Unknown Location – Day
Gradually, his hands traced the contours of his bare thighs, softly gliding across the pepper-haired surface. At his knees, his palms turned upward, his knuckles traversing the arched terrain. Then, fanned, his fingers caressed his calves down to his ankles.
Robin sat upright, his neck craned to the left. He flexed his feet in unison, with the most fleeting of smiles curling from his lips.
Then the sound of the casters rolling on a hard surface screeched, and his left leg juddered forward, along with the left part of the room, away from him, revealing his amputated stump once more.
“And you’re still doing this at home, right?” a man asked.
He took a moment, but then Robin turned his head forward, to a man, dressed in a white short sleeved polo shirt and sweatpants, and to his own reflection, no trousers on, perched on the edge of a bed, in a cubicle flanked with wraparound curtains. The man held a full-length wheeled mirror before him.
Robin took a sharp intake of breath, and then his face softened. “It’s old hat for me, Jay. Still weirds Nikki out.”
“I get it,” Jay said as he set the mirror outside the cubicle and walked back to Robin. Carefully, he wrapped his hands around the long healed amputation site. “Doing it behind closed doors, right?”
Robin winced as the physiotherapist kneaded the stump, twisting his hands. “You know it. She calls out, ‘you better be masturbating in there!’ and I’m like, ‘baby girl, you’re only getting away with that ’cause I ain’t got my leg on’ – ah!”
“Yo, sorry, sorry. She’s got a mouth on her.”
“She gets it from her mom,” Robin responded sullenly.
“Good to have a sense of humor ’bout these things, though. Right attitude.”
“Too much attitude.”
Jay smiled as he stopped massaging the stump and focused on Robin’s calf on his right leg. “But you’re still finding the mirror therapy useful, yeah?”
“Yeah, kinda. It’s still nice to actually see my ghost toes wiggling. Put a feel to a foot. You know what I mean.”
With a wide toothy grin, “Gotcha. Ooh, that’s tight. You been shifting your weight to your right side?”
Robin nodded. “Hmm.”
“Yeah. Change of weather. Stress.”
Robin rolled his eyes and then bared his teeth as Jay applied more pressure. “And the rest. She’s back, for God knows how long, and I just…then again, it doesn’t take much to set it off. Or me, where she’s concerned.”
“For sure,” Jay stopped and then reached over to his clipboard atop a nearby cart, scratching his nose as he made notes. “Given the amount you’re compensating on your good leg, I’d like you to see your neuro, just to maybe reevaluate your meds to smooth out the flares, and if we can go back to biweekly sessions for a while, we can realign your gait.”
Resigned, Robin clapped his hands into a clasp, “You got it.”
“Cool, you get dressed, and I’ll go let reception know to book you in. Good work today, Robin. I’ll catch you in a couple weeks, ‘kay?” Jay signed his clipboard with a smile at Robin, who nodded his thanks, before exiting and pulling the curtain completely shut behind him.
Physiotherapist – Gym – Moments Later
After fixing his jacket, Robin passed from the physio ward into the gym, on his way to reception.
As he crossed the floor, navigating past the equipment and apparatus, his attention was drawn to the corner, where he heard a palpable cry of pain followed by a shrill, “No, I can’t!” from behind a screen.
He stopped, brow furrowed.
Physiotherapist – Gym – Partition – Same Time
A trembling right palm struggled to fully open and press flat against the magnolia wall. The fingers were swollen and throbbing, pulsating a mottled bright red and dusky purple, accentuated by the cool paintwork.
“C’mon, you can do it. Wrist first and then roll your hand forward,” a physiotherapist encouraged as he stood beside his patient, a young woman.
Biting down on her lower lip, breath held, eyes pursed, face red, sweating, she tried, her hand now furiously shaking and causing her arm and shoulder to shake. Then she screamed, “I said I can’t!”
She fell forward. The physiotherapist moved to hold her, but with her left side she threw him off and then withdrew into herself.
“Don’t touch me…please.”
Taken aback, the physiotherapist stepped away. “Sorry, take five. I’ll be back with some water, okay?”
Taking deep, heavy breaths, she tried to regain some composure. Silently, she nodded repeatedly.
