I came to give you this. I need you to be safe, Sam. I need you to get away from the city until everything blows over. Go to the house on the lake, it’s basically a dead zone there.
Betty looked at the booth in the corner locating Joaquin staring back on her. His eyes were telling, no time, be quick, you’ve said your goodbye. The rest of his posse clocked her too, one hovering at the counter, one stalling by the restrooms, one exploring by the exit, one waiting in line. She didn’t even know their names even after months together. Even after finding Joaquin in the dead of night on Whitbey Island among the beating of the restless waters, she didn’t remember their names. They dubbed themselves with silly pseudonyms made up from the mouths of people admiring or fearing them – Nightwave, Quake, Cosma, Kid Vision. It had been such a relief seeing Joaquin’s face but their roles had switched. She flinched at the thought of taking orders from him. The kid was damned stubborn. If he was a bit younger, she’d have called him precocious.
The shine in Joaquin’s eyes was tension mixed with excitement. He relished being out in the open like this, with “regular” customers sitting at a diner. They had to go. She knew that all faces were recognizable if one lingered too long, looked too closely. But for the life of her, Betty couldn’t stand up right now, vigilantes be damned. Her hand rested against the cold of her gun. Her pocket felt heavy.
“Look I know you’re in some kind of trouble, I mean I saw the news, I’ve seen the news, but it’ll all blow off right? You should come and stay with me until its safe.”
Poor Sam, little did he know. It was blowing out of proportion and she had crossed every line possible. Was it worth it? To keep Joaquin safe, to aid him in his crusade, if that was a good word for it, Betty didn’t know. After all she was still following Massey’s instructions even indirectly. Trailing like a ghost after people with extraordinary abilities, watching them strike down, urging herself to not point her gun, scream “Police,” and intervene as she was taught.
Betty’s eyes caught a fast-moving shadow outside. She traced the figure of a hooded man rushing outside the window. It happened in a split second. He neared a young woman leaning in as if for a kiss, for a whisper but she shoved him back, the connection broken there. He turned to run, emotions changing fast, his hood slipping back revealing just some boy, but she was quicker, she was prepared and tripped him. He fell flat on his face. The customers jumped to their feet watching the scenario unfold. Betty remained seated it was all too familiar. Joaquin however was outside. They were all outside.
The young woman slowly pulled out a Glock from her purse. Betty watched as she fired three rounds, two of which found a stop in Joaquin’s shielding body. The force against his impervious skin made him stumble. The third round struck the boy in the leg. Betty saw a flicker of something purely sinister in the woman’s eyes. It was as if she considered emptying the entire clip into Joaquin just for the fun of it. She apparently longed to see him buck back but not fall down. She was almost unbeknownst to the people becoming chaotic around them. The boy tried to drag his bleeding body away from the sidewalk. He looked equally scared by Joaquin and the woman. He seemed to want to disappear himself, near invisibility, not quite perfect, not good enough. His fear looked so much like the woman’s. What were his intentions in front of the diner? Was he someone’s son? Was he someone’s brother? Nonetheless, he was still a child.
The present vigilantes did not initiate reciprocity. Joaquin kept them incognito. Betty allowed a slight smile. Joaquin pronounced it as three separate words: In. Cog. Neato. They had to hold back. Too many people, too many eyes both digital and organic. He had grown. The Joaquin from two months ago would jump at her, bark orders, and make a show. This boy, no man, she reminded herself, was cool and collected, he calculated the outcome. He was on defense, not offense. He oozed street sophistication. Also, vigilantism was done in the dark, a trait set by movies and books. It’s because it was still frightening, still a crime disguised as some twisted form of altruism, the good Samaritans in disguise be it capes or hoods. Any accessories made it worse. Betty watched the woman hide her gun back in the purse, zipping it and continuing on her way. The former cop had never seen such a steel gaze but Joaquin had matched it. She saw the furrow of his brow and knew had made a silent promise to find her later. He who targeted supers was to be a target himself. That was the rule of this new jungle. They were all hunted but they also hunted in return. Poachers hunting prey and vice versa. In a new world of super powers, who could know the difference?
Betty produced a few crumpled notes and secured them under the saucer.
Maybe the days of vigilantes was nearly over, she mused, it had to come to an impossible closure, didn’t it? It was a cycle like the new moonrise tonight – a brilliant full moon to bathe Seattle in the light of the battle to come. Maybe it was time they reached out to Massey. End this, all of this.
Next: Neon Camouflage