’s cool about this thing. You can sign up to receive updates on him by email and, if you want, you can publicly list yourself as being after him.”
“Who’s on the list?” I asked.
Cassie smirked. “Protection Force.”
“Oh. Wow,” I said. “That’s wild.”
Haley said, “Are they the team that sells ad space on their costumes?”
Cassie said, “You’ve got it. Protection Force — justice and sponsorships.”
“There’s nothing wrong with it necessarily,” Daniel said. “Taking sponsors is okay. Putting their logos on your costume is legal. They just go a little too far.”
“It’s embarrassing,” Cassie said. “Half the time they’re on TV, they’re trying to slip in the name of their sponsors.”
“Didn’t Larry used to cover his costume with logos?” Haley said.
“Oh, yeah. He looked like a NASCAR driver,” Cassie said.
“Well, to be fair to him,” I said,” the factory he worked at had closed and unemployment had run out so he was basically living off his sponsorships at that point. Once his brewery started growing, he ditched all of them except for a pizza place and that’s only because he really likes their pizza.”
“He had to pay his bills,” Daniel said. “I’m sure the Rhino suit and the Rhinomobile don’t come cheap.”
Daniel had a point. Anyone who wanted to be a superhero (teams especially) eventually faced the issue of money. Did you want to go full time? Buy or create more equipment? Expand your reach beyond your hometown? Money decided whether or not you could. Some, like the various Defender groups, were mostly government funded. Others were non-profits. Still others took the for-profit route. Most of the last managed to look less silly than Protection Force, licensing out the rights to action figures or technology instead of taking advertising.
The car went silent for a little while as we all tried to remember where the conversation had been going before the detour.
“I wonder why no one but Protection Force is after him?” I asked. “He seems kind of major.”
“Like I should know?” Cassie shrugged. “They don’t publicly list everyone who wants email updates. Maybe a lot of people care, but only Protection Force wants to be listed.”
“Could be,” Daniel said. “It’s accessible to any heroes that ask for it whether they’re active or not. My dad never publicly lists himself as being after someone unless he wants the person to know it.”
“Does he really think supervillains are using it?” Haley sounded surprised.
“That’s the thing,” Daniel said, “he doesn’t know, so he doesn’t assume they aren’t.”
* * *
We changed seats again at a McDonald’s. I ended up driving. Daniel got his laptop back and spent most of the rest of the ride experimenting with his internet access and the Alliance’s online applications.
The driving wasn’t bad. The freeway turned out to be free of ice and snow despite being piled high on either side. I drove about five miles per hour over the speed limit and passed a few cars. I guessed that we’d probably get home before five.
Haley sat across from me in the front and twisted back toward Cassie, “Travis wanted me to choose a wolf based name because of Grandpa, but after Travis took Night Wolf what was there? He thought I should choose a name based on a female wolf, but I didn’t like ‘She-wolf’ and I really didn’t like my other options.”
Cassie laughed. “What did he want you to do? Call yourself ‘Night Bitch’?”
“See?” Haley said. “There aren’t any good female wolf names. That’s why I went with Night Cat.”
“I think it’s a good name,” I said. “Night Cat, I mean. Not the other one.”
“Nice save, Nick,” Cassie said, sounding amused.
“You know I didn’t mean — ” I began.
From the back, Daniel said, “Wouldn’t it be crazy if the Executioner had family here and that’s why he came back?”
“Not if it were my family,” Haley said.