A moment after the physiotherapist left, Robin peered gingerly around the screen.
“Abigail?” he carefully called out.
Snapping her head towards him, Abigail’s eyes went wide, and she hastily hid her hand behind her. As she did, Robin caught sight of her entire right arm, swollen and red, and his mouth hung open slightly.
“M-Mr. Wood, I – ugh…” She tried her best to conceal her arm with her oversized hoodie, but grimaced as the soft material touched her skin.
“Oh, Abi, I’m…I thought I heard your voice, and I just wanted to check in.” He took a step further inside.
“What are you even doing here?”
Robin stopped and then bent down and tapped his left leg beneath his sweatpants. It sounded hollow. “C’mon, I know the younger slayers call me Pegleg.”
Abigail smiled weakly and then sat down on a fold-up chair. “I was a good girl.”
After a moment of quiet, Robin asked. “Are you okay?”
“Sure, just here for a sprain.”
“That didn’t look like a sprain, Abi.”
She held her gaze for what seemed the longest time, her eyes reading his face as she clearly agonized over her response.
“It’s okay. What happened?”
She took a sharp intake of breath. “Oh, you know, I turned thirty,” she said bluntly. A moment later, her expression changed. She looked crestfallen.
Momentarily, Robin closed his eyes.
Abigail looked down at the flecked green and silver linoleum floor. “You know that right-hook I’m famous for…was…famous for? Turns out, somewhere along the way I threw one too many and damaged the nerve in my arm.”
“How bad?” Robin came closer.
“Real bad,” Abigail visibly gulped and looked up at him. “I can’t write. I can’t lift anything. My clothes hurt me. It’s either on fire or it’s frozen. And don’t even ask me to get under the shower.” She stifled a small laugh. “Guess they don’t call it complex for nothing.”
Robin blinked back the evident surprise on his face. “I…I’m so sorry.”
“Three months. I turned thirty three months ago. They can’t tell me if it’ll ever go away…”
A silence fell between them, then, sincerely, Robin said, “I get it. Kinda.”
Now Abigail looked surprised. “Y-you do?”
“Yeah. It’s been years for me, but even now, I can sometimes feel my leg. Sometimes I can feel it being…and then I can’t feel it at all.”
“There’s not a moment I don’t feel it. Feel everything, and I mean everything. It’s too much. The pain. If this is what the vamps and demons felt when I hit them? I…I don’t know how to deal with that. It’s cruel. I was cruel.”
“Don’t. Don’t do that to yourself.”
Abigail welled up, “I just want it to stop.”
Robin’s eyes glinted, too. He opened his mouth, then swallowed back the words.
Coven Room – Later that Afternoon
“Oh jeez,” said Willow as she leafed through the same book that Liz had shown Jackson in the library. “Jackson’s right.” She looked up at Liz, who stood peering over her shoulder. “How did you find this?”
“It was kind of a saga,” Liz told her, “involving scrambled eggs and overcoming institutional –”
“What’s up?” Dawn asked, appearing next to Willow and handing her a tablet with an inventory list on it. Willow squiggled a signature without really looking at it.
“So, the spell to put the Boxless Lady back in a box is impossible,” Liz told her, “because it requires the egg of an elephant bird, which has been extinct for like four hundred years.”
Willow sighed. “I don’t know what we’re gonna do. Honestly, what we did last night should have worked. I don’t understand how she’s physically invulnerable and immune to magic, no matter how old she is.”
Dawn was only half-listening, instead staring at the page with a drawing of an enormous egg.
“Why?” she asked, after a short silence.
Liz looked up at her. “Sorry what?”
“Why does the spell need that ingredient?” Dawn elaborated.
Willow looked up at her. “That’s a…really good question.”
Dawn saw Liz’s furrowed brow and explained. “The spell needs that specific bird’s egg for a reason. If we can figure out why, then maybe we can figure out a substitution.”
“And then all we’ll need is a replacement box,” Willow finished. “No biggie.” Her tone and expression indicated that it was, in fact, a biggie.
“Well, that all sounds like very fun research,” Liz commented. “But I’ve gotta get to work.”
