Chapter 88

Nick was the first to be deposited at home, and he breathed a soft sigh of relief as the dry scorching air of Vegas enveloped him. Despite his own assessments, Nick still hadn’t been one hundred percent sure Mr. Transport wasn’t going to drop them in some dangerous environment and leave them to survive. He’d been quite close to certain, but Nick was nothing if not a firm advocate in never believing one knew exactly how things would transpire. The element of doubt left room for back-up plans and improvisation. It was what separated a good tactician from a great one.

He sauntered down The Strip at a leisurely pace, glancing at the casino fronts to note any changes that had happened in his absence. It had only been a few months, but that was the nature of Vegas. It was constantly shifting, always striving to be novel so that no visitor had quite the same experience two trips in a row. Change was the only constant, a philosophy Nick had embraced many years ago.

As he dragged his suitcase up the sidewalk to his own casino, Nick was surprised to see a familiar face standing by the door. Gerry was generally dispatched to personally handle high-rollers and problems. As their eyes met and Gerry started forward Nick took a guess this was a case of the latter.

“Good to see you, Campbell.”

“You, too. Want to tell me why I’m getting a handshake at the door?”

Gerry adjusted his tie, a tactic he used when he wanted to scan an area without being overt. After a moment of ensuring no prying ears were about, he leaned in close. “The Evers kid is back in town. He’s at one of the poker tables cleaning the spare change out of every tourist who sits down.”

Nick crinkled his nose in distaste. The Evers were a family similar to the Pips; they had separate holdings but Vegas was a place where such assets butted against one another. Nathaniel Evers wasn’t part of the line that might end up being at the head of the family, but he was definitely being groomed for a leadership position. He was smart, cunning, and positively ruthless. Even worse, he was a Super. Nathaniel and Nicholas had run into one another several times throughout their lives, and the relationship was not exactly what one might call cordial.

Nicholas Campbell looked down at his Lander costume, a t-shirt and dusty jeans that he would have rather been killed in than seen here in. “I need to change.”

“That’s why I met you at the door. We’ll go around to the service entrance.”

Nicholas followed Gerry, despite knowing damned well no one would have stopped him if he’d gone through the back by himself. There was propriety to observe, however, and one never knew when someone from the Nevada Gaming Commission was watching. They were vulnerable to bribery, of course, but there was no need to incur unnecessary expenses. The two made it to the elevator without encountering anyone besides a bellboy and a chef, Gerry punching in the numbers then leaving to go back to the floor.

The floors flashed by quickly as Nicholas stood alone in the rising elevator. He’d need to take his time and truly let go of the current character. There was no room for Nick when dealing with Nathaniel; only Nicholas Campbell could handle that level of opponent. A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as he drew nearer to his destination. It had been four years since their last encounter, one that had found them quite evenly matched. A lot had changed in four years. Nicholas was curious to see how they measured against one another now that they were both Supers, even if his new status was a secret.

He suspected it would be quite interesting.

*    *    *

Alice’s silver car didn’t bother to slow down as it neared the exit that would carry her into the subdivision where her father’s estate sprawled. Instead she kept her foot on the gas, accelerating a few more miles down the highway. When she did exit it was onto a road that was surrounded by dense foliage. Lush trees dotted the roadway with only the occasional homes interspersed between them. She navigated through the worn roads carefully, being certain never to go above the posted speed-limit. Eventually she pulled into a parking lot adjacent to a wrought-iron fence. It was still early in the afternoon, so the gate stood wide open to welcome all crossing its threshold.

Alice cut a leisurely pace across the cobblestone paths, savoring the scent of fresh flowers that permeated the landscape. Some people were disturbed by places like this, seeing the constant marble markers as harbingers of their inevitable death. This particular establishment took great pains to inspire a sense of tranquility over trepidation; however, that was only a part of why Alice felt at ease here. Growing up her home had seemed more tomblike than this place, the empty halls and echoing sounds creating an atmosphere of hollowness. Here there was feeling; here people wept openly and talked freely, even if no one was physically there to listen. Here there was, ironically enough, life.

Alice found her way to the modest headstone quite easily. She’d visited this place a lot in her youth, however her time at Lander had made such trips more infrequent. At one point she might have felt guilty about it, but as she’d grown, she had come to realize that her mother would probably have been happy that Alice possessed such a full life that she had less time to visit.

