By the time we're reaching the clinic, I realize we're being followed.
Good tails are hard to notice. They'll work in teams, following you for a few miles before switching out with another car so not to lift your suspicion. But with a little forethought and a lot of luck, even a lone professional can tail you half-way across the city without ever so much as raising your goosebumps.
Things get trickier when the tail is following you on foot.
I catch him purely by luck. It's night, but the sky is clear; as we round the next city corner, I see a figure blot out several stars as he jumps from one rooftop to the next.
"Fuck," I say.
"What?" Nova asks.
"Nothing. Just realized I forgot something." For me, lies are second nature. Sometimes I do it without even thinking. Might be a better call, anyway. No reason to make them nervous. "I'll pull into the parking lot here. You two talk, say whatever it is you gotta say. Gonna grab a smoke."
I shift the car into park, leave Jessica with her mother, and step out into the night air. I walk a bit of ways from the car--but I keep it in sight. While I pull a fresh cigarette out of my pocket, I let my hand slowly creep toward the hilt of my holster.
"That won't be necessary."
There aren't a lot of people who can sneak up on me. To pull it off, you either need serious tech, serious magic, or serious skill.
Pretty sure this guy's got all three.
I pull the gun and spin, but he's already caught my wrist and twisted. I drop the gun, crumple to the ground, then catch the weapon with my other hand as I fall. Before I can lift it, he brings his other hand to grasp the barrel.
The metal sizzles as it melts, wisps of smoke swelling out from between his knuckles.
"I'm not here to fight you," he says.
Well, that's good, because I'm pretty sure if he was, I'd have just lost.
I drop what's left of the gun and wait for him to let go of my other hand. When he does, I spring to my feet and back up, getting a good look at him. Doesn't take long for me to put a name to the face.
A long black wool coat. Salt-and-pepper hair, combed back; a face so harsh and hard that it looks like you could wrap an iron girder around it without so much as disturbing an eyelash. And his eyes--pure white, without any sight of pupils or irises.
"Vigil," I say.
"You're investigating Vanguard," he tells me. "Why?"
I rack my brain for what I remember about Vigil. One of the oldest members of the Vanguard Society; some folks peg his age at a couple of centuries. Lot of people don't even think he's real. Apparently, he's not only a brilliant detective, but a pretty well-trained sorcerer, too. I think Bill once described him as 'Batman, but with magic'.
"I think you've been compromised," I tell him. No use in lying. If he's the leak, I'm pretty much screwed. "One of you is out to kill Nova."
I do a double-take. Then I grimace. "You were watching her, weren't you?" And I didn't even notice it. "You're part of her security detail, from Vanguard."
"And you didn't make a move when I took out her guards?"
"I knew you wouldn't hurt her."
Now I do a triple-take. "What? How?"
"I've been watching you."
"Okay. That's not creepy at all."
"I'm putting Nova temporarily under your care. Make sure she stays safe."
At this point, I decide that a quadruple take would be a little over-the-top. "Wait, you want me to look after her? The ex-killer with no powers?"
"You're capable. You're also not part of Vanguard, which makes it harder for the killer to find you."
I glance back to the car where I assume Nova is still talking with her mom. Then I turn back to Vigil. "What are you going to do?"
"Turn my eyes to Vanguard and discover the source of this corruption. Then cut it out at the root."
"Okay. So, uh, should we, like--exchange numbers or something? Emails? Facebook profiles?"
Those pure-white eyes stare at me. Feels like he's stripping me bare--tearing through flesh and bone.
"Right," I say. "So I guess it's some sort of 'I'll-Call-You' deal?"
"I also want to give you a warning. The Administration wants to bring you back in."
"Fuck them." The words pop out without thought. Pure, raw instinct.
He turns, then jumps up on top of a nearby fence. There's something cat-like about the way he moves--impossible agility, effortless grace. Just as he's crouching down for the next jump, I step forward and speak.
"I think your guy might be Rico," I tell him. "I'm still looking into it, though."
"Look after Jessica," he tells me. "I'm depending on you."
His next jump clears three stories, bringing him to an office building's rooftop. In the next second, he's out of sight.
I head back to the car. When I get inside, both Jessica and Julia have wet eyes. They're talking in hushed whispers.
"You need any more time?" I ask.
They look at each other, then they both shake their heads. When Julia gets out of the car, Jessica follows. They hug each other at the gate.
I watch, waiting patiently. Once Jessica comes back, I fumble with the keys.
"Are you alright?" she asks.
"Your hands are shaking."
"Just a long night."
"I can relate." Her eyes wander back to the gate her mother went through. "Do you think she'll be okay?"
"Yeah. I think so. For now, we've got to concentrate on you."
I start the car and head back to her apartment.