She turned to leave the room.
“This isn’t work?” a confused Dawn called after her.
Doublemeat Palace – Later Afternoon
Liz Giles was working on cleaning up the cash register area with a damp towel. It was too late for lunch and too early for the dinner rush, but the place was not vacant. There were still about a dozen patrons eating at the tables, including a trio of what appeared to be college students, a young man and woman who looked to be on a date based on their physical proximity to each other, and a mother or babysitter with a child who appeared to be no older than Sophie Rosenberg. Liz was smiling as she watched the young girl play with the toy car that came in the kid’s meal when her coworker came over to restock the cups.
“Your grandparents who came in the other day seem pretty nice,” said the worker, who appeared to be around the same age as Liz and was wearing a name tag that read “Zoe.”
Liz’s grin widened.
“They’re not my grandparents. They’re my parents,” she answered, as if almost expecting what the next response would be. In anticipation, she started to nod her head a little bit.
“Really? They seem…well, nice.”
“Zoe, I think the word you’re looking for is old.” Liz laughed. Zoe joined in then.
“I wasn’t about to say that…out loud,” Zoe confessed.
“Ha! Trust me. Everyone knows how old they are, including them. My mom tells me I was a surprise, which is a nice way to avoid calling me an accident. Either way, they started their family later in life.”
“Well, I would say better late than never because otherwise we wouldn’t have Liz. Who, rumor has it, is willing to work my Friday shift this week,” she added hopefully.
“I see what you did there,” Liz chuckled.
“How about it?” Zoe asked.
Liz smiled. “Let me check to see if there’s anything special going on, and I can let you know tomorrow?”
“Thanks a lot,” the girl said gratefully. “I forgot to mention to Nancy that I needed Friday off for the New Year’s dance with Carson.”
“I’ve heard that normal girls who go to normal schools do normal things like dances. What’s that like?”
“The Council doesn’t have dances?”
“Not as many as public schools do, but we always do a spring formal. But yeah, if I don’t have any unforeseen plans, I should be able to work.”
“I’ll owe you big time,” Zoe said.
“And I might call that in someday,” Liz replied. With the shifting of her eyes, Liz noticed someone approaching her cash register. Before she turned her head, she started the sales pitch. “Welcome to Doublemeat Palace, how can I meat you…today.” The last bit came out more like a groan than an actual word.
Standing in front of her was her classmate Trina, who wore a large grin. “I guess it’s true you’re working here. How the mighty have fallen.”
“How can I help you today?” Liz asked in a professional voice, with a forced smile.
Trina ignored the question. “Why are you here? Did the Giles trust fund run out? I must admit, though, the color of that oh-so-sick animal hat truly brings out the blueness of your eyes.”
Liz paused for a moment and then smiled again. “Thanks. I’m flattered. And call me an elitist, but I’m strictly into dating humans, so thanks but no thanks.” Trina’s nostrils flared slightly.
“You know what, Giles?” Trina began to say in an angry tone.
Trina was so angry that she didn’t notice Liz looking over her shoulder. She failed to notice Liz’s mouth starting to drop. Trina couldn’t say anything more because, a second later, Liz grabbed her by the lapels. Trina’s face immediately showed fear – she seemed scared she’d pushed Liz too far and now she’d soon be in pain. Instead of the punch she expected, Liz physically dragged her over the order station and pushed her to the floor.
She watched from the ground as Liz threw her hat toward the drive-thru worker and shouted to the dining area, “Shooter! Take cover!”
Upon getting hit with the hat, the drive-thru worker saw the commotion and raced to the manager’s office.
Liz watched as the gunman, who had been casing the restaurant dining area, now focused his attention immediately on her after her outburst. As for the patrons, everyone jumped up from their seats. The sound of gasps, screams and chairs squeaking filled the immediate area. Some customers ran, while others tried to crawl toward the exits. Some others simply cowered under their tables, immobilized in fear.
Liz saw him sweep his rifle toward her. As she turned away from the oncoming barrel, she noticed that Zoe had just rounded the corner to see what was happening. Liz took her coworker off her feet with a leg sweep so that Zoe landed on the ground next to Trina. Immediately, gunfire sounded, and bullets ricocheted off the ice cream machine just behind where Zoe had been standing only seconds earlier.
