When I went into work, Angela ambushed me in the hallway that led to the underground ambulance parking bay. “You don’t scare me,” she said.
“Um. Okay. Good for you?”
“Everyone saw you on the news when that thing with the dam happened. If you think just because you’re a supe, you can intimidate people into doing what you want, you’re wrong.” She crossed her arms under her ample bosoms and stamped her dainty foot on the white tile.
“Hey, I was wearing a mask. How did you…? I mean, what makes you think that was me?”
“Don’t change the subject. We’re talking about Jack.”
“You said something to him, threatened him to make him be your partner again. Jack may be scared of you, but I’m not. You let him come back.”
I laughed. “You don’t know Jack very well if you think he’s scared.”
“I don’t blame him for it. He’s a normal guy, and you can beat up giant robots.”
“Actually, they pretty much kicked my butt.” (Giant Robots on Mansfield Dam)
Angela rolled her eyes. “Stop trying to make this all about you. You leave Jack alone!”
I looked past Angela’s shoulder and saw Jack. As usual, I was late. He’d no doubt prepared the unit, done our pre-shift checklist, then came looking for me.
“So, you think I’m a big scary supe and I’ve intimidated Jack into transferring back, right?”
Jack raised one eyebrow. Why does that look so sexy when he does it?
“Admitting it won’t help,” Angela said.
“Okay, Angela. I’ll tell Jack right now that I absolutely will not beat him up if he asks to be transferred back to your unit.”
She nodded, satisfied. “I knew you’d back down if someone called your bluff. Bullies always do.”
“Not so much, actually, in my experience.”
“I’ll expect to see Jack’s transfer papers filed again today.”
“I seriously doubt that," I said.
“You just told me you were going to let him come back,” Angela said, confusion on her pretty face.
Jack stepped up from behind Angela, rescuing me from what looked to be a pointless and circular conversation. “Transferring was my decision, not Dee’s. And I’m not transferring back. Sorry.”
“But, she just said she won’t hurt you.” Angela put a hand on Jack’s arm, and her voice got soft. “You don’t have to be scared.”
Jack looked at her hand like a snail was slime trailing its way up his arm. “Dee doesn’t decide what I do, and neither do you.”
Angela pulled her hand back. “If she didn’t make you, then why did you transfer?”
Jack sighed. He eyes slid to me for half a second, then back, like he was embarrassed. “Dee and I make a good team.”
That gave me big warm fuzzy and put a smile on my face.
“Don’t let it go to your head,” Jack said to me.
I wiped the smile off my face like it had been erased, and kept it off, at least when he was looking. “We should roll out, then. We’re five minutes behind schedule.” I kept my voice completely flat, all business.
Jack nodded, and headed back into the bay where the ambulances were parked.
As we walked by, I couldn’t help it. I know it’s childish and immature. Whatever. I stuck my tongue out at Angela.
She looked all indignant and stalked away. Heh.
We weren’t half a mile from the hospital when we heard a call on the radio assigned to Angela’s unit. “Vagrant unresponsive.” That usually meant some poor homeless guy had died. We’d have to go into a less than wondrous part of town and try to resuscitate somebody who hadn't seen a bath in months, assuming he hadn’t already been dead for a while. That’s always a fun call, especially in the heat of summer.
Angela’s voice turned the call down, “Too far.”
Jack looked like he bit something sour, snatched the radio up and took the call, even though we were on the other side of town.
After a few seconds, he said without looking at me, “Has she always been like that?”
“Manipulative and a little bit ‘too good for the rest of us’ you mean?”
Jack thought about it a second and nodded. “Yeah.”
“She’s pretty and sweet. That makes people overlook a lot.”
“I almost saddled myself with her.” He didn’t specify if he meant as a partner or a girlfriend, but I kind of suspected he meant both.
“Sorry. My fault.”
“Yeah, it is.”The call was to a bridge near Peace Park. Jack used a spotlight to pierce the impenetrable gloom under the bridge, unreachable by any streetlights. I didn’t need it. Dragons see pretty well in the dark. As I scanned the area, I saw a familiar stocking cap with long tassels hanging from each side.
Beau Grimsby sat next to a prone figure on the sloped concrete, with clothes and junk scattered around, and tears flowed down his cheeks.
