Alexis emerged from the commuter pod. Even through the walls of the pod station, she could hear the thumping beat from the club; it stirred up memories in her that made her smile. “I wish we weren’t just going here for ‘business’.”
“Really?” Ian climbed out of the pod after her, but he wasn’t smiling. Mostly, he was trying to keep the white leather trench coat Laurel and Alexis were making him wear closed over the rest of his ‘club-wear’. His hair had been gelled into a spiky mess and sprayed glossy black, and he’d opted to wear a pair of shades at night rather than put in the bizarrely colored contacts that were his other choice. “I know you went to these kinds of places when were were in school and college, but you never mentioned wanting to go…”
She turned toward him and gave him a bright smile that made her look even younger than her costume made her look. Her hair was pinned up under a purple wig that came down to the middle of her back and had a razor-straight set of bangs that almost his her eyes, but didn’t quite do so. Under a black, cotton jacket that existed more to look ‘flowwy’ (as she explained it) than keep her warm, she had on an extremely tight, white crop top, and a short, black and green tartan skirt that rode low enough to show off what kind of underwear she was wearing. Knee socks, platform boots and a set of actual iron manacles with spiked studs on them completed the look. If Ian had run into her on the street, he wouldn’t have known her.
“It’s another one of those things I haven’t really thought about since… what happened.” She didn’t need to say it, they both knew she meant her fateful discovery about the Academy and everything that followed. “But yeah, maybe sometime after this job’s done, we can do this for real?”
There was a hopeful note in her voice, one that easily defeated the awkward dread the idea of ‘infiltrating’ a club had stirred up in him, and the discomfort of the get-up that she and Laurel took too much joy in forcing him into. He ran a hand through his hair and immediately wished he hadn’t given the amount of goop in it.
“Of course.” He said, smiling because it made her smile even more. “I just didn’t think of it.” Chuckling a little, he added, “I don’t have to dress like this next time, do I?”
The youthful smile on Alexis’s face morphed into one of sinister glee as she approached him, waist swaying. She purred in a way she never did in public and surreptitiously slipped her hands int the folds of his coat, sliding it open. She leaned in, lips deliciously close to his ear. “I don’t know,” I kind of like the look.
With a teasing look,s he stepped back, leaving him exposed to the world in the weird, uncomfortable clothing she and Laurel put him in.
Despite it being firmly in the middle of winter, they’d given him a sparkly, mesh shirt and nothing else. It had actual, cloth sleeves (black and also sparkly), but they were a joke at best. Alexis had taken the time to paint a tribal tattoo over one of his pecs that trailed down his chest, to his abs and disappeared beneath the waistline of a pair of incredibly tight, leather pants. Like Alexis, he also had boots on, heavy, chunky things that wouldn’t have been out of place with his Chaos costume.
Not for the first time that night, he wondered where the two women had found club clothes in his size so quickly. If the idea of going clubbing brought up memories of hr youth for Alexis, being ambushed by his two best friends (one of them now his fiancee), and dragged into something he wouldn’t do on his own if he lived long enough to watch the sun burn out did the same for him.
He pulled the coat closer around him, but didn’t close it all the way because of the way Alexis was looking at him. “Um… yeah, well.” He managed.
Alexis’s expression returned to sweet and innocent so fast that he missed the transition. “Remember, we’re supposed to belong there. Don’t be shy, alright? Be confident—this is how you go out dressed all the time.” To demonstrate, she straightened her spine and put on a look that said ‘I don’t care what you think, I’m amazing’.
“And remember, tonight, I’m Natasha.”
“I know. And I’m Vlad.” said Ian.
Having expected him to pick a cheesy name, Alexis had to do a double take when she realized he hadn’t picked the cheesy name she would have bet her salary on. “Vlad? Not Bo—”
Ian grinned at having caught her off guard. “Well you two dressed me like a chick-flick vampire, so I’m just going for realistic.”
“You know you look sexy.” She said, playfully slapping his shoulder. The distant thump of the club’s music reminded her what they were there to do, and she held out her hand. “Alright, Vlad: shall we.”
He affected a terrible Eastern European accent. “Lead on my luvh.”
All jokes aside, Ian was ready to kick someone through something. That Club Heavy was lit largely by colored lights refracted through standing sheets of what he hoped wasn’t actual glass (given the drunken gyrating people constantly just a trip and a slip from going through them without being kicked), made that plan of action more tempting.
It would have been enough that innocent people like Helen Chalmers or even just plain idiots who tried an untested superpower drug, had been hurt would have been enough to set him on the hunt for the people behind it. But they went the extra mile when it turned out ‘Gold’ was manufactured using Cyn’s blood.