“We have to help those people,” Liz told Trina, motioning to the dining area. The manager came over to kneel beside them. He looked terrified and only a few years older than Liz. He wore a tag that said “Steve.”
“Are you crazy?” Trina asked, her voice shaking.
“We’ve gotta do something,” Liz told Trina firmly.
“Yeah, run,” Trina answered. She started to scurry away toward the kitchen area.
“You go,” Steve told Liz and Zoe, motioning to the back of the kitchen.
Liz shook her head, both at Trina’s retreating form and Steve’s order. Instead, she turned to Zoe and pointed at Steve. “Get him and the employees out the backdoor.” She turned to Steve and said, “Once you’re out, you call 9-1-1 and tell the cops the store layout.” Gunfire erupted again, but in the other direction, making the three of them wince. “Now’s your chance. Go,” she whispered urgently. Pausing only a couple seconds, Steve and Zoe began to motion the scared employees to follow them out the back.
Liz rested against the beverage machine as she sat on the floor contemplating her next move, all the while whipping her head around to try to pinpoint the noise of the gunman’s next location.
During the commotion, a young man had picked up a chair and hurled it at their attacker. This turned the gunman’s attention away from the cowering workers and towards the now almost vacant dining area. Almost, except for the mother and child, who were trying to hide behind a trash receptacle, and the young woman that the young man had been sitting with earlier. The gunman fired again, this time striking the young man and bringing him to the ground. The young woman cried out in shock and fear.
Hearing that the commotion was moving away from her, Liz peeked up from the counter and saw the gunman stalking closer to the wounded man, who was on the floor bleeding from the shoulder. She glanced back to the kitchen to see the door closing as Steve escorted the last employee outside. She quickly looked left and right in search of something, anything, nearby to use as a weapon. Finally, her eyes settled on the drink station.
As the gunman began to close in on the prone man, a glass coffee pot crashed into the back of his head and neck, pouring hot coffee down his back. He cried out in surprise and in pain. As he started to turn toward the kitchen, Liz ducked back behind the counter and covered her head, trying to get as low as possible. Gunfire rang out again in her direction.
Veins of rage pulsed within the gunman’s neck and temple as he stalked closer. He was almost at the counter. Liz held her breath, not even daring to take a breath for fear of giving away her location to the man who was now only a few feet from her on the other side of the counter. She heard him change the clip and closed her eyes.
Smash Cut To:
Series of Shots:
– Six-year-old Liz stands with a large group of people under a movie marquee that reads Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. She is dressed as Hermione, and Martin is dressed as Harry. Her dad and mom are dressed as Dumbledore and McGonagall, respectively.
– Martin whimpers in the backseat while Becca drives. “I’m never gonna drum again,” Martin sobs. Liz sits next to Martin with his hand in hers. “You will. Take deep breaths and hold my hand,” she told him. “Dr. Miller will have your arm fixed in no time.”
– Buffy creeps into the Giles kitchen with ten-year-old Liz and brother Martin tiptoeing along with them. Liz watches as Buffy takes out three cookies from the jar, giving one to each of them. In the other room Giles calls out, “Liz, get out of the cookies.” Buffy snickers. “Don’t tell your Dad,” she says to them in a conspiratorial whisper, but in a louder voice, she says, “She’s not in the jar.” After a small pause, Giles asks, “Are you in the jar?” Another pause, and Buffy says loudly, “Busted.” From the other room, they all hear her dad sigh, “Bloody hell,” making them giggle.
– Tween Liz laughs at Alex, who looks grumpy. Jen dances around him, singing, “I won CSI again! I won CSI again! I won CS-!”
– Liz and the Twins look at the Stoned Platypus logo on a drum. “Looks like a kid did it,” she remarks. Martin pauses then says, “I am a kid.”
– Liz sits with Rowena in her classroom that spring. “You’ll show Trina, and everyone else, including my wife, that you’re much more than a punk ass bitch…but only if you make that choice.”
