"Yeah, yeah," Micki called back. "Deal with it, chickie." Peregrine's personal public liaison pushed away from the sidekick's motorcycle. "Move it, girl!"
The change room door opened. Nasty stepped out and made final adjustments to her costume. "You want to be Peregrine?"
"You're the one with the powers. The Peregrine-cycle is ready to go. Do you want a briefing, or would you prefer to charge in swearing?"
Nasty glowered at Micki. "Who am I taking on?"
"A real piece of work." Micki tapped on a recessed keyboard. A video monitor came alive. A burly man in a green costume fashioned to look demonic appeared on screen "Calls himself El Diablo Verde, 'The Green Devil'. Hitman, usually works with the Central American drug cartels but has appeared in the Middle East and the US as hired muscle and as an assassin. Wanted for eleven counts of murder in Texas alone."
"Great. So why's he after Eagle? Someone paid him?"
"Eagle interfered with several of his hits. Managed to arrest him three times. Bastard broke free each time, leaving a trail of bodies as he made for the Mexican border. Considering that one of the arrests was in Ohio, that's a long trail."
"Wonderful. How am I supposed to deal with him, then?"
"Hit him. Hard."
Micki hit the enter key. The still image on screen started playing, showing the Diablo Verde in action. "This was recorded in LA, where he fought the All-Stars." The Diablo Verde charged at the star-spangled team, knocking away a car from his path with a sweep of his arm.
"How am I supposed to survive against someone who can throw a fucking car?"
"Keep watching." As the video played, the Diablo Verde kept running. Gold energy bursts threw him off stride but not off his feet. A beam struck him in the chest, throwing the Green Devil back several yards. The villain got back to his feet in time for a twelve-foot costumed man to rush into him. "See?" Micki said. "He can be hit."
"I'm more worried about me being hit. Look." Nasty pointed at the screen. The video showed Diablo Verde jabbing the big man in the gut. The giant flew back to his teammates, taking two down with him as he crashed through them. "The guy is bigger than me and he still got knocked flying."
Micki stopped the playback. "Peregrine, Hollywood Hills there got back up. The rest of the All-Stars had minor injuries."
"Ran for the border after Hollywood Hills punched him through an office building."
Nasty sighed. "Maybe I should've just gone in swinging."
"I said 'swearing'." Micki turned to face the teenager. "Look, you're the hero. You get to deal with this shit. Just go out there, find El Diablo, and make sure he doesn't interfere with Eagle."
"Right, go deal with him." Nasty mounted her motorcycle. "If I'm hurt, you get to go to class for me." With a kick, she started the motorbike's engine.
Micki flicked the switch to open the van's rear door. "If you run into trouble, Peregrine, shout. Eagle can be there in five minutes." Before the rear ramp finished lowering, Nasty threw the Peregrine-cycle into gear. She launched out the back.
Nasty took advantage of the red light to get her bearings. The latest reports from Micki placed El Diablo Verde near the waterfront. This is crazy. I'll need a lucky shot to deck Greenie. Maybe if I run him over. Nasty sighed. Yeah, right. With the light now green, Nasty accelerated. I must be close. There's not many warehouses left. She spotted a shadow skitter back between buildings. Bingo.
Hauling the Peregrine-cycle around, Nasty gave chase. She drew her elbows in as she drove down the narrow alley. Ahead, illuminated by the Peregrine-cycle's headlight, a man ran. He tried each door he ran past, all of them locked. Nasty caught up, her motorcycle's front tire at the man's heels. He raised his hands in the air. "Enough already! I'm not doin' anything!"
Nasty stopped the motorbike. "I want answers." She dismounted, then cracked her knuckles. "I'm not in the mood for bullshit, either."
"You can't just threaten me. You're a hero! One of the good guys!"
"Where's El Diablo Verde?" Nasty smacked her right fist into her left palm. "Where?"
"He'll kill me if I tell you!"
Nasty charged her fist. "I'll make you wish you were dead."
Another man stepped out of the shadows; he wore the same costume Nasty saw in the video. "There is no need to threaten," he said with a trace of a Spanish accent. "You are the new Peregrine, yes?"
Nasty turned her attention to the newcomer. "El Diablo Verde?"
"Yes, and that's a very good accent. Not quite right, but closer than most." The Green Devil smiled. "Are you done terrorizing this poor unfortunate?"
