HUMAN/SUPER #20

SELLOUT

 

 

 

 

 

Fang—Stefanie Xiufang Wu to her parents and the government—closed her eyes. A big, red, gas-guzzling SUV rumbled through her mind. She looked up and spread her fingers to the sky, her rings glittering in morning sun.

The SUV materialized out of thin air above Gerard’s New & Used Auto and rotated slowly in place. The words “THANKSGIVING SALE! PRICES SLASHED ALL WEEK!” appeared on the side of the truck. Fang leaned back against the grill of an old black sedan and conducted the imagery with her hands.

Fang smiled as Lauren Lowe walked by barefoot, her little white toes contrasting against the dark pavement. Lauren was wearing shorts and a tank top, all black, with her red hair tied back in a ponytail. She had about fifty square feet of vinyl banner rolled up under her arm.

She headed over to the building at the centre of the lot and started crawling up the wall. She fixed one side of the banner in place and crawled across the front of the building, unfurling the banner behind her.

“THANKSGIVING WEEK AT GERARD’S,” it said in bright, bold letters alongside photos of various cars and trucks.

Over by the entrance, Erica Doyle’s dark brown skin glowed faintly as she filled the air with a special blend of pheromones. Within seconds, pedestrians began hesitating as they passed by, glancing back in confusion and curiosity.

And on the far end of the lot, a whirlwind of multicolored paper rose toward the sky and scattered over the city. Nelson Choi stood in the middle of it, imprinting text onto the blank sheets with his mind and sending them flying.

Out of the corner of her eye, Fang spotted Jeff Gerard, the square-jawed, upper-class white guy with the fancy suit and the salt-and-pepper crew cut who owned the place, coming her way. He hooked his thumbs in his jacket pockets and stood beside her for a long moment, long enough to make her skin crawl.

“Can you add some fire?” he asked.

She waved her hand and a jet of blue flame erupted from the back of the truck, swirling around the tires.

Nice,” he said, drawing out the word. “That ought to get their attention, eh?”

He glanced sidelong at her and smiled.

“I guess,” she replied with a shrug.

A young couple stepped onto the lot and drifted toward a red hatchback with “$19,995” on the windshield in neon green.

Gerard winked and said, “Keep up the good work, honey.”

He turned and strolled toward the couple. Fang made a jerking-off motion behind his back.

“I saw that,” Ethan Henderson said.

ELFEN Marketing Solutions’s CEO stood behind her with his arms crossed. He was wearing a suit that seemed nice at first glance but the more you looked at it, the more the flaws stood out.

“So?” Fang said.

“So don’t do it again,” he replied.

She grinned and said, “I’d like to see you stop me.”

Ethan rubbed his forehead, his fingers sliding along the blond hairline that had started receding in his mid-twenties and showed no sign of stopping.

“Could you at least try to be nice?” he asked.

“Not my style,” she said.

“I put up with a lot in the name of ‘style’,” he said, glancing down at her denim battle jacket and leather pants, “but we’re not in college anymore. Eventually you’re going to need to start acting a bit more professional.”

“You mean more subservient, right?” she said, and mimed a curtsy. “‘Hello, Master. Yes, Master. Thank you, Master.’”

“That’s not what I…” he trailed off, sighing. “You know, you can be a real dick sometimes.”

“Only sometimes?” she asked. “I must be slipping.”

He rolled his eyes.

“Just don’t get us fired, okay?” he said. “I’ve got a lot riding on this account.”

He turned and stormed away, muttering to himself in several languages.

“You shouldn’t antagonize him,” Lauren said.

“I’m not,” Fang replied. “I just… He used to be able to take a joke.”

“People change,” Lauren said.

“A bit too much, if you ask me,” Fang said. “Remember when he used to be all into doing work for, like, charities and non-profits and stuff?”

“Sure,” Lauren said, “and I also remember being broke all the time.”

“Beats being a corporate shill,” Fang said.

“Not really,” Lauren said. “I like food. And electricity. And hot water. And so do my kids.”

“And all it cost you was your soul,” Fang said, poking Lauren in the ribs.

“Idealism’s for the young,” Lauren said, shrugging. “We’re already in our thirties. That ship has sailed.”

“Just because you’ve given up on saving the world doesn’t mean we all have to,” Fang said with a wink.

Lauren chuckled.

“Oh yeah, you’re a real superhero,” she said. “Fearless Fang and the Case of the Disappearing Bike Lanes.”

“Hey, that’s an important issue,” Fang said.

“Sure, sure” Lauren said.

“And remember the time I conjured a twelve-foot fetus monster to scare off the pro-lifers at the hospital?” Fang asked.

“Okay, that was pretty hilarious,” Lauren replied.

“See?” Fang said. “I help people.”

