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Chapter 10

It's been a week now, and I still haven't seen Marco. Not sure if he's sick or on vacation or what. Meanwhile the police have been about as uninformative as I expected regarding Terence; they're more concerned about his privacy than keeping potential ambushees informed. So now I'm heading over to Marco's table to see if I can find out what's going on with him so I can ask him what he knows about Terence's fate.

A tubby guy looks up as I approach. "What do you want?" he asks brusquely.

"World domination, a summer home on Mars, and zero friction bearings. Also, I'm looking for Marco."

"Sorry, Marco's straight."

I shake my head. "Look Tubs, I just want to check if he's okay and maybe ask some questions about a project he helped me out with a while back."

"My name's Hank, and if you're that jerk who left him hanging in Civics-"

"Nope, that guy was named Frank or something. I'm George, and this has to do with a... cinematography thing."

The goth girl next to Hank perks up. "Were you getting him to film you skating? Because I'd film you all day long if you wanted." She punctuates that with a wink.

"Um, actually I was doing the filming, and-"

"Marco is straight," repeats Hank.

"So am I, not that it matters. This has nothing to do with romance."

Gothelina pouts while Hank raises an eyebrow. "Heard you wore makeup last week," he says. "Straight guys don't wear makeup."

"Actually, pretty much any guy involved with TV does, as do clowns, goths, football players, snipers, tribal warriors, and Batman."

"Batman doesn't wear makeup."

"Sure he does. His eye holes don't cover all the skin around his eyes, but it's not skin-colored, is it?"

"Okay, but Batman isn't real."

"So? He's Batman."

"You aren't Batman."

"Shows what you know. But this discussion isn't about Batman. It's about Marco. Now, where is Marco? Can I get a Polo? Anyone?"

"Marco's sick," says Gothelina. "Since about two weeks ago. He's probably going to be out for a while. But if you need an actress for your videos, I could do that too! I'm sure he wouldn't mind. I'm Lucy, by the way."

"Right, well, thanks Lucy, I'll think about it." I head back to my table as the bad feeling worsens. Pretty sure that's not the fault of the poor excuse for country fried steak Coldriver's serving today. "They say he's been sick for two weeks," I tell the others. "Tiff, you said you still have Marco's number?" She nods. "Alright. It's family night tonight, so I'm going to have to head straight home after school, but let's give him a call tomorrow afternoon. And if they don't answer, maybe we can go bang on their door instead."

Joe scowls. "I'm seriously thinking about getting some surgical masks. Whatever this epidemic is, I don't want it. And you shouldn't visit him, George. Not worth catching it too."

Hannah scrunches her eyebrows in thought. "Has anybody actually recovered yet? Carrie's still out too."

"So is the other Marco," adds Tiffany. "I asked around."

I can't help but remember Rob's stupid conspiracy theory about doctors kidnapping people. "There really hasn't been much media coverage about this, has there?" Not that I believe that's what's going on, but...

Joe shakes his head. "They run a story now and then, but they always gloss over the details about what exactly it is. The most they've said is that it might be a flu variant, and somebody else mentioned something about mold spores. Neither of those were doctors. A Dr. Tolman has been mentioned once or twice, but he hasn't given any interviews."

"It does look contagious," Hannah says. "Frank and Carrie both caught it, and Marco was working on a group project with Frank. So that rules out spores."

"Not really," says Joe. "The Yancies live under the same roof, so if it's mold from their house, they'd both be exposed. And if Marco went over there to pick up Frank's work, he could have been exposed too without it actually being contagious. I figure it's airborne either way, so a mask is sounding pretty good right now."

"Speaking of masks," says Tiff with a grin, "who's going to the costume party at Brianna's on Halloween? It's only two days away!"

"That seems like a really bad idea," says Joe. "Clustering people up like that during a mysterious epidemic?"

"Says the guy who wrestles."

"Yeah, and you know what we have at wrestling meets? A physician who makes sure everybody is healthy first. Is Brianna going to have a doctor check everybody over before anyone's allowed inside? It's bad enough we have to keep coming to school every day. I'm not about to voluntarily attend a plague-trading party."

"What about you, Hannah?"

She shakes her head. "Joe and I already have plans together. They're very cool plans. Cool, creamy, tasty plans."

"Eww!"

I roll my eyes. "She's talking about ice cream, Tiff."

Hannah nods. "And if either of you had somebody to bring, we'd invite you along to Kool Dawg's Ice Cream Shoppe for a double date. But no, you guys are boring."

"Hey now!" Tiff says, "he's boring. I'm trying. I'm just new at picking up chicks, okay? And my ocean doesn't have as many fish in it as yours. Plus, a lot of them aren't even really in the ocean yet. They're closeted up in a holding pond denying that they're fish at all."