– Liz stands on the balcony of St. Paul’s Chapel in New York. A burst of light makes her drop back to the floor and everyone around her shields their eyes. When it subsides, three angels, Michael, Raphael and Uriel, are there. Liz tells them, “We can help save Gabrielle by getting her on the ropes, but we need to know who’s the one with the special touch here.”
Smash Cut To:
Doublemeat Palace – Resume
Liz closed her eyes and took a deep breath, almost as if in meditation. On the other side of the counter, the man raised his weapon and started to peer over the top of the counter. He had just begun to search when suddenly there was a tap on his shoulder. Shocked, he turned around to see a teen girl about half his size standing there.
Jen Rosenberg looked annoyed. “Are you gonna stand there all day, or are you gonna order already?”
Flabbergasted for a moment, the man did nothing. Then he abruptly swung the rifle around to face Jen, but they were too close to each other, and she grabbed his hand on the stock to prevent him from taking aim.
He stomped on her foot, which was enough for her to lose her grip. He backhanded her with the rifle stock, and she tumbled to the ground. He took aim, and Jen looked genuinely terrified. She readied herself for the barrage of bullets that she was sure would follow. But somehow they didn’t.
The man opened the clip and much to his surprise, and Jen’s, the only projectiles that came out were mini marshmallows. The man was in utter shock and looked at his weapon in amazement. Jen smiled and darted to her feet.
“Thanks, Bro,” she called out.
Alex stood by the entrance, arms extended and palms open as he muttered an enchantment under his breath, never breaking the string of words that were coming from his mouth. A small trickle of blood started from his nose, but it didn’t break his concentration on his incantation.
While the gunman was still dazed, Jen snatched the weapon from him with ease. This time it was her turn. She backhanded him with the stock of his weapon, and he fell like a lumpy bowl of oatmeal to the ground.
“Everyone get out!” she yelled. The two women helped the young man with the bleeding shoulder as the young child tagged along. Liz also popped up from her hiding spot behind the counter. The restaurant was now clear.
The gunman also tried to sit up, but Jen wasn’t having it. She pulled the clip from his gun and bent the barrel. Then she raised the gun above her head, turning it into a make-shift club of sorts.
As she spoke each word, she struck the man in the head or the upper body.
Liz was hopping the counter and Alex, no longer chanting, came rushing over to Jen.
Both started to repeat the slayer’s name, but Alex was the first to reach out to touch her shoulder, which made his sister jump. The trance-like state she had been in leapt away from her eyes, and she looked down to see that the gunman was a bloody, and possibly dead, mess. Angrily, she tossed the gun aside.
“We need to see to the wounded,” Liz said, trying to break the tension. “I don’t know who’s been hurt.”
“Yeah,” Jen agreed, “Help everyone except this cunt. Let him bleed to death.”
“Jen,” Alex tried in a sympathetic tone.
“Go with Liz,” she told him. “I’ll stay here in case he dares to stand up again. Go.”
When Alex and Liz were out of ear shot, he muttered, “I’m worried about her.”
Liz spared a glance in Jen’s direction but continued her search of the dining area.
Watchers Council – Dr. Miller’s Office – Same Time
“There’s gotta be something you can do, Doc?” Robin paced in front of the closed door, his hands open before him as if waiting to receive inspiration. “Something we can do? Hell, even financial?”
Sat behind his desk, Dr. Miller leaned forward somberly. “You would be more in the know regarding the Council’s coffers than I, Mr. Wood. I just have my departmental budget. If you can call it that these days.”
“We can’t just do nothing,” Robin’s pacing increased, as did his volume. “There are girls, women, suffering!”
“Some more than most, I know. Please,” Dr. Miller raised a hand. Robin stopped, confused. “Please.” Dr. Miller gestured to the seat opposite him.
Robin sighed and, with a slight shake of his head, he took the chance to sit down, exhaling deeply as he filled the chair.
“I’m sure you’re aware how…vocal…Ms. Hatherley has been to both me and the Coven,” Dr. Miller continued.
“And you really don’t think there’s some way, something that can be done?” Robin’s brow creased, pained.
“To be frank, Mr. Wood, I’m a doctor, not a librarian.”
