Interlude: Too Close, Part 2

He’d counted on having to hide from the mob. That didn’t bother him. He’d done it before and he had plans for that. The police would be a problem.

He hadn’t gotten new fingerprints. There were people out there who could have provided them, but the price was high, and he hadn’t thought he’d need it for this job.

Still waiting behind the delivery truck, he hit the steering wheel with one hand.

He’d never been caught, but every time he left a fingerprint at a crime scene, he gave away another clue to who he was. With all the impossibly brilliant intellects out there, the risk that one of them could connect all the places where the police had found his fingerprints was high–eventually. For now, the question was if any of them were in Chicago.

As the light turned green, and the truck ahead of him groaned into movement, he considered the local superhero scene.

The Midwest Defenders didn’t have an intellect at the moment, but they did have a telepath–Mindstryke. Fortunately they didn’t usually get involved in street level crime. Mindstryke had, though–before he’d joined the Defenders.

Fortunately Chicago Hawk, who had specialized in the streets, retired ten years ago. Dark Cloak had followed on in his tradition, but no one had seen him in the last couple years.

He’d heard stories about a girl and a big, black dog appearing around Chicago and the suburbs. What little he’d been able to unearth about her hinted at magic. That was no good. Magic didn’t play by any rules he understood.

That, combined with Mindstryke’s rumored ability to sense the immediate past, told him what he needed to do.

He gritted his teeth. This was going to suck.

* * *

He parked in front of the house. It looked like every other house on the block–two story with a three car garage, an inoffensive beige coat of paint, and a tall window above the front door that showed off the candelabra in the hall.

Built in the 90’s boom, it had been built with more attention to cost than architecture. Tiffany Sanchez, professional wizard, had bought it for a quarter of the original asking price during the bust.

Snow covered the lawn as well as the flowerbeds. As he walked up to the house, he wondered if she’d gotten around to planting bulbs this year. She’d been talking about it before she’d thrown him out.

The door opened before he had the chance to knock.

She looked like she had when he’d last seen her–light brown skin, black hair, and black business suit.

“Business or personal?” The tension in her jaw, along with the way she only held the door halfway open, made him wonder if she planned to shut the door whichever way he answered.

“Business.” With anyone else, he might have stuck his boot in the door, but here he knew better. What he didn’t know was exactly what would happen if he stuck his foot past the threshold without permission.

She nodded. “Okay, then come in. If it were personal, I’d have shut the door.”

She let him pass, and then, as he watched, made a few quick motions with her fingers.

Nothing changed that Ben could see, but it felt like a door had shut. That done, they both walked into the open room that combined kitchen, dining room, family room and living room. In short, except for a bedroom and the bathroom, practically the whole first  floor was one room.

He’d been told that for certain rituals she needed the space.

All the curtains had been drawn. Candles lined the shelves on the far side of the room. Magical tools and symbols, the kind that could pass for decorations hung on the walls. She kept the ones that caused nightmares in the basement.

They sat down at the kitchen table.

“So,” she said, “what’s going on?”

“A big score,” he said. “The biggest I’ve ever been involved in, and it’s gone wrong. Badly wrong.”

She nodded. “Go on.”

“I got a call from Our Mutual Friend–”

“Stupidest codename ever, but never mind. Keep talking.”

“He said he had a job for me. He had a client who wanted to know the Rocket’s real name, and he knew who had the Rocket’s real name–”

“And you took the job?” Her hands shook, emphasizing every word.

“Your sick obsessive man-crush on that hero could kill you for real this time. You don’t play in that league.”

She got overdramatic. He’d hated that about her. And why had she chosen now to care? It’s not as if it would affect her beyond increasing her bank account.

She took a deep breath. “I know that look. I’m stopping.”

He shook his head. “It’s okay. I knew it was a risk when I took the job, but I also knew I had the skills, and I did. I know the Rocket’s real name–both Rockets, the old one and the new one.”

Her voice lowered. “Wow. So that’s how much?”

He named the figure.

Her eyes widened.

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