A white van marked with the ELFEN logo pulled up next to them with Ethan behind the wheel and Nelson riding shotgun. Ethan rolled down the driver side window.

“You ready?” he asked Lauren.

“Yep,” she said, and turned to Fang. “Duty calls.”

She climbed into the back seat and Ethan drove off without another word, leaving Fang and Erica on the lot. Fang glanced up at the sky and, for a split second, the flames at the back of the SUV took the shape of a giant middle finger.

///

The hours dragged on and on until, finally, the dealership closed for the evening. Fang snapped her fingers and the SUV in the sky vanished in a puff of imaginary smoke. Erica glowed again and her pheromones dissipated.

“Well, ladies, I am very impressed,” Gerard said, sauntering toward them. “I’d heard you folks were good, but I had no idea.”

“Thanks,” Erica muttered.

“All in a day’s work,” Fang said flatly.

Gerard smiled and glanced up at the sky.

“Looks like it’s going to rain,” he said. “Do either of you girls need a ride home?”

Fang glanced at Erica, who looked like she was actually considering it.

“We’re fine, thanks,” Fang said.

“All right,” Gerard said. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

He smiled, turned, and headed into the main building of the dealership. Fang and Erica made their way off the lot and onto the sidewalk.

“Thanks,” Erica said. “I didn’t know how to say no without being rude.”

“Don’t sweat it,” Fang said. “Being rude is my job.”

Erica laughed softly. They walked together down the sidewalk, until Erica stopped by the steps down to metro station. Fang kept going.

“You’re not taking the train?” Erica asked.

“Nah,” Fang replied. “I’ve got a rally tonight at city hall.”

“Oh, okay,” Erica said. “See you tomorrow.”

“Bye,” Fang said as Erica disappeared underground.

Fang continued down the street. It started as a faint misting, but within twenty minutes the rain was falling in torrents. She hunched up and walked faster. An umbrella appeared over her head; little more than wishful thinking.

The courtyard in front of city hall was empty when she got there. She climbed the steps to the building and stood in the entryway to get out of the rain. She dug out her phone.

“Rally cancelled due to weather—will reschedule,” the email from the organizers said.

Fang sighed and put the phone away.

“Everything okay, ma’am?” a security guard asked, poking his head out the door.

“No,” she replied, and plunged back into the rain.

///

Fang peeled off her jacket the second she stepped into her apartment and dodged the ankle-biting of Erik, her ten-year-old long-haired tabby, on her way into the bathroom.

She emptied her boots into the bathtub and toweled herself off. She left her wet clothes on the floor and stepped out into the hallway. Erik followed her to the bedroom and meowed as she threw on some pajamas.

“Quit whining,” she said. “I left you plenty of food.”

He responded with another meow.

“Oh, fine,” she said.

She snapped her fingers and an imaginary mouse appeared on the floor. Erik leapt into action, chasing the rodent around the room and out the door.

She led him to the living room, where she threw on some loud music and sat on the couch with her feet on the coffee table. The mouse climbed up onto a windowsill and blew a raspberry down at the cat.

Fang leaned back and glanced down at her arms. A full sleeve of tattoos covered her right, mostly band logos and various punk rock imagery. Her left was entirely bare; she’d always had a thing for asymmetry.

She turned her hands over. On the back of her right wrist was her very first tattoo. What had once been a bright red anarchy symbol was now, after fifteen years, a dark pink blur surrounded by fuzzy grey lines.

She crossed her arms. The mouse transformed into a sparrow and flew around the room. Erik climbed up to the back of the couch and watched the bird doing figure eights against the ceiling.

Fang scooped Erik into her arms and turned him over, rubbing his belly. He grasped her hand and gnawed on her fingers, purring loudly. After a few minutes, he fell asleep in her lap, and they stayed like this for the rest of the evening.

///

In the morning Fang headed downtown for the company’s daily meeting. She rode the elevator up to the fourth floor of the office building and made her way down the hall.

The frosted door labeled “ELFEN Marketing Solutions” swung open and a woman stepped out. She was tall, had jet black hair in a shoulder-length bob, and wore a white blouse with a plaid pencil skirt and black pumps.

The woman nodded curtly to Fang and marched up the hall. Fang waited until the woman had disappeared into the elevator before she stepped into the office.

The place was a disaster. Papers were strewn everywhere, a desk was overturned against the wall, and Ethan’s laptop lay broken on the floor. The bathroom door was ajar; she could hear water running on the other side.

The door opened and Ethan stepped out, dabbing his wet face with a towel. He froze for a moment when he saw Fang. His lower lip was swollen and split, and spots of red flecked his white collar.

“What the hell happened?” Fang asked.

“Nothing,” Ethan replied.

