… EPISODE TWELVE…
Rebel has absolutely no tolerance for listening to Jeremy spout a stream of nonstop computer tech-speak, interspersed with the occasional conspiracy theory. Neither do I. Which is why when she starts for the paved path that winds a circle through the park, I follow her.
Well, that and I’ve been waiting to get her alone.
“We need to talk,” I say as I catch up with her.
“Can you save the lecture for another night?”
“It’s not a lecture,” I tell her. “I just… I’m worried about you.”
“There’s nothing to worry about.” She twists her head, cracking her neck.
She doesn’t get it. She’s my best friend. I’m always worried about her.
“Reb, are you sure about Dante?” I ask after a second. “What if he’s just using you to gain access to the heroes? To get insider information they can use against us?”
Her spine stiffens. In that moment she looks exactly like her dad. “I’m sure.”
“It’s just…” I don’t know how to say this without totally setting her off. But it’s important, so I take my chances. “It seems really…convenient that the son of the villain leader is interested in the daughter of the president of the League.”
She lets out a sharp breath, and for the first time I can see the cracks in her strong façade. The stress and strain are wearing on her. I don’t want to add to the burden, but I have to be sure.
“Dante doesn’t care about any of that,” she insists. “He loves me. Me,” she repeats. “Not what I can do for him, not who my father is, but me. Do you know how hard that is to find in the superhero world?”
“But how can you be sure?” I ask. “If heroes are really doing these horrible things—”
She cuts me off with a disbelieving glare. “If?”
“Okay, they are. But if they’ve been at this for decades like Draven says, don’t you think it’s possible that Dante looked at you and saw access, not a smart, cool girl he wanted to hang out with?”
She clenches her jaw and increases her speed. I have to double my pace to keep up.
God, I feel like an ass, but someone needs to look out for her. “I’m sorry, Reb, but you have to admit it’s a pretty big coincidence.”
“He didn’t know,” she blurts. “When we met, he had no idea I was even a super, let alone a hero.”
I want to believe her. Really, I do. I mean, Dante doesn’t seem like a bad guy, but he’s a villain. And villains always have an ulterior motive.
“You can’t know that,” I argue. “He could have—”
She stops abruptly, her blue eyes flashing. “I went after him, okay? I covered my hero mark and went to the Lair looking for someone who knew as well as I did that
heroes were hypocrites. I didn’t want to be alone in this anymore. I’m the one who wanted access.”
“The Lair?” I echo.
A notorious villain nightclub, the Lair has a reputation for epic brawls and SHPD raids. The club’s surrounded by enough protections—including an invisibility shield—that an ordinary like me couldn’t even see it unless they already knew where to look. It’s bad news.
The idea that Rebel not only went there, but went looking to hook up with a villain… If I’d known, I’d have had a heart attack.
“You went alone?” I whisper.
She shrugs like it’s no big deal.
“He assumed I was a villain, and I let him believe it for a few weeks. I didn’t tell him the truth until I was sure of him.”
I stare at my best friend. She is full of secrets. I’m not sure whether I should be impressed or terrified. I can’t even keep the tiniest secrets from her.
“So, no,” she says, getting back to my original question, “Dante isn’t using me. If anything, I was using him.”
Without waiting for me to respond, she strides down the path.
I’m not sure if this revelation makes me trust Dante any more or Rebel any less. Maybe both. Maybe neither. Either way, I’m ashamed to find out that my best friend felt so alone she had to seek out a villain to make her feel whole, and I was clueless.
Dante seems like a decent guy, but what if she’d found someone else? Someone dangerous.
Despite all the secrets and deception, she’s still my best friend. Whether I believe Dante’s innocent or not, for now we’re all on the same team. And that means Rebel and I have one more thing to talk about.
I catch up with her, and when we’re shielded from view behind a stand of trees, I grab Rebel by the elbow and pull her to a stop.
“Listen,” I say, “the guys can’t go in with us.”
Rebel rolls her eyes. “Try telling them that.”
“Seriously Reb. You heard Jeremy. That villain signature sensor is serious business. If they get within fifty yards of the lab, it’ll set off every alarm on campus. We’ll all be toast. Including Deacon and maybe my mom.”
“Then what do you suggest we do?” she asks. “They’re not exactly in a reasonable mood. Am I supposed to levitate them onto a roof or something?”
I shake my head. “They’d find a way down.”
“You’re right.” She lets out a little laugh. “Dante loves to use his wind to fly.”
It’s my turn to roll my eyes. Boys.
“We’d almost have to lock them in somewhere,” I say, thinking out loud. “Somewhere they couldn’t get out of. Somewhere safe.”
