Truth. Justice. Minesweeper.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Today's big chore was chauffeur duty. This is the thing I have to do second-most-often, after the costume pickups and dropoffs. I got a call from Greyghost midafternoon, telling me to pick him up outside the Cathcart Building at exactly 8:47 tonight. He does this a lot. He doesn't mean 8:46 or 8:48. He means eight-forty-freaking-seven. Every day we both have to synchronize our watches to the atomic clock in Colorado. And let me just mention here that the atomic clock guys hate getting phone calls.

Anyway, I had all day to figure out where the Cathcart Building was--right downtown; it's a bank tower--so I was able to time things pretty well, and I pulled up outside the building at 8:46:20. No Greyghost.

I did see a blob, though, bobbing down the street. It was shaped like most of a guy's right arm, shoulder, and upper right torso, and the arm part was pumping back and forth as the whole thing floated down the street toward me at about running speed.

While I was figuring out that what I was seeing was an invisible dude who had been hit by some kind of entangling glop weapon, not a concept that comes easily to mind, he pulled open the rear door and dove in. "Drive!" he said.

"As if," I told him. "Do I look like a cab?"

He came into view (blond guy in a black bodysuit) and waved a gun at me. Not a regular gun; this one looked like it was made out of blue glass or something. "Drive, damn you!" he said.

"What's that do?" I was still looking around for Greyghost, but there was no sign of him.

Invisible Dude shot the sandwich I had brought along with me, and it disappeared. "Drive, or you're next," he said.

The sandwich hadn't made a noise when it disappeared. I reached for where it was, and it was in fact still there. Just invisible. "Neat," I said. "How long's it last?"

There was a crash above, and broken glass rained down on the car. A huge guy in some kind of purple combat armor jumped down after it, firing a blaster in all directions as he rolled to his feet on the sidewalk. "Drive, please," Invisible Dude said.

I patched out.

"Where we going?" I asked.

"Far. I need to put as much distance as I can between me and that evil purple son of a bitch, not to mention that spooky bastard Greyghost." He was trying to peel the black goo off his clothes and skin, without much success.

"You can turn invisible. Why don't you just get out at the next block? Who'd know?"

"Why don't you just keep your mouth shut and drive?"

"Okay," I said agreeably, and turned the radio on. If I had read my man correctly, the rap station was the one I wanted. I turned the volume up to max.

"What the hell!" Invisible Dude said. "Turn that crap down!"


"Turn it down!"

"Can't hear you. Radio's too loud."

He tried to reach over the seat to the volume knob, but I started swerving around and he backed off. I turned it down.

"You can turn invisible. Why don't you just get out at the next block? Who'd know?"

"I said shut up."

"We can listen to some more music if you don't want to talk. Or I could just stop the car."

"There's a tracking gizmo embedded in this crap on my arm. Marauder's following us. We need to buy time so I can get it off me." I checked the rearview mirror. I thought I could see a big purple guy on a purple motorbike a few blocks back.

"Good reason," I said. "What can I call you?"


"Not, like, Jeff or Dave or anything?"

"I'm not telling you my real name. Are you nuts?"

"There's a fine line between genius and insanity. And Einstein never called himself 'Fade'."

My cellphone rang. That would be Greyghost, wondering where his car is.

"Do you mind if I get that?" I asked politely. "It's probably my boss with some kind of work-related problem."

"Watch what you say," Fade said. "Or I'll stick this raygun through your skull."

"I'll be good," I said. If someone had told me what was going to happen tonight, I would have been pretty scared. Taken hostage, more or less, by a supervillain? No thank you. But now that it had actually happened? My sister is scarier than Fade on his best day. Screw him; this could get fun. What's he going to do; make me invisible for a while? Big deal. It would have approximately zero effect on my life. I answered the phone. "Norman Conquest speaking."

"I assume Fade used you to make his getaway."

"Yes, sir."

"Marauder is following you. He's dangerous, but he won't catch you if you keep moving."

"Yes, sir." Fade was listening intently to me.

"Take him to the office in the Plaza on Twelfth. I'll arrange for some kind of reception for him. In the meantime I'll handle Marauder. Can you do that?"

"It'll be on your desk first thing in the morning," I promised him.

"Mm," he said, and hung up.

"Turn here," Fade said, gesturing to our right.

"You want to use Lafferty as a getaway route?" I asked him, driving straight through the intersection. "There're a million lights. Marauder would be actually inside your ass before the second red. What'd you do to him, anyway?"

"He was stealing some bearer bonds out of a bank. I snuck in behind to steal them from him. Only Greyghost was there after Marauder and we all surprised each other and the whole thing got screwed up. So I got the bonds, but now everyone's after me."

"Wow," I said, heading north toward Twelfth Street. "Cool. So it must be great being able to turn invisible."

He grinned, for the first time since I'd met him. "There's nothing like it. You walk around, nobody can see you, you really realize how stupid everybody is. It's like you own the world and nobody can do anything to stop you. It's a great feeling. Such a rush."

"And you just go around stealing stuff?" I couldn't see Marauder in the mirror anymore.

Fade snorted. "What do you want me to do? Work? Work is for the visibles. Nobody ever tells me to have anything on their desk in the morning, I'll tell you that much. 'Yes, sir', 'Yes, sir'. Makes me sick."

"Yeah, well. It's not always so bad."

"Like hell. If you had the choice between kissing some guy's ass for minimum wage and super powers, you'd take Door Number Two in a damn heartbeat. That's the first thing I learned. The world is jealous of guys like me. I'm better than them and they can't handle it."

"Unfortunately, nobody's offering me the choice. Did you have a choice?"

"No," he said, going thoughtful. "No, I had this dream one night . . . about this ghost . . . and then when I woke up I wasn't there. God, I was scared. I didn't know what the hell was going on."

"That's it? You had a dream? I've had millions of dreams and I never got super powers. What kind of a deal is that?"

"I can't explain it," he said, turning around to look for Marauder.

"Listen, do you have any idea where you're going?"

"Just keep driving."

"'Cause my office is near here, and we've probably got some stuff around that can get that thing off your arm. And it's not like anybody's going to figure that's where we're going."

"Yeah. Do that. I think we left him behind anyway."

The office I was headed for was another one of the James Street holdings. I had a key for it. It was the third floor of one of the smaller wings of a big office plaza that sprawled over the corner of Twelfth and Hughes. I guess Greyghost figured there'd be nobody in there at this time of night.

We pulled into the parking garage, and I took us up the elevator to the third floor. My key let us in an unlabeled door near the elevator bay, and Fade followed unquestioningly.

Inside the door was a big muscular guy of indeterminate race who whipped a telephone-pole-like arm out, grabbed Fade, and basically folded him in half. The guy was just wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and Reeboks, but he had a big canvas carpenter's belt on with a couple of exotic-looking doodads attached. I recognized him.

"You're Torque," I said. I didn't know a lot about superheroes before this job, but even I had heard of Torque. He'd been, like, the most famous guy in the country for a couple of years now.

"The papers call me Torque," he corrected me amiably, picking up some handy clothesline (must've brought it with him) and tying every part of the dazed Fade to every other part. "I prefer Bob. You're Dennis? Once I stow this guy in a mailbox or something, I feel like grabbing a beer. C'mon along, if you want."

"Great. Hey, check it out--invisible bearer bonds," I said, holding up an invisible plastic bag.

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