By the time Haley, Jaclyn, and I got changed and went downstairs, Vaughn had calmed down, but we didn’t get to talk to him much. We said goodbye in the parking lot and watched him drive off in his mother’s Audi.
Then I drove Jaclyn and Haley home, Haley next to me in the front and Jaclyn in the back.
Typically for February, the sun was already setting. I pulled out of the parking lot and drove toward 90th Street, the road that would take us most of the way to Jaclyn’s.
We rode home in the twilight, no one saying very much at first. I guessed they might be tired. I certainly was.
As we crossed the railroad tracks on the south side of the city, Jaclyn said, “He knows how to fight. Did you see it when he threw me? He didn’t use anything more than normal human strength and I ended up lying on the mat.”
“Lee says he’s got better than human abilities uh… ‘in storage’ somewhere, but he doesn’t use them. Something about not liking the price.”
“Let me guess… The bank of powers charges fees for early withdrawals?”
“I think he said they were ‘in storage just outside of reality.’ I didn’t ask him for details.”
“He smells wrong,” Haley said. “Not really wrong. He smells like a person, but… off.”
I glanced over at her. She looked thoughtful, but with a slightly nervous smile.
“Off, how? Like he’s spoiling?”
“I don’t know. Just off. It doesn’t mean I don’t like him. He’s funny, and he’s a better teacher than some of mine at school, but I don’t think he’s… human.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “I don’t think he is either.”
“Good,” Jaclyn said. “Then it sounds like we’re all on the same page. When I told my grandpa what I was doing this afternoon he said, ‘You’re training with Günther? Never thought I’d see it,’ but then he said, ‘you should be completely safe provided he understands you’re Nick’s friend’.”
“Really? I don’t know what he meant by that.”
“You did tell him that we were your friends, right?”
“Maybe not directly, but it seems obvious.” I slowed the car as we approached a stop sign. “I’ll make a point of saying something if it’ll make people feel better.”
Haley adjusted her position in the seat. “So what is he, Nick?”
“I don’t know. All I’ve ever known about him is that he’s immortal, he’s a good musician, and he’s good at killing people. Outside of that, it’s all speculation.”
* * *
With Haley working and Daniel busy, I didn’t have anything particular to do after school the next day. I ended up lingering in the hall next to my locker talking to Chris Cannon.
“– and after I changed that,” Chris said, “you would not believe the acceleration. Zero to sixty in four seconds.”
“In a Honda Civic? Are you trying to die?”
“I’ve had some ideas about that. I figure there’s got to be some way to reinforce it so that it can handle a high speed crash…”
We swapped ideas about schemes for crash proofing a small car while the halls drained of people. Part of me wondered if discussing what were essentially strategies for constructing armor with the grandson of Man-machine was such a hot idea. Another part rejoiced. When else did I ever get to discuss things like this with someone who cared or who could talk at more or less the same level?
“I was talking with my grandfather,” he began.
That brought me back to reality.
“I brought my grandmother to visit him in prison and he had a bunch of ideas.”
“Yeah?” I wondered if any of them included revenge.
“They were amazing, but really complex. Just to try them, I’d need the equipment that the FBI confiscated from his house.”
Sean Drucker broke into the conversation, “Your grandfather, the supervillain? That’s hard core. Gonna put a laser together?”
Sean stood just behind and slightly to the right of Chris, a position that emphasized that he was about six inches taller than either of us. His question represented the friendliest thing he’d said in my presence in the last five years.
Chris moved his back toward the locker, apparently not liking the idea of having Sean behind him, and turned to say, “Private conversation, Sean.”
“I’m not trying to bother you. I’d just like a word with Nick over here.”
Maybe I could get it over with quickly.
“You’re going out with Haley. I went out with Haley last summer. I thought I’d give you some advice.”
“Dump her. She’s got a screw loose somewhere. One night we were making out and I thought we were just about to, you know, seal the deal, when all of a sudden I’m feeling sick and I can’t move.When my parents brought me to the hospital, the labs found poison in my blood. Poison. She fucking poisoned me. So watch out.”
“Oh right,” Chris said, “because that thing with the poison. It didn’t have anything to do with you. She just did that for no good reason.”
“Hey,” Sean said, “I’m not talking to you, dumbass.” To me, he continued, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Maybe I should have been saying what Chris said, but I didn’t. I wanted the conversation over with and I really didn’t want public speculation about where the poison came from.
As Sean walked away, I asked Chris, “Why did you say that? Do you know something?”
“Nothing much,” Chris said. “I’ve just heard he’s a jerk.”