By the time I get back to the car, I find Nova clutching a blanket to her chest in the front seat. The radio's on, with two DJs speculating about who might have blown up the hotel. It's a toss up between terrorists or the Nefarium.
"They're really trying to kill me."
The snarker in me wants to respond with 'yes, the guy dressed like a dog who tried to tear out your heart earlier today would be a clue'. But between the wetness in her eyes and the fear in her face, some part of me manages to figure out that's the wrong response.
"They're not going to succeed."
"Maybe I could have gone somewhere else, or stayed at my old house. Maybe--"
I get into the seat besides her and close the door. "Wherever you were, it wouldn't have mattered. This guy would have followed you."
She starts to cry. I search for something to stare at while she tears up. I don't know what to do. I fix problems, usually with well-timed explosives. But fixing grief? Sorrow? Pain? Not my department.
She pushes her head up against my chest, sobbing into my coat. I fumble awkwardly for some place to put my arm and finally settle on her shoulder.
"I'll get these guys, alright?"
She starts sobbing harder.
Okay. Wrong response.
"They're dead," she says in-between wet heaves. "Henry, Jacob--the family that was downstairs. They're all dead, and it's my fault, because I didn't want to stay at our old place."
I gently peel her face off my jacket and stare down at her. She's an absolute mess; eyes rimmed with pink, jaw quivering, snot leaking out of her nose.
"Jessica. All you did was be in a place. Someone took that as an opportunity to blow that place up. This is not your fault."
"My mother could have died," she says. "She could have been there--"
"She's safe. No one knows she's at the clinic but us." And Vigil, but I trust him. "We put her under a fake name. Don't worry."
"Why would someone want to kill me? Why would they do all this?"
"I don't know, but I'm going to find out. And when I do, I'm going to make sure they pay. Alright?"
She weakly nods, then sniffles. I yank out a napkin from the glove compartment then start up the car.
Thirty minutes later and I've dropped her off at Cassidy's apartment. Cassidy and I talk once Nova's inside and out of earshot.
"They haven't found her body. People are getting suspicious," she says. "Half the city is looking for her."
"Let them keep looking. I took her cell. She might want to call her mom or dad on yours, make sure they know she's okay."
"Jack, maybe you should step back, let Vanguard handle this. Even if they're compromised, they might be able to--"
"Too risky. Vanguard's unreliable. I can handle this."
"You're not like us, Jack. You don't have any powers," she reminds me. "You're only as good as your plan. And I'm pretty sure that, as of now, you don't have one."
I throw on my trademark grin. "Oh ye of little faith. I've always got a plan."
She smiles, turns, closes the door. I head to the car, ready to meet with Marlowe.
I have absolutely no plan.
Takes me fifteen minutes to get back home. I run through my mental checklist of what to expect, go over what resources I have available--their placement in my apartment--then fiddle with my phone for a while. Once I get back, I quickly check the area for signs of surveillance, then head upstairs to my room.
When I finally open the door, I'm ready for anything. Ninja SWAT team? Yes. Killer robots? Absolutely. Agent Duncan tied to a chair?
Okay, not that one.
She's gagged and bound; Blockhead's standing besides her with a gun strapped to his side. Marlowe's in my kitchen, mixing himself a drink.
"Mr. Burroughs," Marlowe says. "Glad to see you managed to get back."
My mind moves fast to put the pieces of this puzzle together. Meanwhile, my mouth does some faster talking. "Hey. There's some Daniels on the top shelf, if that's more to your taste."
"I'm quite fine with this," Marlowe says, and then he gestures to Agent Duncan. "Do you know her?"
The problem with conversations like these is that you never know what you're supposed to know until it's too late. By then, your cover is blown and you're staring down the business end of a barrel. The key to surviving these conversations is to stall for time.
"Should I?" I ask.
"Perhaps. We found her snooping around your apartment. Found this on her," he says, and then he produces her Agency badge.
Okay. I can work with this.
"Seems like you found my tail," I tell him, making my way around the loft, toward the fridge. I make like I'm going for a sandwich, but really, I just want to see how Blockhead reacts. If he lets me by, I know Marlowe still trusts me. If not...
Well, hopefully I can make it to the grenade I've got stashed next to the eggs.
Rather than Blockhead, it's Marlowe who steps in my way. He puts the badge in my hand. "A tail isn't good, Mr. Burroughs. This is something that needs to be addressed. Does she have a partner?"
I look to Agent Duncan, then back to Marlowe. "No. She's been stalking me on her own. Agency thinks she's on vacation."
Marlowe smiles. "How fortunate." And then he produces a gun, holding it out to me. "Would you care to do the honors, then?"
When a criminal offers you a gun, one of two things is happening. Either he trusts you with his life, or he's testing you.
"Me?" I say.
"This is your problem, Mr. Burroughs."
I snort. "Yeah, fine." I pick up the gun and turn toward Agent Duncan. "But I'm not cleaning up the mess."
She stares up at me with wild, bewildered eyes--somewhere between terror and confusion.
"Sorry, girl," I tell her. "Game over."
I lift the barrel and bring it to her temple.
I still have no plan.