"For now." Nasty glanced at the other man. "Get out of here." As the man ran off, Nasty looked back at the costumed villain.
"Sporting," El Diablo Verde said. "Going to run him down later?"
Nasty glowered. "Only if I have to."
El Diablo Verde laughed. "You're not the usual hero, Miss Peregrine. A refreshing change. I suppose you were looking for me to arrest me?"
"You have warrants."
"Not in New York State." He shrugged. "Well, ignoring the federal charges."
"Are you going to come quietly?"
The Green Devil leaned against the warehouse wall. "Miss Peregrine, aren't you wondering why I'm here when a dangerous entity will be passing through?"
"You're being paid to be here."
"Touché." /El Diablo Verde/ smiled. "Goes with the job. I, however, only kill the person I am contracted for."
"And the trail of bodies after your last jail break were all on your list?"
"I did not realize three dead men were a trail. And, yes, they were on my list. Thoroughly ugly people, all of them. Organized crime can bring out the worst in men."
Nasty snorted. "Yeah, right."
"I swear on my sainted mother's grave that I am telling the truth."
"Were you paid to kill her, too?"
"You are not a nice woman, Miss Peregrine."
Nasty let the charge in her fist dissipate. The purple glow faded. "Okay, why the hell are you here? I am not going to let you come close to Eagle."
"Ah, so that's why you're looking for me." El Diablo Verde shook his head. "You have it all wrong. I am here to assist."
"Assist." Nasty's tone turned cool.
"Yes, assist. Help."
"Who is paying you to 'help'?"
"I cannot say. Professional courtesy. You might want to learn about that. I have seen your press conference."
"Fine, you can't tell me. How can I believe you?"
"I am a man of my word. More importantly, I am a professional. I don't hurt people I am not paid to harm. It is why I can charge an outrageous sum."
"Even if I do believe you, what am I supposed to do? Go back and tell Eagle that, hey, Mr. Verde wants to help against Famine. Don't worry about him suddenly betraying us during the massive fight."
"Sarcasm is very ugly, Miss Peregrine."
"Put yourself in my boots."
"I do not think they'll fit."
Nasty flashed a fake smile at the joke. "You'd be surprised at the number of asses it can fit up. However, I work with Eagle. The hero. The guy who protects the city. The guy who helps little old ladies cross the street. The guy who is so straight-laced, rulers are measured against him. I don't think he's going to want to talk to you. Arrest you, yeah. And you don't seem the type to go along quietly."
"You are very observant, Miss Peregrine. In chess, this is called a stalemate."
"Doesn't that mean starting a new game?"
"Good. I prefer Battleship."
The Green Devil laughed. "I think you are wiser beyond your years. What do you suggest?"
Nasty tapped her helmet. "I'm wired. Unless we're in a zone that has poor reception, Eagle's people know I'm talking to you. If I'm lucky, I have backup on the way. Probably means the end of this warehouse once the fighting starts. So, you could slip away and go back home, wherever that is, or just disappear and not be here." The young heroine charged her fist. "Or I start the fight now and hope to get a lucky shot in before you do."
"There is always a third option, Miss Peregrine. You do not have to fight me, not now." El Diablo Verde raised his hands. "I surrender myself into your custody and only your custody. You can tell Eagle's people that I will only defend myself if violence ensues."
Over her helmet's radio, Nasty heard Micki say, "SWAT teams are in place, Peregrine."
"Tell them to wait," Nasty replied. She looked over at her prisoner. "Thanks."
"Fuck if I know."
At the Foundation, Nasty, still wearing Peregrine's costume, paced from one end of the conference room to the other. On her return trip, she saw through the frosted glass a dozen fully armed and armoured SWAT troopers standing ready. El Diablo Verde watched the young woman pacing. "You are making me tired, Miss Peregrine."
"I'm beginning to think I should've just hit you."
"That does seem like your normal approach."
"Oh, what do you know?"
El Diablo Verde leaned back in his chair. "I always study the potential opposition. You have shown great restraint today. You have even kept a civil tongue."
Nasty bit off a string of obscenities. "Try not to talk to me right now, okay? I've got too much shit going on as it is."
"It was a good effort."
The door opened. Eagle walked through, his cape billowing behind him. He looked over Nasty then the Green Devil. "This... is not what I expected."