"Well," I say with a smirk, "I'd rather go to the costume party anyway. I can get ice cream anytime, but I hardly ever get to wear a mask."

Joe chokes on his drink, but Tiffany's too busy being excited to notice. "Awesome! What are you going as? I'm going to be a Gorgon."

"Con-struc-tion of a sui-ta-ble ro-bot cos-tume is in pro-gress." That's how I've been spending my week since I've been trying to take it easy and heal up. Well, it's part of how I've spent my week. A small part. Actually, most of what I've been doing has been fixing or replacing my gear. I sent my vest back to Kinetistop last Thursday, and the new one should get here in a few days. Meanwhile, I've already replaced my poor skates entirely along with my mask, helmet, and about half my pads. The Pepper Soaker had to be rebuilt pretty much from scratch; Joe helped with that and we added a few improvements to make it more durable. I've also revised the Glownade design so that it'll be a little easier to pull the pin when used one-handed. My ParaMic came through everything just fine since I dropped it after Jones attacked me, but she did sever its cord with one of her missed swings. No big deal. The Wheeldio was also easy; the housing was cracked but the circutry was fine. I've also picked up a few new items, including a neon yellow kazoo. Roll your eyes all you want, but this kazoo is probably going to save the world someday.

And in between doing all that, I've been building a robot costume out of old broken electronics and appliances. It's pretty great. I'll have hose-arms and everything.

Today, however, is a Wednesday, so I head directly home after school and spend the evening hanging out with Mom. That sounds relaxing, but a big part of the night's activity this week is actually her helping me study for the three tests I've got tomorrow. Well, she's really only helping for the Spanish and law tests; I don't need to study much for the physics one. I definitely appreciate her help with the others though. Especially the Spanish. Mom's not fluid, but she's still a lot better than I am.

Thursday is pretty great, tests or not. Why? Because this week, Thursday is Friday. Yeah, that's right: Coldriver considers Halloween to be a day off. Of course, the price we paid for that perk is that we don't get off for Columbus Day anymore. Well, the causality on that is sort of the other way around, really. A lot of people don't want to celebrate Columbus, and if you ask me they have some excellent reasons. This came to a head about five years ago. There were a bunch of protests and a petition or two, and the city was convinced to replace Columbus Day with something else. But nobody could agree on what. Some wanted to rebrand it to something like Native American Day, while others wanted to replace it with something completely different. Immigrants Day, Forchester Day, Waffle Day, all kinds of things. Since nobody would agree on anything, Mayor Larson got fed up and unilaterally renamed it to October Relaxation Day as a "temporary" neutral solution until a consensus can be found.

Meanwhile, one of the loudest and most enduring factions to get it changed to something more interesting has been a Mexican-American group who are advocating for recognizing Day of the Dead, which is a three day celebration in Mexico spanning from October 31st to November 2nd. There's a lot of anti-immigrant and religious pushback to that, though. We Coldriver students, however, couldn't help noticing the convenient overlap with Halloween, and that was something nearly all of us could get behind. So, last year we convinced the school to give us a Halloween off instead of October Relaxation Day, and to use the following Monday of either November 1st or 2nd if the 31st is on a weekend as a nod to Day of the Dead. The school administrators insist on calling it "Polycultural Spooky Day" instead of explicitly acknowledging either of the actual holidays involved, but that's fine.

And this year, Halloween is on Friday, meaning we get a three day weekend that fully overlaps with the Day of the Dead celebration. That's pretty cool. I may not be Hispanic, but what good is living in a cultural melting pot if you don't get to paint a skull on your face and walk around on stilts? We can melt if we want to; we can make ofrendas all the time. Because our families are dead, and since they are dead, we can honor them with a shrine. We can drip where we want to; a melting pot's warm and so am I. And we can act like we come from out of this state and celebrate those left behind. And we can melt!

Yeah, that's right. We're in a musical now, and lyrics keep on droppin', droppin', droppin', into my narrative. I want to rhyme like a poet, and shape the beat. Rhyme like a poet; let my meter carry me. I want to rhyme like a poet, and parody. Oh oh feel the Wheelvolution-

"What was that, George?"

Oops. "Um, nothing, Mrs. Glenn." I guess I'm done for now. Moving on.

The seventh period US History class Tiffany and I share is the last class of the day, so we leave together when Mrs. Glenn excuses us and grab a bench in a quiet corner of the quad. Marco doesn't have his own phone, so she calls his home number. It rings for a good while before somebody finally picks up. "Lillian Chambers. What do you want?"

"Um, hey Mrs. Chambers, it's me, Tiffany. My friend and I were-"

"You have some nerve calling here!" Then the line goes dead.

I blink. "Maybe I should do the talking?"