“Hey, Mom,” Alice said as she plopped down onto the grass. “It’s been a while. I hope things have been nice out here.” Looking at the headstone, one would never guess that this was the resting place of a multi-billionaire’s wife. That had been her way. She loved simplicity and nature. It always amazed Alice that Charles Adair had given her the grave she would have wanted, not the one he felt she deserved. It was a testament to how much he’d loved her; Alice’s father was not prone to doing things other people’s way.

“Things at school have been complicated, but hey, what else is new...” Alice sat talking to her mother until the fireflies began to dart through the sky. When she finally left, it was with grass-stained pants and a much lighter heart.

*    *    *

Mr. Transport’s hands felt sweaty as he appeared at the home of Hershel and Roy Daniels. This was the final stop of the day; he’d already deposited Mary in the quiet suburb where her parents resided. Since there was no geographic limitation to where he teleported, the order in which he dispensed his charges had been entirely up to him. It was for this reason he’d chosen to leave Vince and Hershel for last, and it factored in greatly to the phantom sensation of sweat saturating his palms despite their dry status.

“Hey, Mom,” Hershel greeted, dropping his bag on the ground and embracing his mother in a strong hug.

“Good afternoon, Ms. Daniels,” Vince said politely. The seemingly docile woman had threatened him with extensive bodily harm if he dared try to spend Christmas on his own as he had last year. He often wondered how a single woman could exude both fastidious decorum and soul-rending intimidation. Had he grown up in the south, he would have understood.

“So good to see both of you,” Ms. Daniels said warmly. “Thank you for bringing them by, Mr. Transport.”

“Always a pleasure,” Mr. Transport replied. “If you have a moment, I wanted to speak with you on coordinating their return trip.”

“Of course. Boys, why don’t you bring your bags up to Hershel’s room and we can see about getting supper started?”

Vince and Hershel complied automatically, dragging their suitcases up the stairs in a flurry of quick movements that only the young and enthusiastic can manage so easily.

“Class resumes on the sixth for them, so I assume you’ll want to pick them up on the fifth,” Ms. Daniels said, a good measure of the warmth leaving her voice as the boys vacated the room. “Or is there an HCP activity they need to be back early for?”

“No, it runs parallel with the actual Lander schedule so the fifth should be fine.” Mr. Transport licked his lips, which had suddenly become strangely dry. There was no putting it off any longer; if he wanted to take action he had to strike now. He wouldn’t likely get a better opportunity. “Actually, there was something else I wanted to speak with you on.”

“Oh? Anything to do with last year’s incident?”

“Nothing like that. I was just wondering if you’d allow me to take you out to dinner.”

Ms. Daniels was not an easily surprised woman, yet the wide-eyed look across her face said quite clearly that Mr. Transport had succeeded in catching her off-guard.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I want to take you on a date, if you’re willing,” Mr. Transport reiterated.

“May I ask what motivated this? Our interactions have not exactly been cordial.”

“Curiously, that’s a good part of why I’m asking you out. My job makes sustaining a relationship very difficult. In my experience, it only has a chance of working with strong, capable women. Plus, I do find you rather attractive.”

Ms. Daniels didn’t blush: she hadn’t done anything so juvenile in many years. She did, however, mentally move a step back and take a fresh look at Mr. Transport. He was tall and lean, a bit more haggard than she liked her men, truthfully. He did cut a nice figure in the hand-tailored black suit, and she was long beyond the mindset that physicality was the only factor that mattered in a possible partner. With the exception of the mountain training, he’d done an excellent job of looking over the children, and Vince had spoken to her over the summer of the great risk he took in helping save Hershel. He seemed a nice enough sort, and the teleportation ability probably meant they could go somewhere other than the god-awful Italian restaurant around the corner.

“Let’s exchange phone numbers,” Ms. Daniels said at last. “I’ll have my hands full with Hershel, Roy, and Vince over the break, but afterward I could probably find a free night for dinner.”

Despite the fact that his hands were still quite dry, Mr. Transport still nearly dropped his cell phone in his hurry to pull it free from his pants pocket.