His chin sunk back into his head. “I’m sorry?”
Dr. Miller swallowed and cast his gaze to the window, a light flurry of snow, illuminated by the streetlight outside, danced behind the slatted blinds. The soft light it cast on his face accentuated the lines, his jowls and his pursing eyes. “This is still a relatively emerging situation. A pandemic of pain, illness.” He looked back at Robin. “Simply put, there has never been another time where there have been so many slayers, let alone that survive to lose their calling. We have no framework, no response, because this is happening here and now. We are at sea. Again,” he tapered off, eyes on his desk. Then he looked up, wearing a fleeting, demure smile, if it could indeed be described as a smile.
“So let’s think big. What about merging the medical and the mystical? Have you not even got together with the Coven?”
“Many times, with Ms. Rosenberg, personally. I know we seem to perform miracles here every Tuesday, but…these post-slayers who present with medical issues, some may have been incurred while on duty, while some of them may have already had an underlying health condition that was masked or, more appropriately, paused by their calling.”
Dr. Miller sat back in his chair and clasped his hands in front of him. “The things that can cause some of these medical issues are so…small. A nerve fiber. A single cell gone awry. A gene. A chromosome. I am not a wizard, and I cannot say whether we will ever be able to affect those things with magic. But I can tell you that the best magical and medical minds that I know of have worked on that problem and told me that there is nothing that we can do for these girls except to treat, medically, whatever may arise. Just like with you and me.”
Robin seemed poised to speak, but then abruptly staggered forward in his seat, wincing with a sharp intake of air.
Dr. Miller sprung forward from the chair. “Mr. Wood, breathe. Breathe.”
Robin rolled his head to the ceiling and filled his lungs, and then slowly, deeply exhaled. Then again, and again.
“Have you –”
“Yes, I have. Today. I’m being re-referred,” Robin replied sharply. Then he looked back down, his eyes heavy and his breathing regulated. He looked back up at Dr. Miller after a moment. “Unlike you and me, these girls have been going out there, in some cases since their pre-teens, getting physically beat up night after night, all to protect us from the forces of darkness. We owe them.”
Dr. Miller sat back on the edge of his desk and sighed. “The fact is that these women, specifically the ones in our employ, have some level of aftercare in place, but even then, that isn’t adequate. I know that Ms. Summers has been lobbying for government action, particularly for those women not under the Council, there have certainly been some horror stories about the reactions from private insurance, but…I desperately want to help, more so than I, well, than I have, and there are some things that we can do to mitigate – rehab, medications, therapies – all to give a better quality of life, but these women are never going to return to the field. They will never be slayers again. They will be lucky to lead what is deemed normal lives. There has to be acceptance of that. And I know you get that, personally.”
Cocking his head to the side, Robin slowly nodded, rubbing his left knee. “I just feel…”
“I know, Mr. Wood. Might I ask, has something happened?”
Robin swallowed. “I saw Abigail Stevens at my P.T. She…she was not in a good way.”
“Her hand, her arm…I mean, I know that pain is personal and I haven’t got what she has, but I just…feel…”
“You see yourself in her. You know what’s ahead. That she will never be free of it, and you just…feel. For her. For them. For you.”
“Yeah.” He stopped rubbing his knee and closed his eyes.
“You manage really well and should be proud of where you are and how much you want to help them, but this is biology, Mr. Wood, and sometimes, however much we fight…” Dr. Miller’s voice softened to almost a whisper as he looked to the window once more, “…cruelly, biology wins.” With a blink, slowly, his head turned back, his eyes falling to Robin’s knee.
His eyebrows lifting, sadly, Dr. Miller smiled.
Office – Same Time
A harried young receptionist hung up her phone. She looked up to see Maddie Allen casually leaning on the edge of her desk, looking around the ultra-modern office. Her gum chewing caused her lips to smack loudly.
“Can I help you?” the receptionist asked.
Maddie looked back at her. “Uh, yeah, I’m here to see Todd Kramer.”
The receptionist turned to her computer. “Mr. Kramer is very busy. Do you have an appointment?”
“Oh, he’ll wanna see me,” Maddie said. She blew a bubble until it popped. The receptionist stared at her. “Just tell him I’m here.”
