Chapter 93

                “These four?” Crispin scanned the document carefully, taking in the hours of research that Sherman had spent compiling their agents’ reports.

                “They’re the likeliest candidates,” Sherman replied. “Aside from the fact that they visit him regularly, several of them have rather curious histories. Nothing overt that I could dig up, you know how well the HCP covers it’s students tracks, but certainly a few irregularities. The boy with silver hair, for instance, Vince Reynolds. Aside from an obvious marking of a Super, the files I found on him were much too clean. Homeschooled most of his life by a parent who passed away just before college began, strong scores on the SAT but not so great as to draw attention, no worthwhile accomplishments or missteps to investigate, it’s all too tightly wrapped up. Like someone crafted the story without any loose ends to pull on, just in case someone else went digging around.”

                “I suspect you’re right there, but it could just as easily mean that he’s a Super with a checkered past.” Crispin’s eyes moved steadily, examining every word and detail with relentless scrutiny. “Picking out the Powereds will take more than hunches. Do any of them have people to lean on? Someone who might let a few crucial details slip under pressure?”

                Sherman had anticipated this line of questioning, and was prepared for it. “As you know, we can’t go after anyone tied to Nicholas. With the Heroes already out for blood, the last thing we need is the criminal world turned against us as well. Alice Adair, the tall blonde, is the daughter of Charles Adair. Reaching him would take far more resources than we have, perhaps more than we possessed even before the attack on Lander. Vince Reynolds has no family, at least according to the file. Mary Smith, however, has an entire extended family still living, and Hershel Daniels has a mother and father, though they’re divorced.”

                “Smith or Daniels then, if we want to dig deeper,” Crispin said. “A lone parent is easier to chat up than an entire group, so Daniels’ family seems the better target. Neither of them remarried?”

                “Not according to public record,” Sherman said. “Sally Daniels still lives in Chicago, while Owen moved out to Brewster.”

                Crispin’s eyebrow rose ever-so-slightly. “Lot of Heroes in that town. If we assume Hershel to be in the HCP, then we have to allow for some chance that he’s a legacy. Were you able to uncover why his father was in Brewster?”

                “Bar consultant.” Sherman had needed to dig deep to find this information, as employment records weren’t so easily accessed. He missed having a whole research team at his disposal, along with a few Supers that could get them into nearly any system. Still, the job went on, so he’d persevered. “He owned his own bar for a long while, then got headhunted to manage a few others when the local economy around his place began to tank.”

                “Hmm.” Crispin finally looked away from the file, meeting Sherman’s eyes for the first time all meeting. “I know we’re low on manpower, so investigate the mother first. There are Heroes in both towns, but a sudden move to Brewster strikes me as a touch too coincidental. If she doesn’t show any openings, then we move on to the father. And when the time to approach comes, send our best. We can’t afford to squander a potential lead.”

                “Yes, sir.” Sherman turned and strode out of the small concrete room, careful to keep the door opened for as short a time as possible. Deep down, he couldn’t help wondering if perhaps Crispin was putting too much into what was ultimately a longshot. They were assuming so much for any of this to be worthwhile: that Nick was a former Powered and socialized with others who shared the same distinction, that if they discovered who the former Powereds were it would even lead them closer to finding out how the conversion had happened. That they would then be able to steal the information for themselves. So much depended on shaky possibilities, the odds very clearly said this was nothing more than tilting at windmills.

                But once, when Crispin had proposed the idea of weakening Heroes by attacking an HCP, others had called it mad. Sherman had given his leader faith then, and in repayment he’d been witness to the first true blow against the so-called unassailable HCP.

                If anyone could turn a longshot into a success, it was Crispin. And Sherman would do all he could to help see that victory realized.

*             *             *

                According to the reports, it had been a perfectly normal Halloween party. The students drank too much, wore silly costumes, and a few ended up leaving together despite arriving alone. They’d even kept the noise contained enough to avoid having the cops called, though given how crazy the college town got on Halloween it wasn’t a terribly hard accomplishment to achieve. No matter what angle Ralph Chapman looked at the reports from, there was simply nothing suspicious about Nick’s party.

                Which was of course why he knew something important had been going on there. Underestimating Nick was an easy mistake to make, and Ralph had certainly been guilty of it early on. But to keep underestimating him was pure folly, and that was a sin Ralph refused to commit. Nick didn’t do anything, from taking a piss to tying his shoes, without at least three reasons that tied into various schemes, or at least that was how it felt. Something this big, that went to such efforts to look normal, had to be concealing a serious secret.

                Unfortunately, Ralph could only dedicate so many people to spying on a Halloween party without drawing suspicion from the higher ups. Much as he enjoyed the manpower and presence of having other DVA agents on site, it had been a lot easier to get things done the year before. As it was, he’d had to concoct a thin-suspicion that powers might be used around regular people, and that had only gotten him a pair of agents to watch the party through the windows.

                It hadn’t been entirely fruitless, however. While no one had seen anything suspicious inside the event itself, the agents had noticed a car parked nearby, with someone else who looked an awful lot like they were doing surveillance of their own. Ralph wouldn’t put it past Nick to hire a fake spy just to send the DVA on a wild goose chase, but he also couldn’t afford to ignore the possibility that someone was trying to gather intel on HCP students. That was the sort of thing the DVA took damn seriously, which meant Ralph was going to be able to requisition plenty of resources to dig into it.

                And, if in the process, he so happened to find out what Nick was up to this time, then it would be a happy coincidence. Ralph would have to be careful, strategic, and thorough to make it work though. At no point in any area of the operation could he afford to count on luck.

                After all, so far as he knew luck only bent to one master, and that was the man Ralph was playing against.