Chapter 195

                Adam had always expected that when this moment came there would be lots of shouting, probably from people in colorful masks as he was beaten and restrained. Something suitably dramatic for a discovery of such magnitude. Instead there was nothing but a simple note on his pillow. Just the words “I Know” along with a date, time, and address. With that alone he would have had little to go on, although the number of people who could have found him out was quite limited. There was no need to begin speculating on who’d uncovered his secret, however.

                After all, who else but Nick Campbell would write a note like that on a playing card?

                It was a bold move, letting a potential enemy know who was setting the meeting, but Nick had always been one to favor high-stakes gambles. In this case, Adam found it somewhat prudent. If he’d had no idea who sent the note then he would have needed to contact Globe and begin pulling out of Lander as fast as possible. There were bolt bags tucked away all over campus, and Adam knew the schedules of Supers with powers he could borrow that might be handy for escape. But to be uncovered by Nick… maybe that wasn’t so bad. Globe himself had worked with the former student in May, giving Nick enough power to help sway the outcome of the attack against Lander. Besides which, if Nick wanted to turn him in then he wouldn’t bother setting up a meeting. No, Nick wanted something else; maybe this was just the leverage he was using to get it. There was also the possibility it could be an elaborate trap, but again Adam couldn’t see why Nick would bother when he’d already had the element of surprise.

                There wasn’t enough time to reach out and hear back from Globe through the usual channels before the meeting was set, so Adam had to make this call on his own. Maybe it was naïve, but he didn’t see the harm in taking the meeting. Nick already had him dead-to-rights, all he had to do was tell Dean Blaine and the whole jig was up. There was nothing he could be bringing to a secret meeting that was worse than the full might of the HCP coming down on Adam’s head… unless he planned to kill Adam before any investigation could take place. It was possible, albeit not terribly likely. While Nick certainly had no qualms about taking life, he wasn’t the sort to throw away a useful resource. Odds were good that this was a meeting to talk terms, not bury Adam in a shallow grave.

                Still, Adam did intend to go grab some useful powers before the deadline. He was the first to admit Nick was among the craftiest bastards Adam had ever met, and there very well might be an aspect to this meeting Adam hadn’t figured out. Better to be prepared, just in case. Getting booted from Lander, even captured by the Heroes, all of that was fine if the mission demanded it, but Adam couldn’t allow himself to die. Not yet. Not until he’d taken revenge for his family. He’d made a promise to those graves, and no one was going to stop him from keeping it.

                Slipping on a coat to fight the failing winter chills, Adam tucked the playing card carefully into his pocket and got on the move. Not much time to work in, so he’d have to be quick. Nick didn’t strike him as the type to tolerate tardiness.

*             *             *

                Eliza had settled on dinner as Vince’s distraction. By the time he’d finish with training and classes it would be too late for coffee, and dinner implied a longer engagement anyway. She’d gone out of her way to pick a place that didn’t send the wrong message though, a chain restaurant with garish junk and pictures all over the walls. It was the least romantic destination she could picture, chosen specifically so that neither Vince nor Camille would get the wrong idea. If the dinner came off as suspicious, Vince might feel morally inclined to refuse or leave early, neither of which were allowable options. Instead, Eliza had framed it as a meal between friends who needed to catch up with one another, the sort of meeting that could stretch on as long as she needed it too if Nick didn’t wrap things up quickly.

                As soon as she arrived, Eliza knew she’d done her job well. Vince was already there, punctual as always, waiting for her in the restaurant’s lobby. Loud off-pitch voices could be heard over the awful music warbling from the speakers in every corner, probably the staff singing for a birthday. At least Eliza hoped that was what it was, if they sang like that through the whole evening she might cut dinner short and just hope no one went after Vince. Well, she’d be tempted too, anyway.

                “Good to see you.” Vince wrapped her in a hug that felt instantly familiar no matter how many years went between them. She hugged him back, then pulled away quickly. Professional and friendly, that was her role here.

                “You too. It’s been a while,” Eliza replied. She felt a pang of regret even as she said it, but making Vince feel a little guilty over his schedule now would ensure he didn’t leave before things were safe later on. “Senior year really kicking the crap out of you, huh?”

                “Between the job, the classes, and the tests I feel like I’m living off a few hours’ sleep during the week. But it only gets busier in the real world, so I’ve got to adapt to this while I can.” Vince walked with Eliza up to the hostess station, where they were led immediately off to one of the booths along a wall. They passed three tables of children, two of which were openly screaming, and Eliza barely resisted the urge to congratulate herself on choice of locale yet again. Not even Nick in his Vegas prime could have pulled a romantic vibe out of a place like this.

                They were seated and greeted in rapid succession, their poor waiter looking as though he was on hour ten of a double shift, and then they were left on their own as drinks were fetched. Eliza expected the conversation to start right up; however she noticed that Vince had fallen suddenly silent. He was staring at the wall of their booth, and once Eliza followed his gaze it wasn’t hard to figure out why.

                Among the knick-knacks and photos on the wall there was a framed black and white picture, probably meant to evoke a rustic sentiment. If it had been of farm equipment or a log cabin it might have worked, unfortunately neither was the subject of the photo. Instead, there was a moonshine still propped up in the woods, poorly covered by foliage. For most people it was probably nothing more than one more bit of trash on the wall, but she and Vince had their own memories of an abandoned still, ones that were good and bad all mixed together in a way she’d never truly untangled.

                “Do you want me to see about getting another booth?” Eliza asked.

                Vince tore his gaze from the photo immediately. “No no, this is fine. Sorry for spacing out. I just thought it was funny, how you and I keep happening upon these things.”

                The flood of memories between them threatened to collapse the flimsy table of their booth, so Eliza lifted a menu and buried her eyes in it. That was not the part of their life to be thinking about right now. She had to be calm, collected, and in control. She had to keep Vince here happily, because there was no chance of over-powering him if he decided to leave. Sooner or later the nostalgic sentiment would evaporate and things would be back to normal.

                Where was another screaming kid when she really needed one?