I run through all the possibilities I can think of. My house, clearly out. So is anyone else’s. I would love to see traditional stud-and-siding construction hold Draven and Dante for more than an instant.
“The vault in the lab would be perfect,” I muse. “Except for the fact that it’s in the lab and Nitro blew its hinges to bits last night.”
“Right,” she says with a snort. Then, “Wait. That’s it!”
“That’s what? Those are two big reasons why we can’t use the vault.”
“Not the vault,” she says, a smug smile spreading across her face. “Nitro.”
As if that makes more sense?
“Follow my lead.”
I hardly have a choice when she grabs me by the wrist and drags me back to the picnic table.
• • •
“Are you sure this is going to work?” I whisper as Jeremy pulls his van into the crowded parking lot.
She nods. Then pokes Jeremy in the ribs.
“Yeah,” he says too loudly, “six gallons ought to do it.”
“Tell me again why we need cranberry juice?” Draven asks.
Jeremy swallows. “The, um, acid will corrode the, um, sensors in the villain signature readers.”
Rebel gives him a death glare. He doesn’t need me to translate that it means, Way to sell it, moron.
“Whatever, man.” Dante shakes his head before climbing out of the van. “Let’s get this and get going.”
Draven jumps out after him.
I exchange a nervous look with Rebel, and then we follow the boys into the Lair.
Inside, it’s everything I’d always imagined a villain nightclub would look like in the wee hours of a Saturday morning. Dark, crowded, and full of pounding music and flashing lights. And leather. Lots and lots of black leather.
It’s like hero nightclubs, to be honest (sans the leather), but it feels more dangerous.
We weave our way through the crowd to the bar, where Draven and Dante exchange nods with a huge bouncer-looking dude pouring vodka shots. A massive tattoo of a desert-like landscape broken with jagged cracks and steaming fissures covers his shoulder and upper arm.
Everyone in the super world knows that tattoo and the badder-than-badass villain it
belongs to. Nitro’s brother, Quake.
I shiver and grab Rebel’s hand.
Then the boys are pushing through a door that leads to a brightly lit back room. Compared to the flashing lights in the club, the fluorescent lighting is like stepping into a sunny day on the beach. This commercial kitchen serves up the bar food for the hungry villains out there dancing the night away.
“Oi, I didn’t know you lot were coming around tonight,” Nitro calls out when he sees the guys. His gaze flicks to Rebel, not betraying any hint of the hushed phone call she had with him less than an hour ago.
When he sees me, his façade almost falters. But instead of asking, “Why is the chick who tossed a fire extinguisher at my skull here?” he simply says, “And you brought a pair of pretty birds with you too.”
“We need a few things,” Draven says cryptically. “Okay if we raid your fridge?”
Nitro shrugs. “Fine by me.”
Draven yanks open the door of the giant walk-in refrigerator. The inside is lined with wire shelves loaded with produce, packages of meat, and giant containers of juices, sauces, and salsas. Rebel and I hang back as the guys head for the giant jugs of cranberry juice.
Rebel hesitates as Draven pulls the scarlet juice from the shelf.
“Do it now,” I whisper.
She doesn’t move, but Draven does. He whips around, eyes narrowed. Guilt must be written on our faces because he drops the juice, sprinting for the door. It doesn’t take a genius to know that Dante will be close behind.
I spring to action, swinging the door closed myself.
“Rebel!” Dante yells.
“I’m sorry!” she shouts back as the door clicks shut.
“Now, Nitro!” I throw all of my weight against the door, holding the handle so they can’t release the catch from the inside. It won’t hold back two furious villains for long, but hopefully it will give the flamethrower enough time to create a seal.
Nitro already has a bright green fireball burning between his palms. I dodge left as it comes flying toward me. The ball barely misses me and connects with the door handle. There is a sizzling sound of metal melting and then nothing but the soft thud of fists pounding against the door from inside the fridge.
“Hey,” I complain, examining my elbow. Nitro’s latest got closer than I thought. “You hit me.”
His mouth quirks into an angry smirk. “And here I thought my aim was downright heroic. Saved the day, didn’t I?”
I’m about ready to snap back, but Rebel’s soft voice stops me.
“You can get them out, right?” she asks him. “When we’re done?”
Nitro’s antagonism melts away. He squeezes Rebel’s shoulder. “Without a doubt.”
“They’re going to be so pissed,” she says, looking a little sick at the thought.
I nod. “And cold. The faster we get back here, the better.”
“I’ll stay with them,” Nitro tells Rebel. “Don’t you worry.”
She pulls him into one of her signature Rebel hugs and I laugh as his eyes bug out.
Even villains aren’t immune to her suffocating displays of affection.
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“Come on,” I say, taking her by the hand. “Let’s do this.”
….. Posted by uc beverly…..