Chapter 99

               “So how does it feel, being back at your Alma Mater?” Professor Sean Pendleton asked. After his class had ended, he’d joined up with Blaine and Clarissa who were chatting in the dean’s office. The tall man breezed through the door and settled into one of the more comfortable chairs, unapologetically interrupting the conversation they’d already been having.

                “Odd, nostalgic, sad, fun, and quite a bit daring,” Clarissa replied.

                “Daring?” Blaine asked his question without turning his head; he was currently busy filling up water glasses for all of them.

                “Certainly, I am sitting in the dean’s office after all. Remember how many times Victor tried to goad us into breaking in here and toilet papering the place as a senior prank?”

                “Oh Victor, so much muscle, so little forethought,” Sean recalled. “Dean Merrick would have shit a chicken if we’d actually done that.”

                “As acting dean, I’ve seen a few students try to gain unauthorized entry, but I can say it is not procedure to excrete any kind of fowl as a reaction.”

                “Then tell us, Blaine, what do you do to them?” Clarissa asked.

                “Depends on the student. Most are talked into it by someone more persuasive or confident than themselves. They get a week of supplemental gym training.”

                Sean shivered involuntarily. He’d been on the receiving end of that sentence more than a few times in his Lander days. The professors had worn him down until even walking back to the dorms had required the assistance of his stronger classmates. Occasionally he’d have nightmares of being back here and getting handed the punishment, even all these decades later.

                “What about the ringleader?” Sean asked.

                “They get some punishment too, but I also tend to write them letters of recommendation if they haven’t taken an internship yet.” Blaine set a glass down in front of each guest and kept one for himself. Usually he preferred his bourbon when entertaining; however, he and Sean still had a day of work ahead of them.

                “A letter of recommendation… actually I can see that,” Clarissa said. “It takes serious leadership skills to get seniors to do something that dumb. Victor could never pull it off, not even when he got Sean on his side. The only ones who might have been able to talk us into it were Joshua and Phil.”

                The words slipped off her tongue before Clarissa could catch them in her lips, lingering in the air like a rotten stench. Phil was something she tried not to talk about, especially not with other members of her graduating class. It was just too much, too dangerous. Thankfully, Sean plowed right over it in his usual cavalier way.

                “I’ll give you those two, sure, but I think you might have been able to organize a successful raid. The way Victor and Casper both mooned over you, it would have been pretty easy to pull off.”

                “They weren’t that bad,” Clarissa said.

                “I’m with Sean on this one,” Blaine added. “Victor’s torch burned for you even after graduation. Or did you never notice how Bullrush always seemed to need lots of transport only when Shimmerpath was doing the coordination?”

                “By willful ignorance, I chose to believe it was just a coincidence.” Clarissa set her water down on the desk, gathering her composure. “Perhaps I should have kept that skill sharp; it might have kept me from seeing things today. It’s the boy with the silver hair, right?”

                “That obvious?” Blaine asked.

                “Not unless you’re looking for it, no. But once you are, it’s impossible to miss. His movements, his demeanor… the boy must have absolutely idolized Phil to have imitated him to such an extent.”

                “Phil was the first person to ever give Vince a family. He took him in, raised him by himself, taught the kid everything he knows about how to live,” Sean said. “What child wouldn’t idolize a person like that?”

                “Unfortunately, that very idolization is now causing Vince trouble,” Blaine added. “His association with the criminal known as Globe has put him under exceptional scrutiny. There are people searching for any reason they can find to bar him from the title of Hero.”

                “Fucking DVA lackeys,” Clarissa spat. “I got so sick of their bullshit toward the end; that’s why I went off the Hero-grid so completely. No one would leave me alone after the Globe fiasco, and I didn’t have Charles’s connections to make them back off. Let me know if there’s anything I can do for Vince. No one should have to deal with those pricks, especially not a kid.”

                “There actually might be something you can do,” Blaine said slowly. “A small side-project that may come to fruition, and if it does then someone with your abilities would be priceless to have.”

                “This is news to me,” Sean said.

                “I’m keeping it quiet until I see if it actually goes anywhere. Until then, all I can say is that you, Clarissa, and you as well, Sean, would make a great difference to have on hand.”

                “Blaine, one question,” Clarissa replied. “Was this whole thing, bringing me out to speak to the kids, just a set-up for asking me to help on your hush-hush project?”

                “Of course not,” Blaine said. “The split was forty to sixty, at most.”

                “Which side was forty?”

                “You said only one question,” Blaine reminded her.

                “You’re a real ass, you know that?” Clarissa said. “Alright, you win. Count me in for whatever shenanigans you’ve got planned. Whatever it is, I trust that you’ve got the kids’ best interests at heart.”

*              *              *

                Ralph Chapman put the pictures down and slid them back across the table. “What do we know so far?”

                “She lives in an apartment with a large Asian man just off-campus.” The speaker was an unassuming man, almost totally unremarkable except for the dark bushy mustache perched atop his lip. “As you can see from the photographs, there’s clearly a pre-existing relationship with Reynolds. Right after the kissing broke up, she fled the club with her roommate and young man who lives next door to them.”

                Another picture was handed to Ralph, who looked it over. “He’s wearing a mask.”

                “It was Halloween.”

                “You’re being paid to find answers, Smitt, not excuses.”

                “Which is why I jimmied open his mailbox, grabbed some letters, and looked at his name,” Smitt replied. “It was Dig Bixby. Obviously fake. The girl’s mail identified her as Eloise Toggle, which is presumably not real either. I couldn’t find any information on a girl with that name fitting her age and description. I can keep digging, but it will take me away from watching Reynolds, and I know he’s your first priority.”

                Ralph Chapman drummed his fingers on the worn-table. Smitt’s office was small and dark, the sort of place that was easy to overlook. It suited him perfectly, but Ralph was feeling stifled.

                “I want everything you can find on this girl,” Ralph finally decided. “We haven’t found any avenues of information on Vince Reynolds so far; Blaine and the others have clearly covered up everything. This girl seems to have surprised him, though. Perhaps she can give us the real scoop on the son of Globe.”

                “You’re the boss,” Smitt replied. “I’ll get to work tonight.”

                “Good. Call me the minute you find something. I can’t wait to tear down the web of lies that the Lander HCP has spun.”