Cyn was the closest thing he had to a kid—hell, in a few weeks, she would be his best friend’s kid and therefore effectively his niece. So where justice was always coming for those people, a righteous ass-kicking was coming along right behind. Luckily, most of the criminals they ran into seemed to feel that since they weren’t cops, there was no point in not resisting arrest.
He and Alexis danced to the base-heavy music; her falling into the same swaying steps of the girls and young women half a decade or more her junior, him doing his best to mimic the guys there dressed similarly to him. That part, at least, was easy; they seemed to just stand there, dispassionate, as their female partners ground and rubbed up against them, occasionally shifting stance and constantly running their hands all over the girls.
The hard part was getting eyes on the pusher, Froak.
Laurel had run the name through Vimes and found out that Len had misheard the name. His street handle was ‘Froakie’, which was a portmanteau of his given name: Fred Otis Klein. According to the latest in a long line of mugshots (mostly for selling marijuana, tobacco and, inexplicably, bodybuilding supplements without a license), he looked like a frog: big head, wide mouth, big hands that one could imagine had webs between them.
He should have stood out easily, but there were so many people and the lighting was so dim, they gave up simply spotting him right off. Instead, they were looking for buyers. Laurel suggested watching for either nervous or expectant types slinking off into darker corners—or money exchanging hands right out on the dance floor. The ways of the drug dealer were many, it seemed.
After more than and hour, Ian found himself considering just how suspicious it might make ‘Froakie’ if he just stared stalking through all the damn shadows that hid the far corners of the club from them. He was starting to think it might be worth it when Alexis suddenly turned, pressing herself up against him so that she could speak into his ear.
“In front of you to the right; white Colossi jersey.” She said, keeping it short before starting to dance again.
Ian found the guy in the jersey easily. He was of the ‘shaved ape’ school of thuggery and was decked out in gold chains. More telling was who he was talking to; a guy in his late teens or early twenties who looked as out of place in Club Heavy as Ian felt. Tall and gawky, he was dressed in a white sports jacket and slacks; apparently his idea of ‘casual’ being ‘not wearing a tie’. He had out a disposable cash card and was waving it at the shave ape.
The disposable cards, like disposable phones had a reputation. While they were useful convenience items for people who wanted to buy things without taking their palmtop or a credit card that could do serious damage if stolen, they were also heavily used to make untraceable and anonymous purchases such as guns, drugs and prostitutes.
The thug seemed to be well aware of that, as he grabbed the prep’s arm and forced it down, out of view of, say, any superheroes watching. He said something harsh and gave the guy and his cash card a hard shove, dismissing him. Hard eyes watched the prep until he disappeared into the crowd.
A moment later, another man, dressed in a too-tight shirt and low-cut jeans sidled up to the big guy and exchanged a few words. If Ian hadn’t been watching for it, he might have missed the folded hundred dollar bills exchanging hands.
Ian leaned down to trail kisses up Alexis’s shoulder, to her neck, to her ear. “That’s them, alright.” He told her. “Old school paper money too. This is starting to feel like a spy movie.”
They continued to dance, watching without looking like they were, as the big man led the club-goer over to the edge of the dance floor and up a set of metal stairs. There was a balcony up there, with tables overlooking the main portion of the club.
At one such table, there was a young woman with blond dreadlocks, seemingly alone and nursing her drink. No one else would have noticed, but the two heroes knew that Froakie was probably using the balcony as a post for a lookout and didn’t miss her subtle nod to the thug before returning to her vigil.
“No one gets in here without her noticing.” Alexis told Ian, turning them both so their backs were to the balcony. “Anything happens down here, she’ll tall Froakie and he’ll bolt.”
Ian nodded, “How many more people do you think he has?”
“He’s just a dealer. I’m kind of surprised he had the lookout.” said Alexis. “Besides, it isn’t like we’re going to try and take him here: we just need him to take our money.”
A few minutes later, they saw their chance. The clubber came back down,trying in vain to stuff the Gold injector into his pocket. Not long after him, the thug followed, taking up his position again, waiting for the next customer.
Alexis reached behind her and pretended to suggest something to Ian. He put on a show of resisting, of not being convinced, but then she turned around and kissed him long and slow. When they broke apart, she ran a hand over his chest and repeated her request, this time while pouting in a sultry way. The pantomime, meant for the lookout’s benefit in case she happened to be watching, ended with him acquiescing in a sullen manner and leading her over to the big man.
The two men exchanged nods while the pair were still several strides away from him. A nasty little sneer came to his face as if he was relishing telling Ian to take off and maybe hit on Alexis for good measure.
“Hey man.” Ian said, keeping a sour look on his face. “Look, my girl, she wants to fly.”
“Hmph.” grunted the thug. “So why you askin’ me? I look like I’m carryin’?”
Ian shook his head and shot a look at Alexis who was making flirty eyes with the goon. He faced the guy again. “No. I don’t think you heard me. She wants to fly. This is Club Heavy, right? You guy can do that, right?” As he spoke, he raised his hand just enough to let the other man see a flash of green in his hand.