A tall man in a grey business suit walked through the open door, closing it behind him. "Ah, excellent work."
"I do not believe we've been introduced," El Diablo Verde said.
"Special Agent Matthew Johnson, FBI, Special Investigations and Enforcement."
"The what?" Nasty asked.
"He means the powered section," the Green Devil supplied.
Johnson produced paperwork from under his jacket. "These authorize me to take Mr. Devil to a Federal holding facility. Mr. Eagle, if I can get your signature."
"I am impressed at your speed, Mr. Enforcement, but you're overlooking one critical aspect." The Green Devil pointed at Nasty. "I am in her custody, not Eagle's."
Johnson looked up at Nasty. "Is this true?"
Nasty shrugged. "Yeah. That's the deal."
"Since Peregrine is part of the American Eagle Foundation, Mr. Eagle can still transfer custody to me."
"Maybe, but I'm not going to let him." Nasty looked over to Eagle. "Sorry. Look, this is not how I wanted things to happen, okay? But, I got El Diablo Verde in without a fight and he..." She glanced at the costumed hitman. "He's here to help." Nasty shook her head. "I knew that was going to sound lame."
"Help? Help who?" Johnson asked.
Nasty sat on the corner of the room's massive table. "Us. Against Famine. It's not like we can afford to turn down help. Right, boss?"
Eagle rubbed his chin. "Mr. Johnson, you have heard the saying, 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend'?"
"This man is wanted for murder."
"I would like to point out that trying to take me in will cause a lot of property damage at a time when you have other problems coming," El Diablo Verde said.
"The United States government does not negotiate with terrorists."
"Good thing he's a paid killer," Nasty pointed out. "And you have to negotiate with me and Eagle, not him."
Johnson ran his hand through his receding hair. "Do you have any idea of what you're doing, Peregrine?"
"I do, yes. How many people do we already have standing by for Famine? How many of them can take a hit from him?"
"She makes a very good point," El Diablo Verde.
"Stop helping," Nasty growled.
"The last thing we need, Mr. Johnson," Eagle began, "is to exhaust ourselves before Famine appears. I will not sign over Senor Verde's release to you."
Johnson stiffened. "You will be hearing from our lawyers, then." He stormed out of the conference room.
"Peregrine, please arrange a place for our guest to stay."
"Right." Nasty pushed herself away from the table. "I'll do what I can." She left the conference room, threading through the SWAT team still outside. Smooth move, dumbass. You didn't get yourself in a fight and now the Feds are sending attack lawyers. At the elevators, Nasty stabbed the call button.
The elevator doors opened to reveal Micki. "There you are. Do you have any idea what you've done?"
Nasty glared at her Public Relations handler. "Created a huge fucking mess for you to clean up?"
"Get in." Micki stepped aside to let the teenage in the elevator car. Once the doors closed, she continued, "I heard you talking to the Devil. What the hell were you thinking?"
"That he hits hard. Look, I got him here. Now he's someone else's problem."
"He's in your custody."
"What the fuck was I supposed to do? I didn't hear you offer any suggestions."
Micki stepped back from Nasty. "You're the hero, sweet cheeks, not me."
"It'd be nice if people would tell me what that means. Look, I did what I could. Given the situation, it'd be nice if everyone would get off my back about it."
"You negotiated with a killer." Micki sighed. "Fine, we'll do the damage control later. What do we do with your guest?"
"Find him a place to stay. Preferably, not my apartment."
"Easy enough. I'll get you a room, too."
Nasty turned to face her assistant. "Wait, what? No."
"Your guest. Your responsibility. If he starts anything, you get to finish it." Micki cocked her head as she listened to her earbud. "Anne wants to see us."
Nasty groaned. "Great."
"Ladies, have a seat." Anne got up from behind her desk to walk around it as Nasty and Micki sat down. "The FBI called. Something about not turning over a wanted felon?"
"I can explain," Nasty said. "The Devil surrendered himself to me and only me. He says he's here to help."
Micki shook her head. "I don't trust him."
"I did what I could."
Anne held her hands up to separate the younger women. "Ladies, no fighting." She turned her attention to Nasty. "Peregrine, how do you know he's not here to cause problems?"
"I don't know." Nasty shrugged. "He said he's being paid to help. He could have ripped my head off when we met but he didn't."
