Chapter 113


               “Nothing, sir.” The aide sitting in front of Ralph Chapman was not dressed in the standard business-attire required for all who worked in his office. Instead, the young man was in jeans, a hooded sweatshirt, and sneakers. Normally such infractions would have resulted in immediate dismissal as well as purposeful tarnishing of the employee's reputation, but today’s ensemble was covered by the umbrella of special circumstances. After all, for what the aide had been doing, a suit would have stood out far too much.

               “Not even any furniture?”

               “No, sir. The office was completely bare. I sat around the front of the building for a while and overheard the landlord talking. The tenant paid off his entire lease, packed up in the middle of the night, and drove off. He said the man looked desperate to get out of town. Maybe he knew you were looking for him, sir.”

               Whoever Smitt was running from, it hadn’t been Ralph Chapman. Truthfully Ralph hadn’t even realized something might be wrong until the third day that he couldn’t reach his employee. When he sent the aide over he’d expected to find out Smitt was deep in surveillance or had drunk himself into a stupor. Vanishing in the night… that spoke to Smitt having crossed someone terrifying. Of course, he couldn’t tell the aide any of this, not after working so hard to keep his and Smitt’s arrangement a secret.

               “Yes, I suppose he must have,” Ralph agreed. “Though it’s a bit of an over-reaction; I just wanted to ask him some questions about his continued presence on campus. He might very well have had a perfectly good reason for being there, but then again I suppose his midnight fleeing tells us quite clearly that wasn’t the case.”

               “It does seem awfully incriminating,” the aide agreed. “Why would an innocent man run the minute you started looking at his activities?”

               Why indeed. Why had Smitt run? Was it because of Blaine and his flunkeys, or could it be related to that trio he’d been looking into since Halloween.

               “I can’t think of a good reason for it, but I suppose it’s one problem that solved itself,” Ralph said. “Why don’t you go ahead and take the rest of the day off, by the time you got properly dressed for work it would almost be day’s end anyway.”

               “Thank you, sir.” The aide took the cue and headed out the door.

               This wasn’t much of an office compared to Ralph’s space in Washington, just a generic building that the DVA leased a few floors in. They liked to have resources near any HCP, just in case the need for intervention or examination cropped up. It did come with a few perks, though. Good security, cubes for the lackeys, and well-furnished rooms to set up shop in.

               Ralph leaned back in his chair and set his feet up on the desk. He would never have done a thing so improper on his own furniture, but with a rental he showed significantly less care. At the moment, all he cared about was figuring out why Smitt had vanished. He’d taken a large risk paying that man without DVA approval, but it had been necessary. Everyone he used officially had been hoodwinked by Blaine and his people, coming up dry with dirt on Reynolds time after time. Ralph had been certain that someone off the grid would uncover the truth. Now it seemed highly possible Smitt had done just that, and said truth had sent him running for the hills.

               Honestly, Ralph didn’t blame Smitt for turning tail. Supers were a terrifying lot, when one got right down to it. They could do impossible things as easily as most men (or at least most men Ralph knew) would put on a tie. In a world of logic, reason, and order, they set themselves apart by spitting in the face of everything humanity had learned about biology and science. They broke the very laws of nature, so it stood to reason they would show little regard for the laws of man.

               Yes, the Heroes put on a good show, playing along to keep the masses placated, but Ralph wasn’t fooled. He knew they only paid lip-service while doing whatever they pleased in the shadows. That was why he’d clawed his way into the DVA, that was why he refused to swallow the Supers' rhetoric like many of his co-workers. And that was why he knew Vince Reynolds was hiding something, probably a lot of somethings. No one could spend a life with someone as cunning as Globe and come out pure. Sure, the kid looked squeaky clean, but so had Globe, right up until he killed his teammate.

               Ralph pulled his feet off the desk and stood up from his chair. He needed to find Smitt, to know what had spooked the man so badly he’d gone careening off in the night. It would be easy with DVA resources; they covered costs for sessions with Supers that had tracking powers and even kept a couple on the payroll for emergencies. Unfortunately, the non-standard situation regarding Smitt’s employment meant Ralph would have to handle things himself. It was one thing to lie to an aide, they were accustomed to running personal errands for the higher-ups. Falsely requisitioning or billing for resources was a far more serious offense. Not to mention all the paperwork involved even when things were on the up and up.

               No, this was a problem Ralph would have to handle on his own. It wouldn’t be easy, but as he opened his office door and headed down the hall, Ralph felt a sense of excitement rush over him. Smitt had found something, and if Ralph could run him down this might be the break he needed. Whatever magical guardian angel watched over Vince Reynolds would finally be outfoxed, and Ralph could tear down one more false Hero, this one before he ever even earned the title.

               At that last thought, Ralph’s pace quickened by several steps.