Chapter 24

“Well,” Nick said at a volume higher than normal. “This seems like a lovely, cultured establishment.”

Vince, Alice, and Nick all stood in the entryway of Whiskey Shallows, a club with a country theme and a powerfully pumping stereo system. It had taken Vince a few minutes to look up the address and he cursed himself for having wasted the time. They could have found their way using the tacky neon glow and the ridiculously loud music, both of which were detectable from blocks away. He was happy Nick and Alice had decided to join him, though. Nick he was only moderately surprised by; after all, his sandy-haired friend did seem to enjoy getting out of the dorm at any chance presented. Alice, on the other hand, had been a huge surprise when she emerged from her room in fashionable top and tailored blue jeans.

It had been a very fortunate surprise, though, because in the haste of his bravado Vince had utterly forgotten that he didn’t own a car. Neither did Nick, since before the procedure they had a tendency to blow up around him, so it fell on Alice to cram the two boys into her BMW and chauffer them to the club. Vince had been very tempted to ask why she was tagging along but decided against it. It wasn’t as though she had been unfriendly at all; he had merely thought she would see herself above coming to a place like this. It was his own fault for making such assumptions about her just because she projected a confident and put-together aura.

As the out-of-place trio maneuvered through the robust crowd, Vince was surprised by how many people his age seemed to be in attendance. Most of them had large black Xs on their hands like he and his friends, so they were old enough to get in but too young to drink. He looked around more and realized that none of the faces looked familiar. It made more sense, though: only the Supers would be reeling after today’s workout. The rest of the college would be out celebrating their return to school and the first Friday of the year. This place was close to campus, so even if the younger students couldn’t drink, it was still a good place to get off campus and meet new people.

Vince passed a pair of girls in a corner taking shots behind a potted plant while trying to keep their hands out of sight. He re-evaluated the possible reasons the underage students would come. Vince was tempted to yell at Nick and Alice to split up and cover more ground looking for Roy, but he wasn’t confident he would hear or feel the cell phone in his pocket with all the bass and noise surrounding them.

That was a shame, because he could have used a way to cover more ground. The club was huge, with three bars on the first floor and two more on the second. An enormous dance floor sat a few inches higher on the first floor, making sure everyone could have a good view of the people shaking their stuff. It seemed oddly like a way to window shop to Vince. After a moment, he realized that’s exactly what it was.

“I think we’re doing this wrong!” Alice yelled, getting Vince and Nick’s attention and dragging them near a set of restrooms where things were marginally quieter.

“How so?” Vince asked.

“We’re looking for one person in a giant club. That could take forever. We should be looking for a group instead,” Alice explained.

“Why a group? All we want is Roy,” Vince pointed out.

“Yes, but Roy said he was meeting people here,” Alice explained.

“If he was telling the truth,” Vince said.

“Yeah, if we’re going to question his truthfulness to us then we have to ask ourselves if we’re even at the right club. So why don’t we just work under the assumption he was honest for now?” Nick said.

“Right. So, if Roy is meeting people, then we need to look for a cluster of people, probably ones that are our age if he met them that night on campus,” Alice said.

“Cluster of people our age,” Vince agreed. He turned his head back toward the club and tried to count how many clusters of people he saw in the college-aged range. Once he passed thirty, he turned back around to Alice. “I don’t suppose there’s anything else that would narrow it down?”

“It’ll be almost, if not completely, made up of girls,” Alice replied.

“How do you know that?” Nick asked.

“I saw him last night. Trust me, that boy only has one thing on his mind and definitely isn’t just sitting on a stool all night,” Alice said.

“Gotcha,” Vince said quickly, closing off the subject. “Okay, let’s scout for groups of girls our age with a cowboy hat poking out from the middle.”

“You know, I’m a little surprised there’s such a massive country bar out here,” Nick said as they started back into the main area of the club.

“There’s everything around Lander. There’s a gay club, a techno club, a dance club, and a bunch of bars,” Alice said. “Lander is a pretty huge school and people come from all over America, so local business owners found a niche for just about every kind of way to drink and meet new copulation partners.”

Nick laughed loudly. “I’ve never heard picking up bar skanks put in such a classy way.”

“It’s a gift,” Alice replied.

“Speaking of gifts, I think we just got handed one,” Vince said, pointing to the dance floor. Standing a few yards away from them, dancing simultaneously with three girls, was Roy. He was moving smoothly to the beat while holding a drink in his left hand. Periodically he would take sips, usually while executing spin maneuvers. Not one drop of the brown liquid was spilled; in fact, none of it looked like it dared summon up the nerve to even approach the rim of the glass, unless, of course, it was making a direct beeline for Roy’s mouth.

Vince noticed Roy’s hands weren’t stamped and wondered how he managed to pull that off. It wasn’t really relevant, so he pushed the thought aside. What mattered now was keeping an eye on Roy, and, if possible, dissuading him from abandoning Hershel in an awkward situation. If Roy wasn’t willing to play along, at least Vince might be able to explain things to the girl so she didn’t freak out whenever Roy changed back. He didn’t have much of a plan, but then Vince had never been great at strategy. He set a goal and he found a way. That style had always worked out before, so he set his shoulders and prepared to shadow Roy for the rest of the night.

That plan was almost immediately interrupted by a familiar voice behind him.

“Hello again, Sucker Punch.”