"Micki," Anne turned to Peregrine's PR woman, "what do you think?"
"He could easily be lying. Hell, he's inside the Foundation right now. Even surrounded by a full SWAT team, he could wreak havoc without breaking a sweat."
"He's not going to do that," Nasty said.
"How do you know that?"
"Because he hasn't already. He could have done something the moment the Fed stepped into the room. Instead, he let me run interference. Seemed like a point of honour for him."
Micki snorted. "Honour? Ha!"
"Let Peregrine finish, Micki." Anne leaned on the edge of her desk. "Honour, how so?"
"He said he was a man of his word. That he only kills when paid. I mean, how many people died last time he escaped?"
Micki shrugged. "File said a trail of bodies, Anne."
Anne slipped back around to sit down at her desk. She worked at her computer for a moment. "Three dead."
"That's the number he told me." Nasty leaned back in her chair. "Look, I have a gut feeling here. He's a pro. Kinda like Micki here."
"He is nothing like me."
"What I mean is, he takes pride in his work. Part of it is the money. He doesn't live up to his side of the job, he doesn't get paid. But he's also . . ." Nasty fumbled for the words. "He's like Micki. Even with the worst assignment, he's going to put his full effort in, because he needs to."
Micki glowered. "There's a huge difference between me being your PR person and being a paid killer."
"Can't we just put out some sort of press thing saying that the danger is so great, two enemies are putting aside their differences to fight this Horseman?"
"It's not that simple, Jess," Anne said. "The Feds tend to look down on vigilantes, especially if they have powers. To them, Eagle is just another vigilante, one with really good public relations. What helps us is keeping on friendly terms with the police."
"Which police?" Micki asked. "If the Rochester PD don't mind the help, maybe there's a way out of this mess."
"Do you want me to call up the Chief of Police just as he's putting his kids to bed and ask him?"
"I didn't know he was married. No, all I need to know is if they don't mind having extra help on the ground to contain the crazies that will be coming out of the woodwork when Famine flies by. It's going to be obvious that Eagle will try to take him down here."
Anne nodded. "And get the legit law enforcement agency to argue on our behalf. I'll send him an email to warn him about our crazy scheme." She looked over to Nasty. "I'm going to be calling on a lot of favours for this. Are you sure?"
Nasty shrugged. "He could have killed me before I knew he was there. This is the best I've got."
"I need you to be sure, Jessica."
After a moment of thought, Nasty answered, "Yeah, I'm sure. He hasn't started anything yet here, in any case."
Anne looked back over to Micki. "What about you?"
Micki grimaced. "I don't like the idea, but it beats fighting for now."
"Good. I'll let the Board know what the plan is." Anne got up. "Jess, I'll get someone to set up a spare room for you to sleep in tonight. Micki, work up a draft for the press conference. Oh, and Jess, don't let El Diablo Verde see you out of costume. Wear it any time you're not in your temporary bedroom."
Nasty turned to leave. She hesitated at the door, letting Micki through first. On an impulse, she glanced back at Anne. "I'm really sorry for dropping this mess in your lap."
"We're all a little frazzled, what with Famine coming."
"It's not just that." Nasty closed the door. "I don't think I'm cut out for all this hero business. I messed up finding Cinder and Ember and now I've brought a wanted felon into the building. I can't seem to get things right."
Anne set aside her paperwork. "Ah, I see. If it'll help any, Jess, no one's cut out for all this 'hero business'. That's why Eagle as the Foundation, to deal with the fallout being a hero causes. You got handed a bad situation with El Diablo Verde and you handled it the best you could. Without immediate collateral damage, at that. No costly repair bills, no hospital stays. There'd be a lot of people who'd say that you did well today."
"Except the FBI guy." Nasty sighed. "Micki's not happy with me, either."
"Micki isn't seeing the overall picture yet. She will. I could talk with her if you want."
"No, no, I can fight my own battles, Anne."
"Go rest up, okay? Take a breather. Let the Board handle the FBI for now." Anne returned to her paperwork. "I'll call the school in the morning to say that you're sick. Did you have any homework?"
"It's in my pack, in the van."
"I'll send it to your room."
Nasty tried to smile. "Thanks. I'll be in the gym for a bit if any needs me."
[End Issue 30]
Next Issue: Famine strikes.