‘Money’ was a surprisingly common password; the goon grunted and made the two folded hundreds disappear into his meaty paw. “Yeah. We can do that. Come on.” Without even an attempt at more smalltalk, he led them to the same stairs as before and up onto the balcony.
From the ground, it had looked like a narrow strip with tables pushed up to the edge. Once they actually reached the top of the stairs however, they saw that there was a second bar up there, as well a wall of partitioned off, semi-private booths.
Froakie, however, had planted himself at the end of the bar furthest from the stairs with his back to a door marked ‘Employees Only’. No doubt he counted as an employee for the purposes of slipping through it at the first sign of trouble.
Upon seeing the thug leading more customers up, the bartender suddenly decided she needed to tend the other side of the bar from Froakie, leaving enough space between him and her for plausible deniability. The pair started toward the partitioned booths, letting the goon redirect them to Froakie. Just one more subtle suggestion that they were just dumb rich kids who wanted to fly.
Ian dropped onto the stool beside Froakie and pulled Alexis in front of him, resting his chin on her shoulder the way he saw a guy do on TV once. “So you the guy that can make my girl fly?”
A laugh so alien that it unnerved him bubbled out of Alexis and she leaned back to nuzzle him just like the girl on the same show had. “Ooo. You’re a poet, baby.”
Froakie looked at them with a bored expression. He must have seen the same antics a thousand times in his line of work. “Depends on if you can pay.”
“Ha.” Ian said with a snort. He dug in his trench coat a while before pulling out a thick roll of hundreds secured with a rubber band. “What this look like? No plastic: just dead men on paper, baby. How much?”
“How much for what?” Froakie asked, playing dumb.
“What the hell do you mean ‘how much for what’?” Ian snapped, though he knew the game. “Your dude here acted like you was the guy to see for this stuff.”
Alexis got in on it as well. “I don’t think this is the right guy, baby. Let’s get out of here and find the real guy.”
Nodding with his head against his, Ian made as if to get up. “You’re right baby. Let’s go.”
The roll of bills started to head back into his pocket and that was enough for Froakie. “Wait. Hold on. I’m the right guy.”
Ian scoffed. “If you’re the right guy, why don’t you say you’re the right guy? Don’t go and bullshit me. It took a lot of chasin’ rumors to find your ass. I shouldn’t have to work to give a guy my old man’s money.”
There really wasn’t a good reason for it, at least not one Froakie wanted to voice. He made customers ask specifically to make sure they weren’t regular druggies or people just nosing around, trying to see if the Gold was real. He licked his lips, hoping they wouldn’t ask for an explanation.
“She wants to fly, huh?”
“Yeah.” Alexis pushed off of Ian and leaned toward Froakie, giving him a pouty look with a hooded gaze. “Can you make me fly?”
He was drawing a blank on what he’d bought with him, so he grabbed the case sitting tucked between his stool and the wall. “Let’s see if I can help you tonight, babe.” Muscle memory let him pop the locks in the right sequence not to trip the false bottom that would make it look like the case was empty when I was opened.
Inside, the gold injectors were arranged in three rows of eight across in soft foam padding, along with a single row of eight matte black injectors. ‘TTK for Tactile Telekinesis was one of the most direct codes on the labels. There was a fist symbol of strength, ’20/20’ for enhanced eyesight, and ‘GYW’ for Flight.
Technically, the power that Gold GYW granted was yet another variant on telekinesis, only self-focused. It would be better described as Levitation, but the kind of folks that bought injectable superpowers from some guy in a club didn’t use words like ‘levitate’.
He pulled out one of three GYW injectors. “This is what you’re after. ‘Gives You Wings’. On a quarter amp, you’ll fly about an hour.”
Alexis mustered her actual enthusiasm for flying in order to register ‘Natasha’s’ excitement. “Ooo. How much?”
“Seven-Fifty!” Ian blurted. “For that little thing?”
Froakie rolled his eyes. “It’s a thing you stick in your arm and it lets you fly under your own power. You’re damn right it’s seven-fifty and that’s a goddamn bargain. Firm.”
“Vlaaad.” Alexis whined. “It’s not like its even your money.”
“Still, seven hundred and fifty dollars, baby.”
She craned her neck to give him a pleading look. He could tell by her eyes that she was enjoying herself. “Come oooon. You promised I’d get to fly.”
He pretended to grit his teeth. “Fine, Nat.” He snapped the band off his roll of bills and peeled off eight.”
Froakie looked triumphant at the chunk of money coming his way, then that look turned slithery and calculating; after all, why shouldn’t he take the dumb party kids for all their worth. “Perfect. Now let’s talk about the supplement…”
Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.
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