Tiff sighs and redials. This time it keeps ringing until the answering machine takes over. "Mrs. Chambers, I'm sorry but could you please pick up? I realize you're still upset, but this isn't about me. I'm just trying to help a friend get in touch with Marco."

There's a click and Mrs. Chambers speaks. "Fine, but make it fast. I am not having a good day, and you aren't making it any better."

I clear my throat. "Hello, ma'am. My name's George, and I don't know Marco too well but I sorta helped him out a few weeks ago with a bully named Terence, and now I heard Marco's sick, so I wanted to check in on him, and also to find out what happened to Terence? I haven't seen him in a while, so I kinda want to know if I need to worry about him popping back up looking for vengeance or something? He did ambush me and almost got us run over before the police took him, so I think that's a valid concern even if the police don't agree with me."

Mrs. Chambers sighs. "That Terence punk is locked up until he turns eighteen. I assume you're the guy he attacked after Marco? It's thanks to that attack that he got a long sentence, so good job, you're off the hook for two years. But Marco is stuck in quarantine at Tonbosa Memorial Hospital, and they won't let us visit him."

"Well, that is sort of the point of quarantine..."

"No really? But they won't even let us see him from behind glass. Christ, would it kill them to just give him a telephone? They did at first, but now they say he's too critical, needs his rest. I just... I just wish..."

"Um, I'm sorry about that, Mrs. Chambers. That sounds terrible."

"You- you have no i- idea... I have to go." She hangs up with a sniffle.

"Well, that's presumptuous of her," I say to Tiffany. "I've got plenty of idea, since I have, in fact, been through worse than that."

Tiff shrugs. "Most people haven't. She wouldn't know that we've been unlucky. I just hope Marco gets better. Maybe he isn't girly enough for me, but he's a really nice guy."

I laugh. "Not girly enough. Is there such a thing as a backhanded complaint?"

"I dunno. Backhanded isn't really the right word for that, is it? Well, at least you got to find out about Terence."

"Yeah. I wonder who Marco's related to."

"What?"

"I've seen guys worse than Terence get away with a stern lecture and probation, and from what I've seen, attacking me shouldn't have done much beyond ensuring he was detained until his arraignment."

She shrugs. "I don't think he's related to anybody who matters, but I don't really know. Maybe there's a new judge in town?"

There isn't, but I've probably already said too much, so I just nod. Then Tiff and I part ways, and I head to the Wheelhouse to work on my prototype grapple gun. Well, more accurately, to get working on raising the funds for the equipment I'll need to construct my prototype grapple gun. See, the biggest problem with the idea of using a grapple gun to break a fall is the issue of how you get it to actually grapple. It has to grab onto something, and it needs to do it well enough to support the force of your deceleration (the spreading of which is the second biggest problem -- as they say, it's not the fall that kills you...). A simple grappling hook might be fine for climbing things when you've got plenty of time to line up a shot and try again if it doesn't catch, but when you're plummeting between buildings only a few hundred feet up? Totally inadequate. I did consider having the grapple gun shoot a metal spike of some sort that could lodge into the side of a building, but that just seems impractical. The amount of force required combined with the chance of the material just shattering or the anchor failing to stick inside the hole it punches? Nah.

Having ruled out those options, the next method on my list is adhesion. Problem with that is very few adhesives work quickly enough. Most "instant" adhesives take at least a good five to ten seconds, but I need something that'll stick in a split second and then handle about nine times my weight for at least half a second, followed by my normal weight for a couple minutes. As far as I know, nothing on the market can do that. But off the market, there's been some very interesting research going on with gecko-inspired techniques.

Unfortunately, such high-performance nano-filament based adhesive pads are not yet available for purchase, and producing one is beyond my current manufacturing abilities.

Like I'm going to let something as trivial as money stop me.

So, that's why I'm now holding a rope and hopping over the edge of an office building above an unsuspecting drug dealer from the Dream Enforcers. Drug dealers are usually loaded; they're like walking, swearing, heavily armed piñatas. They can be one of the more dangerous targets to go after though. That's why I like to get the drop on them.

Piñata Boy hears the rope sliding through my gloves at the last moment and looks up just before my new skates strike his shoulders and knock him on his back. He reaches for one of his weapons, but I grab his arm, roll him over, and wrangle it into position alongside the other one, then zip-tie them. He tries teaching me some new Spanish, but unfortunately I'm just a bit too busy to pay attention. And about twenty seconds later I'm slaloming through some construction cones toward my next target.

This next guy is less of a piñata and more of a dragon, so I'm not even going to try going after him directly. Fighting a dragon is stupid, even when you catch it by surprise. Better to wait for the dragon to go out, then sneak into his lair and loot that. The lair in question is on the fifth floor of an apartment building, but that's alright. I build up some momentum and do a wall-jump to reach the fire escape, and then up I go. I probably should still be taking it easy after last week, but doing stuff like this barely even hurts, so I figure I'm good enough. Anyway, I get up to his room, bust through the window, and leave with about three times as much as I took from the first guy.

