When charging in blind, I like to start by blinding everyone else first. You might not be able to buy a flash grenade at your local grocery mart, but the basic ingredients are easy enough to find--break open an etch-a-sketch for the aluminum, shavings from a magnesium fire-starter for the flash, and a model rocket engine's propellant for the oxydizer.
The address Nova sent me is a studio flat on the sixteenth level of some high-end condo. By the look of things, she's bought up the entire floor. There's two goons outside the door to her room--I start things up by lobbing my home-made flash grenade out in front of them.
While they're busy squawking and rubbing their eyes, I come in low--taser the first, headlock the second. In fifteen seconds, they're out cold.
I pull one of their guns out of its holster, kick the door down, and prepare to unleash All Hell into the faces of whatever supervillain is making his move.
I am instead confronted by the sight of Nova, head in her hands, crying on a couch.
"How many?" I ask her, sweeping the apartment for signs of other aggressors.
"How many what?" she asks, sniffling.
"Assassins," I tell her. "How many in the apartment?"
"There--there aren't any," she says, trying to strangle back a sob. "I just needed your help."
I stop. Look back at the two unconscious thugs. Then back to her. "What about them?"
She looks past me, catching sight of the two for the first time. At once, she leaps to her feet, panicking. "Oh--Oh God! Henry and Jacob! You didn't kill them, did you?"
Oh, right. Her security detail.
"They're unconscious," I tell her as I holster my new gun. "Okay, I think we have a misunderstanding here as to what constitutes an emergency."
"I didn't know who else to call," she says. "My mom--she's in the bathroom, with her dealer."
She makes a sidelong glance at the bathroom, not saying anything else. She doesn't have to.
The only problem money solves is not having enough money. You're still left with the same issues--and now you've got the cash to flaunt them.
Thing is, these sorts of problems aren't my specialty. Give me a house full of cleaning supplies and I can whip up a grade A bomb. Toss me into a room full of sociopaths and I'll convince them that I'm their best friend in five minutes flat. But shove me into the middle of a dysfunctional family, and all you're gonna get is more dysfunction.
"Look, kid," I tell her. "You've got Vanguard's number, right? Can't you call--"
"If I call the police or Vanguard, they'll just arrest her," she tells me, and now she's starting to tear up again.
I scratch the back of my head. "You got, uh, an uncle or something? Family? Maybe--"
"My dad," she says. "But I can't get in contact with him right now. They're divorced."
For fuck's sake. I'm a goddamn operative, not some sort of therapist. But one look at those tears and I feel something I haven't felt in a long time.
Out of everyone she knows--her family, her friends, her agent, her fans--the only person she trusts enough to call when her mom starts snorting blow is the guy she met in a parking lot during a shootout.
That's some sort of lonely.
I sigh, shake my head, and pull out my wallet. I start searching for the right card--when I find it, I put it in the wallet's ID frame. "Tell me your mother's name."
"Julia. What are you going to do?" she asks.
"Her dealer. What's his name? He got a gun?"
"Terrence. I--I don't think so. I don't know. He's just some jerk," she says. "What are you going to do?"
"You asked me that already."
"You didn't answer."
"I'm going to fix the problem."
I walk toward the bathroom and kick down the door.
Terrence and Julia are hunched over the bathtub with the mirror laid flat, lines of coke laid out across it.
"Who the fuck are you?" Terrence says, standing up.
Good fake IDs are expensive as fuck. Bad ones are a dime a dozen--and most idiots won't know the difference. Not to imply that all drug-dealers are idiots, but the two groups have been known to occasionally overlap.
I flash him my cheap FBI ID, pull back my coat to show off my new shiny gun, then nod my head at the door. "Beat it."
Julia turns toward me with her eyes burning full of rage and hate. But when she sees the badge, she pulls back. I flip it closed before she can get a better look at it, shut the door, then kick the mirror. It shatters into the tub, scattering powder among razor-sharp shards of silver and glass.
"No! You--you fuck!" she screams.
"Julia. You're standing in front of a Federal Officer with enough blow to trigger a cartel war. Stop worrying about the drugs, start worrying about me."
She shudders, shakes her head, then drops down to the toilet. Looks up to me with a dull, confused expression. "What are you doing here?" she says. "You--you can't come in here. Not without a search warrant, or--"
"Your daughter is in danger. I'm here to make sure she doesn't get killed," I tell her.
"She--wait, what?" Something almost akin to clarity enters those eyes.
So she didn't know.
I clear some glass off the side of the tub and sit down besides her. "Long story short. Bad people want your daughter dead. Right now, she needs a mother, not a headcase. You up for that job?"
We're all junkies when it comes to hope. Dangle a scrap of it in front of us and we'll swear off food, water, and air just to get there. When I ask her if she's up for the job, what she's hearing is an FBI agent who's caught her with blow talking about something other than how long she's going to prison.
"What do you want me to do?" she asks, her voice tiny.
"You're going into rehab. I know a place, they owe me a favor."
Shock registers on her face. "When?"
"Right now. You've got thirty minutes to pack your things. You can say goodbye to your daughter on the way."
"I--I can't just up and leave!" she says. "Who will take care of Jessica?"
"We'll handle it," I tell her, thinking of Jessica's dad. "But as long as you're using, you're a danger to her--emotionally and physically. So you've got one of two choices--either you go into rehab tonight, or you go to prison."