Todd Kramer’s Office – Moments Later
The receptionist opened the door to let Maddie into the office. Todd Kramer stood at the floor-to-ceiling windows showing an expansive view of Downtown Cleveland, wearing an extremely expensive-looking tailored suit and tie. His hair was slicked back, and his face featured a goatee that might have cost a thousand dollars to have groomed so that it looked like he had woken up that way. He nodded to the receptionist and motioned Maddie inside, without pausing in the speech he was delivering to his bluetooth earpiece.
“Look, Marty, I’m tellin’ ya, the Cleveland market is where the money is these days. Everybody’s gotta be near a Hellmouth, all that mystical energy. You wanna power a generator for clean energy, this is your spot. You wanna, y’know, crispy-fry your enemies, this is also your spot. It’s full-service real estate, is the point I’m making.
After the receptionist had left, Maddie strode into his extremely well-appointed office and plopped down in a plush, bright-white chair. She propped both her boots up on the glass table and waited, still chewing her gum. Todd spared her a consternated glance over his shoulder.
“Hey, Marty, I know you have to take these decisions to the Board. Shoot my assistant an email, and we’ll set up lunch on Thursday. My treat. Great. Love to Ellen for me. Bye.”
He pressed his earpiece and turned around to face Maddie. His arms went wide in greeting, a not-particularly-sincere smile plastered on his face. “Maddie! My favorite superpowered teenager. To what do I owe this visit? To my office. In broad daylight.”
She just looked up at him and popped another bubble. Todd looked like he was restraining himself bodily from saying something. After her tongue had pulled the gum back into her mouth, she said, “I haven’t gotten paid yet.”
Todd walked around behind his enormous mahogany desk. “Ah, yes. Did you submit an invoice to –”
“I take Venmo,” she interrupted him, holding up her cell. “Or Paypal, for older folks like yourself.”
Todd was quiet, just for a split-second. Then he laughed, “Ha!” with a knowing point at Maddie. “You’re funny. I like you.” She regarded him balefully. “All business, great.”
He reached down and opened a drawer in his desk. He pulled out a fat white envelope and tossed it over to Maddie. She caught it casually and peeked inside to find a couple of particularly thick stacks of cash. She raised an eyebrow and slowly got to her feet.
“And this includes my fees? For the…events on the job?”
“It’s all there,” Todd assured her. “What do you take me for?” He gestured around the office. “That’s not how I do business.”
Maddie glanced out the window, toward the lake in the distance. She smirked. “Yeah, you’re doin’ great.” She looked back at him, gesturing with the envelope. “If I count this and it’s not all here, I’m coming back. And then people are gonna start wondering why a hot teenager keeps coming to visit you.”
“Hey, I pay my bills, okay? Especially with people I want to keep doing business with.”
“Great.” Maddie cricked her back with both hands then moved toward the door. Halfway there, she stopped, a suddenly thoughtful look on her face, and turned back toward him. “You’d…hire me again?”
“Absolutely,” Todd said. “Your performance was most satisfactory. I’ve had the most trouble with private contractors, it’s so hard to find good people. And I’ll have plenty more work for you in the near future with some of the things we’ve got planned, so you’ll definitely be hearing from me.”
Maddie blinked and licked her lips. “Yeah, I mean, a job goes south the way this one did, some clients get shifty about the money, but you…hold up, you did want me to protect the Box of Nakodok, right? It got smashed. Also the museum kind of got torched. That part wasn’t me, it was those Council assholes.”
Todd just grinned at her and sat down behind his desk. “All I can say is, let me know if you change your contact info.” He leaned back in his chair. “I think this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.”
Maddie just looked at him. Then she turned to leave, but a split-second later, she turned back to him, mouth open, as if to say something. Then she thought better of it and turned away again.
“Ohhhh kay,” she said as she left. “Enjoy your weird white dude shit,” she called over her shoulder, just as she closed the door behind her.
Once she was gone, Todd pressed a button on the phone on his desk. “Carol, go ahead and set up that meeting,” he said. “I think I’ll have good news for our clients very soon.”
End of Act Five