One more target left tonight, and I've saved the best for last. This one's not a drug dealer at all. She's a chronic drunk driver who the law has failed to deal with one too many times. Her latest incident got two people killed, and yet she still somehow has her car and her license. Well, I'm going to fix that tonight, and then some.

But first I have to get to Molly McDougall's house in Parkville. Last week I'd have taken the bus, but last week is last week for a reason. You have no idea how much I missed the feeling of pushing myself across the ground. The motions, the vibration, the sound, the wind... No, my wheels are spinning once more, and I intend to keep them that way. I wouldn't get in another bus tonight if you paid me.

That said, I'm not above latching onto the occasional vehicle as I travel. In fact, skitching is a critical component of the sidequest I take on my way to Parkville. I'm using a route that brings me right past the police station, and I happen to have a sack full of drugs and a possibly stolen gun that I took from Mr. Piñata, plus some more drugs and two guns that I took from the Dragon's Lair. These are things that need to be disposed of. In service of that objective, I release the minivan that's been towing me and skate up to the steps of the police station. Without stopping, I give the sack a good swing and lob it up the steps to clatter to a stop near the door. Don't worry, I unloaded all the guns first. Their ammunition is in a different sack that I intend to keep -- I don't care about the bullets or their casings, but the powder within might be useful for something later. Sidequest complete, I merge quickly back into traffic and grab a passing truck before the police can rally and give chase. They've been pretty chill lately, but no point pushing my luck.

Several vehicle changes and a few blaring horns later finds me rolling down Granite Street. Molly McDougall, lives on Felsite Street, the next one over, but I don't want to be seen on that street. The old lady I didn't notice smoking on the back porch of the house behind Mary's, however, whose lawn I'm crossing to get to Mary's back yard? She sees me just fine. "Hey!" she says as I creep past her house. "Who you think you are all trespassin' back here?"

"That's easy, ma'am. I am the mask that grins in the night. I am the sponge that sops up the drunken slobs who murder our drivers. I am-"

"So you up here to do somethin' 'bout that monster over in yonder house, then? 'Cause I gots too much arthritis these days to be goin' over there and showin' her what-for myself."

"Yes, ma'am, that is exactly what I'm here to take care of."

"Well, boy howdy. You go on right ahead, then, son. I'm gonna go make me up some popcorn."

I resume creeping across the yards until I'm outside McDougall's house. There's loud music and lights coming from the left side, so I head to the right. In a shadowy nook, I pull out a spade and dig a hole, then bury some of the cocaine I took off the dealers. But this is just the start. I peek around the house to make sure the coast is clear, then scoot over to her car and attach a package of heroin up in her front passenger-side wheel well. Then I head back to the back of her house.

Now, this next part is a bit trickier. The window the music is coming from is open, but there's a screen on it and she's in there. So I wait underneath it with my skates removed, and eventually I hear her walk down the hall and shut a door. Probably taking a bathroom break. While she's busy with that, I pop the screen off, let myself in, put the screen back in, and then hide in a closet. While in here, I put an envelope of cash into the inner pocket of a coat, along with a baggie of weed.

I spend the next two hours reading through the next chapter of my Intro to Law textbook on my phone until Molly McDrunkbutt finally reels off to bed. Just to be safe, I take another hour to work on my Spanish vocabulary and do some of the end-of-chapter exercises in my head. Then I quietly open the closet and creep out into the house.

I suppress the urge to do a villain laugh.

Ten minutes later there is drug paraphernalia scattered around the house, including a crack pipe "lost" amongst the cushions of the couch, a little heroin spilled on the carpet, rolling paper in the cupboards, and a dusty hookah under the kitchen sink. For good measure, I also hop on her computer and punch in a search for how to make meth, then click the first result before putting everything back like I found it.

Hmm... what else should I do... I go over to the toaster and turn the setting up a few notches, set the refrigerator and freezer to slightly warmer temperatures, and swap the left and right audio connectors on her stereo.

Alright, probably ought to stop now before I make it too obvious I was here. That would defeat the purpose. The goal was just to cause minor annoyance over the short term until the cops get around to checking out her house. I let myself out the backdoor, making sure to lock it behind me, then put my skates back on and return to the Wheelhouse where I submit an anonymous tip to the police.

I don't know how she's been getting away with all her DUIs, but I doubt it trumps the Forchester Police Department's sense of greed. At minimum, they're going to take her car once they find the heroin in it, whether they believe her claims of innocence or not. Hopefully they'll take the house too. With any luck, it will be a long time before Molly McDougall has the opportunity to endanger people's lives again.

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