Okay, so considering the risk I’d taken and the fact that I’d put getting the supplies to build Wren’s machine that was supposed to lead to saving Blackjack’s daughter on hold, I hadn’t actually found out that much. Other than the fact that there was something going on under the mall. And that my brother wasn’t just a crazy, murderous villain, but also a certifiable (literally) badass, powers or no powers. I’d had no idea he could fight like that! I thought he was just… just… Simon. Seeing him do what he’d just done was… um… surprising, to say the least.
Oh, and of course I’d also found out at least part of how my family was actually profiting off criminals. They were selling things like the right to operate in the city (exactly how they enforced that I wasn’t sure exactly) and heroes’ patrol schedules in exchange for percentages of their take. It was like they were running a protection racket on actual villains. Which was… it was… wow. It was wow.
And now I really had to go. There was no way I could get through that door to go deeper into this place without at least setting off some kind of alarm. Plus, I had no way of knowing how long it would take Simon and/or anyone else to come back. I had to get out of there and go back to the actual plan.
Slipping out of the side room I’d hidden in once Simon and the others were gone, I listened carefully at the main door. Hearing nothing, I still waited a moment before cracking it a bit. No one. They had moved on. Trying to look as casual as possible (though I restrained the urge to whistle nonchalantly), I opened it, strolling out before heading on my way. All the thoughts and confusion I had about what my family was up to had to be shoved aside for the time being. Right now, it was time to focus fully on the whole Ashton situation, and getting the rest of those vials.
With the list pulled up on my phone, I made my way to the first shop that Wren had mentioned. It was actually more of a junkyard. At one time it had been some kind of auto shop. Now there were high, apparently fairly recently constructed, metal walls around the place, with barbed wire along the top, a heavy iron gate at the entrance, and cameras pretty much everywhere. Yeah, it was a good thing I’d gone with the ‘disguise myself as a boy’ thing, because anyone who happened to watch this footage later would probably have like six different camera angles to watch me from.
The gate was locked, but there was an open sign next to a single button mounted on a speaker. So, with a shrug, I reached out and put my finger against the button, holding it for a second before releasing. There was a deep buzzing sound both right at the gate and from somewhere in the distance. My guess was that the buzzer alerted anyone who might be busy in the back of the lot. I could see stacks of machinery including fridges, ovens, actual washing machines, and broken down cars lining the whole area beyond the gate, with a narrow walkway leading to what had been the main garage itself back when this place had been a normal mechanic’s shop.
Was whoever happened to be behind this shop a Tech-Touched as well? Because I was starting to assume that any place set up like this was for someone like that. It would also probably help explain the overabundance of cameras, heavy walls, and likely other security.
Maybe Wren could take some pointers from this person when it came to getting set up again.
A few seconds after the buzzers sounded, there was a voice that came through the intercom. “Whatchu want, kid?” It sounded like an old man who really wasn’t in the mood for visitors.
“Um.” Coughing, I turned to look at the nearest camera. “I’ve just… I need to buy a few things that I can’t really get in a regular shop. Someone told me your place might be a good one to check. Sorry if I disturbed you, the sign said you were open, so I figured I was supposed to–”
“Yeah, yeah,” the voice cut me off. “I don’t need an oral essay. You got money with you?”
Pausing briefly at the thought of just how open about having cash on me I wanted to be for this gruff stranger, I eventually put that aside, nodding. “Yes, sir, I have money.”
With that, there was a chiming sound, and the gate began to grind its way open. I stepped out of the way, watching until there was enough space for me to walk through. As soon as I was on the inside, the gate stopped and began to close once more. It shut fully with a solid clang.
Walking past all the broken down cars and appliances, I made my way into the main shop. The big garage doors were closed, so I went to the normal one, tugging it open. Bells above the door dinged pleasantly, and I found myself standing in front of a counter. There were a few plastic and metal (mismatched) chairs sitting randomly around the small room, and a television in the corner. Oh, and a thick sheet of bulletproof glass surrounded the counter itself, with a small slot in the middle for passing stuff through. A heavyset, older black man with a scruffy gray beard sat behind the counter, a half-eaten plate of lasagna and open beer in front of him.
Pushing his plate aside, the man reached out to touch a button in front of him. As he spoke, the voice came through a nearby speaker, magnified and somewhat distorted. “Whatayawant?”
