Chapter 189

               Ralph Chapman slipped through the front door of his apartment, unsurprised to find an intruder sitting on his couch. He let out a long sigh and hefted his groceries the rest of the way in, walking into the kitchen and setting them on the counter. As he finished dropping them off, he glanced at the knife block a few feet away on his counter. For a moment, Ralph considered picking up a weapon to bring with him back into the living room. Ultimately, he left the kitchen unarmed. If this idiot decided to attack him, then that was the way things would go. It had been many years since Ralph Chapman feared death, and he saw no reason to start letting such a base urge rule his decisions.

                “I have a phone, you know,” Ralph said to his uninvited guest.

                “But face to face is just so much more personable,” Nick replied. He had his feet resting on the coffee table and was idly playing a game on his smart phone, which he quickly put away at the sound of Ralph’s voice. “Besides, technology isn’t something I like to trust easily. Too many ways for it to be compromised.”

                “Give us a little credit; DVA technology is as secure as it comes.” Ralph took a seat in his recliner, somewhat wishing he’d bothered to grab a soda while in the kitchen.

                “Oh, so you want me contacting you through DVA channels? The sort that are often recorded and monitored for extra security?”

                “Fine, you make a good point. But how do you know you won’t drop by when Nathaniel is paying me a visit?” Ralph asked.

                Nick nodded his head out the window. “I have people keeping watch on him. Besides, I’ve caused some trouble for him back at home, which means he’s a little too busy to worry about you at the moment. Thanks for the heads up, by the way.”

                “It was either tell you or report it through official channels; I couldn’t very well just let him try and ambush a bunch of Supers in a public place like that. Innocent people could have gotten hurt.”

                “Innocent people like the Supers he was targeting,” Nick pointed out. He didn’t push the issue much, partially because he realized that Ralph wouldn’t be coming around overnight, and partially because at the moment he needed this relationship to stay a step ahead of Nathaniel. “Was he suspicious that we intercepted his people?”

                “He might have been, if I’d come off as accommodating,” Ralph replied. He got up from his chair and headed back toward the kitchen, deciding he did want that soda bad enough after all. “As soon as he told me there was a problem I lit into him about wasting my time and threatened to cut off contact. The boy was too busy playing defense to worry about making accusations. He did say something interesting though.”

                Nick waited until the older man had returned with his beverage before speaking; he found yelling in such a small place to be particularly tactless. “Dare I even ask what Nathaniel told you?”

                “You should, though I’m not sure why you’d want to. He said that the next attempt would be much broader, and that there was no way for you to foil it.”

                “So then, he’ll attack multiple targets at once,” Nick surmised, leaning slightly forward on the couch. For a moment, his mask of composed boredom slipped away and Ralph could see the wheels turning in Nick’s head. He’d read everything he could find about the young man from Vegas with the power to effect luck, and not one document managed to capture what dealing with Nicholas Campbell was actually like. Ralph shuddered to think what he would have been capable of if Nick had actually made it to Hero status.

                “Think he’ll do it publicly?” Ralph asked, more groping for something to say than because he needed the answer.

                “Fits his motive. He’s trying to win favor with you by making them break cover, which means the more people around, the better. Of course, he’s also keeping it public because he knows that’s the only way some of them will break cover.”

                “Don’t be ridiculous, any of them will show their power if its self-defense.”

                Nick slowly shook his head, his eyes heavy as he contemplated countless situations. “Mary might, she’s a bit more skittish than she likes to let on ever since the kidnapping. Alice is hard to say, but I think she’d find a way to escape. The only reason she whipped Nathaniel like a dog the first time is because I was in danger. Hershel has a complex about being helpless, so he might try and take on an attacker without Roy’s help, but that one is fifty-fifty either way. And Vince, your silver-haired white whale, would never break the rules unless other people were in danger.”

                “Vince Reynolds has a history of fighting outside class and losing control. I find it highly doubtful that he’d resist the urge to use his abilities, regardless of if it meant others were getting injured,” Ralph replied. His tone was even, but firm.

                “Vince has a history of getting jumped outside class, and as for the self-control thing only one of those times was his fault,” Nick said. His own voice was just as hard as Ralph’s; neither men were willing to give an inch on the issue. “Besides, there’s a pragmatic reason Vince wouldn’t use his powers: he wouldn’t need them. Aside from people with physically based Super abilities, Vince is one of the best hand-to-hand fighters I’ve ever seen, and I grew up around a lot of fighting. Trust me, if he’s busting out the big guns, it means other people are in danger.”

                “To be frank, I don’t trust you,” Ralph said, pausing to take a long swig of his drink. “But of the two criminals who have approached me, you’re the not the one whose plans involved endangering innocent bystanders, so at the moment you’re the best of my bad options.”

                “You’d be surprised how often people have called me that,” Nick said, leaning back into the couch with a wistful grin upon his face. “Though usually they’re female, and quite a bit younger than you.”

                “Very cute, but let’s stick to business. Are you going to be able to stop Nathaniel’s next attack?”

                “If you can get us details: definitely. If he tries to surprise you with it: maybe,” Nick admitted. “I’m doing all I can to cripple Nathaniel’s resources, but a few things aren’t adding up. He’s lost a lot of favor with his family in the last few years, yet somehow he’s bankrolled this revenge mission against me and been able to grab multiple goon squads. Until I can find and destroy his support structure, we have to keep reacting to his moves.”

                “I’ll get as much out of him as I can,” Ralph said. He didn’t care for either of these children, but he would be damned if he allowed regular people to get hurt on his watch. The DVA and Heroes could only act in the aftermath, and he couldn’t order an investigation without more evidence; not without coming clean on every rule he’d broken in his pursuit of Vince Reynold’s crimes. At the moment, Nick Campbell was his best shot at keeping Nathaniel Evers contained.

                At least, until he was able to finally show the world what kind of monster Vince Reynolds truly was.