I pointed Jack and his light in the right direction. When he set the spotlight down, he flipped a switch and it shifted to an ambient area light, a nice bright lantern to work by. Always prepared, my Jack.
Jack and I checked the prone man, but he was very obviously dead. Rigor had already set in. Bright blue eyes stared fixedly out of a face so filled with wrinkles, the dead guy must have been pushing 90. Amazing that anyone had lived that long on the streets.
Jack called it in while I talked to Beau to try to at least get a name for our dead John Doe.
“Hey, Beau,” I said softly and sat down next to the man in his fifties dressed in raggedy layers. It had been a while since Beau had a bath. His smell was eye watering, especially to my sharper senses, but I ignored it.
“Hello, Miss Angel, maam.” Beau wiped his eyes, but tears kept flowing.
“I told you I’m not an angel, Beau. Just call me Dee.”
Beau ducked his head. “There ain’t nothing you can do for him, Miss Dee. It’s too late.”
“I’m sorry. Was he a friend of yours?”
“He was my best friend, and I was supposed to look out for him. I should’ve been here. He’d still be alive.” Beau sobbed, took off his red stocking cap and wiped his eyes with it. He rocked back and forth in his misery.
“I thought Pete was your best friend?” Maybe if he had another friend to comfort him, he wouldn’t be so lost.
“He was. And now he’s dead and it’s my fault.”
“Pete died?” That was a surprise. Pete was in his mid-thirties and in good health aside from his blindness last time I saw him.
“I just left him for a few minutes. A pretty lady gave me some money, and I went to buy food for both of us, and a little something for Pete.” He showed me green cloth grocery bags full of bread, lunchmeat, apples and such, and a brown paper bag with a bottle in it that I didn’t need to see inside to know the contents.
“When I came back, he was dead. I shouldn’t have left him. He was blind, couldn’t go nowhere without me.”
The way he was talking, Pete had just died, and I still had no clue who this old guy was. “Where’s Pete now, Beau?”
The homeless guy with the sparse curly hair sticking in all directions who thinks I'm an angel blinked at me for a second like he was wondering if I needed the guys in the white coats. “He’s right there,” he said, finally, like explaining it to a slow child. He pointed at the dead body lying next to us. “That’s Pete.”
I wondered for a second if Beau had sampled some of what he bought for Pete, but I knew Beau didn’t drink. I looked at the body of the very old man with the bright staring blue eyes, and caught my breath.
I remembered those bright blue eyes blinking up at me sightlessly from a far younger version of that same face. The dead guy looked an awful lot like Beau’s friend, whose life I’d just saved a few weeks before.
“Jack, take a good look at this guy. Does he look familiar?”
Jack held the lantern closer and looked carefully at the dead man. “He looks a little like Pete, maybe his father or grandfather.”
“Pete’s family are all dead,” Beau said. “That’s Pete.”
Jack shook his head. “That’s not possible.”
Beau grabbed Jack's arm and came alive for a minute. “I heard about three other guys downtown, younger guys that just got old and died overnight. Nobody knows how." He sat back and shrank in on himself again. "I told Pete we should move to another place. Might be safer." He shook his head and the tears started flowing again. "Guess I was wrong.”
That sounded like a pattern. “Do the cops know about people dying of old age all of a sudden?”
Beau shook his head sadly. “No one will listen. I tried telling some cop named Flynn the other day, but he wouldn’t believe me.”
If I didn’t know these guys, I’d have probably thought Beau was on something, too. “Beau, tell me about the pretty lady who gave you money for food. What did she look like?”
“She looked like right out of a magazine, one of them leather ladies, with a corset and spiked heel boots and stuff.”
That made a shiver go up my spine. “Was a man with her? A big guy, with a lot of muscle and black leather pants with a skull belt buckle?”
“I didn’t see no belt buckle, but there was a muscle guy driving her car. He had a tattoo on his shoulder of a big sickle.”
Domina Death and Scythe, two of the most notorious mercenary supervillains on earth. Not exactly the kind of people who gave money to a homeless guy to buy food.
The Death Dealers were in Austin killing people, and likely no one, not the cops or the supes, had even noticed.