“I, uhh, I have a list.” Reaching into my pocket, I took out a sheet of paper that I had carefully written all the serial or model numbers down on from the copy on my phone. The little slot opened with a dull clank, and I passed it through to the man. “They’re numbers for–”
“I know what fucking model numbers are, kid,” he interrupted impatiently. He scanned the list, glancing up to me a couple times with an inscrutable look before returning his gaze to the paper. That went on for about a minute or so as he scanned his way through them. He didn’t look at anything else, didn’t type them into the computer that sat nearby or anything. He just read them, mouth moving along as he murmured numbers and occasionally glanced toward me.
Finally, the man leaned back on his stool, reaching under the counter to take out a blue pen, which he used to begin circling numbers. In the end, he marked a little under half of them. “These I’ve got. These,” he added, putting check marks next to few, “I can get in a day or two. The rest of that stuff you’ll have to get somewhere else. And none of this is cheap.” His eyes found mine again, as he grunted out, “The hell you want this stuff for anyway?”
Honestly, I was still recovering a bit from the fact that he’d known what everything on the list was just from the serial numbers. But I shook that off and replied, “My ahhh, partner at school. He’s some mechanical genius and he says we can build something cool for the fair. Since it’s his idea, I get to do the grunt work.” I was trying to keep my voice at least a little bit deeper than usual, to go with the whole disguise thing, since I couldn’t exactly use the voice changer here.
Whether the man bought my explanation or not, I couldn’t really tell. But he apparently didn’t actually care enough to challenge it, either way. He just grunted a little, then picked up an old plastic calculator and started punching in numbers. Again, he didn’t actually look at anything before doing so. He just started pushing buttons, glancing at the list to see what he had marked, then looking back again. After a minute of that, he cleared his throat. “It’ll be six hundred and twenty-seven bucks for what I’ve got now, nine-fifty-two for all of it including the stuff that’ll take a couple days.”
“You’re sure you’ve got it?” I asked hesitantly. The man hadn’t gone anywhere, hadn’t even looked at a list of his inventory or anything. And with everything piled up out there like it was…
Heaving a sigh, the man pushed himself up from the stool. He reached under the counter to push a button, and part of the nearby wall between the two of us slid open. “Come on,” he grunted out with a wave before turning to walk to a door behind him. “I’ll take you out there.”
Shrugging, I started that way, moving through into the space behind the counter and to the door the man had already stepped through. We came out in the back of the lot, which… looked a lot like the front. It was a junkyard, full of random machines. Seriously, was this a Tech-Touched thing? Was being allergic to understandable organization a side-effect of that?
Or maybe not having things organized in a way outsiders could recognize was actually a benefit and a security measure. Because this guy knew exactly where he was going. He made his way through the yard, grabbing a laundry basket on the way. Here and there he stopped to grab things, dropping them in the basket seemingly haphazardly. One thing that looked sort of like a u-bend pipe he went to toss in, then stopped. Lifting the thing, he shook it a bit, listening before grumbling under his breath. He tossed that one aside, bent down to root through what looked like a pile of garbage, and came out with another one, which he dropped in the basket.
All of that took about ten minutes, while I just followed after him. Finally, the man turned with the basket. “Here it is,” he announced, holding it up with a raised eyebrow. “Now, am I giving you what you asked for, or just a random bunch of junk?”
“I… um.” Pausing, I looked at the basket, then up at him. “I’m hoping it’s the former and you’re just making a point about how you could be ripping me off?”
He made a noise that I belatedly realized was a chuckle. “I could be. But I like money. And something tells me that whoever your friend is, if they’re making something that needs all this stuff now, they’ll need to make other stuff later. Which means I get more business.” With those words, he shifted the basket under one arm, extending his other hand to me. “Six-twenty-seven for this much. Another three-twenty-five when you–” Pausing, he squinted at me. “You need this quick, don’t you?” When I nodded, he exhaled. “Three-twenty-five when you come back tomorrow for it. Twenty-four hours.”
I thought about just getting all of it tomorrow, but maybe Wren could get started with this stuff and what Pack brought in. So, reaching into my pocket, I paid the man what he asked for. He took the time to count the bills before passing the basket to me. “Come on then,” he ordered, gesturing as he led the way back to the door. “Lemme get back to my food. Like I said, come back in twenty-four hours. I’ll have the rest. Long as you come with more cash.”
We made our way back inside, and I glanced toward the television, only to see myself. Well, Paintball. I was there, captured on cell phone camera in the midst of my rush through the city to escape from Cuélebre the other day. I was so surprised to see… well, me like that, even as the image was split between showing that and some reporter saying something that was muted, that I stopped short basically in the doorway.
“The fuck?” Behind me, the man snapped, “This ain’t a theater, kid. Get going or pay to use the TV.” He stepped around me, then paused at the scene on the television before grunting, “They’ve been talking about this shit all day. You know they got people saying that idiot was taunting Cuélebre? Actually saying shit to piss him off even more. How stupid do you have to be to do something like that, am I right?”
Slowly, I nodded. “Oh yeah, you’re definitely right.
“You’d have to be pretty damn stupid.”
Well damn, a magic idea about how to get the ‘not for sale’ items from Seraph Hills without jumping into World War 3 hadn’t magically occurred to me while I did the rest of the shopping.
On the plus side, I managed to collect everything on the ‘expensive but doable’ list aside from what my new friend back at the junkyard place said he’d have in twenty-four hours. It was all back at Wren’s new shop, while I tried to decide how to actually tackle the hardest part of the list.
At the moment, I was sitting on a roof a good distance away from the medical school and attached teaching hospital, with my back against one of the air conditioners. I had been staring at the place for the past ten minutes, waiting for something… anything to occur to me. I had changed back into my costume to do this (the Paintball costume, that was, though my hair was still dyed and everything as well), so that I wouldn’t stand out sitting up here.
Okay, so they wouldn’t sell the stuff we needed (and I was pretty sure at the prices they might sell or rent them for, even I couldn’t afford them without attracting attention from my parents), so I had to get the stuff another way. Without stealing them or causing some huge problem. Which… yeah, led to me sitting here, staring at the buildings, parking lots, expensive-looking cars, huge fences, roving security, and so on. This… was complicated.
I’d even used the phone with the provided number that Double Down provided to ask if La Casa had any way of getting the stuff. Only not the way Pack had suggested. More subtly and… well, legitimately. There was a bit of back and forth, but what it amounted to was that they could eventually get stuff that high-end and specialized, but it would take time. Time we didn’t have. And Blackjack wasn’t going to risk his daughter getting that close to death again by extending the time limit. As he put it, Ashton would cross the deadline before she did.
Blackjack had, however, made clear that he would send an army to steal the things we needed, consequences be damned. I’d had to talk him out of that, telling him that I would find another way. He told me to call him back when I couldn’t, or to just ask Pack to give the word.
Honestly, as much as I didn’t want it to, I was starting to think it was going to come down to that.
Then it happened. The sound of a rumbling truck caught my attention, and I glanced over the roof to watch a heavy truck heading past my building on its way to Seraph Hills. The name on the side was ‘Taurus’, which made me frown behind the mask and helmet.
Taurus. One of many, many companies owned or partly owned by my family was Taurus. As a company, they delivered and maintained high end equipment all over the country. They worked with things like computer servers, prototype stuff put out by tech-touched, stuff like that. Basically, their whole thing was that they built the stuff (or had it built for them), delivered it, and maintained it in cases of the stuff breaking down or needing scheduled regular upkeep. Dad had let me see one of the warehouses and garages where the trucks were kept once. He even let me go under the truck to check it out from underneath, since he knew how much I loved cars and engines, and showed me the workshop area where they brought faulty equipment in to work on it.
He… wait. Wait a minute.
Slowly, I stood up, straightening as I watched the truck head right through the gate at the medical center, making its delivery. Standing there, I stared for a moment, my brain working wildly. My hand found its way to my pocket, and I called a number that Pack had given me.
She answered after a couple rings. “Hey, you ready to give up on the martyr routine and get this done? We’ve got people just waiting to go.”
“Is one of those people good with computers?” I asked. “Do you have some kind of hacker?”
There was a brief pause before she replied, “Uhhh, yeah you could say I know someone good. Why?”
“Get them. Tell them to meet us somewhere.”
“Sure,” came the answer. “But do you mind telling me why I’m calling in a hacker when we can just use Blackjack’s literal army to go straight in and grab what we need?”
I watched the hospital in the distance. “Because we’re not starting a war, Pack. We’re not stealing anything from Seraph Hills. Not for long, anyway.
“I’m going to get your hacker access to the computer systems of the company that fixes and delivers the stuff. We’ll get the thing we need added to the maintenance list, wait for them to bring it out to take to the lab, get it off the truck en route without hurting anyone and without being noticed, then take it off the maintenance list so they don’t know it’s missing. After that, we do what we need with it, stick it back onto the list after we’re done, and have it sent right back into Seraph Hills before anyone knows there’s anything wrong.”
“Huh.” There was a brief pause before Pack replied, “Doesn’t sound bad. Except you kind of skimmed over the part where we get it off that truck without hurting anyone and without, you know, them finding out it was stolen. How do you think we’re gonna pull that off?”
“How?” I smiled a little, not that she could see it. “Very carefully.
“And we’re gonna need that invisible gorilla-lizard of yours.”