He set the towel aside and picked up what was left of his laptop. The screen had snapped off entirely and several loose keys scattered to the floor like Scrabble tiles.

“Uh huh,” Fang said. “I suppose nothing did that?”

“It was just an accident,” he said. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Dude, I can’t think of anything less reassuring than you telling me not to worry,” she said. “What’s going on? Who was that woman?”

“Look, I’ve got everything under control,” he said.

“Is that what you call this?” she asked, gesturing around the room.

He sighed and said, “Goddammit, Stef, will you please just drop it?”

She clenched her fists.

“Fine,” she said. “I didn’t give a shit anyway.”

Ethan turned away and leaned over the desk. He gave it a heave and it landed back on the floor with a heavy thud. Behind Fang, the door opened.

“Whoa,” Lauren said, stepping into the office. “What happened here?”

“Nothing, apparently,” Fang said.

Lauren glanced from Fang to Ethan and back.

“Forget I asked,” she said, throwing up her hands.

Nelson and Erica came in right behind her. They opened their mouths to ask the obvious question but Ethan just shook his head. Nelson shrugged and waved his hand. The papers hopped up from the floor and stacked themselves neatly on the desk.

“Okay, let’s get underway,” Ethan said. “Jeff Gerard called me last night to say how pleased he was with our work yesterday, especially you two.” He nodded at Fang and Erica. “So just keep at it and do whatever you have to do to make sure he stays happy. I’m counting on him recommending us to his colleagues. Lauren and Nelson, you’re with me. Let’s see how far we can widen the reach. Any questions?”

Nobody spoke up.

“Great,” he said, and tossed the keys to Lauren. “Go ahead and wait in the van. I’ll be down in a few minutes.”

Fang glanced back at Ethan on her way out of the office; he was trying to be nonchalant about rubbing his jaw but failing. As the door shut, Lauren leaned in beside her.

“Okay, what’s really going on?” she asked.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Fang replied.

“You mean, you didn’t do it?” Lauren said, grinning.

Fang rolled her eyes and elbowed Lauren in the ribs.

///

Fang imagined a gleaming chrome pickup truck and it appeared over the car lot. Per the client’s latest request, its tires were made of spinning blue flames.

“You’re quite the rocker, aren’t you?” Gerard said.

He was standing beside her, staring at her tattoos. Last night’s rain had given way to a warm and humid morning, so she’d worn on a black tank top under her vest today, leaving her arms in full view.

“Yeah, I guess,” she said.

“I used to be into that sort of music back in the day,” he said. “I grew out of it eventually, but I made a pretty penny off my record collection when I was raising money to start my first business. Turned out to be a great investment.”

“Inspiring,” Fang said, barely masking her sarcasm.

He chuckled. She turned her attention back to the sky.

“Hey, I remember them,” he said.

He reached out and touched the logo of a British band that broke up before she was born.

“I saw them live once, back in the seventies,” he said. “The singer was so drunk he forgot half the lyrics. But it was a good show.”

Gerard traced his finger from one logo to another. Fang clenched her jaw and planted her feet. Every fiber of her being wanted to turn around and punch him in the throat, but she remembered the blood on Ethan’s collar, and she took a deep breath.

“My work requires a lot of concentration, Mr. Gerard,” she said, glancing at his hand.

He took a step back and adjusted his tie.

“Oh, of course, sorry,” he said.

She forced a smile.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said.

He cleared his throat and said, “Well, I’ll just… get out of your hair, then.”

“Have a nice day,” she said as he turned away.

He strolled over the entrance and started chatting up Erica. Fang took another deep breath.

“Just a few more days,” she told herself, like a mantra. “Just a few more days.”

///

At the end of the day, Fang managed to slip off the lot while Gerard was busy with some last-minute customers. She headed down to city hall for the rescheduled protest rally, but only a dozen people had shown up.

She tried conjuring a larger crowd, but without the accompanying voices, most the impact was lost. The organizers decided to pack it in after half an hour; the vote on the bike lane closures was being held as they spoke, so they wouldn’t have made much of a difference anyway.

Fang needed to blow off some steam, so she swung by the Valhalla Club on her way home. The sound of wailing guitar and thundering bass spilled out onto the street as she approached the ornate entrance. She nodded at a ten-foot-tall bouncer and headed inside.

A power metal band was playing on the stage at the far end of the room. The singer was this little white woman with curly blonde hair and a German accent who belted out near-operatic vocals without a mic.

Fang pulled up a stool at the bar and ordered whiskey.

///

Fang’s stomach lurched as the elevator hauled her up the center of the building. She stepped out and staggered down the hall, the florescent lights overhead stabbing at her brain.

She opened the door to the office and headed inside. Nelson and Erica were sitting on the couch by the window, and Lauren was pacing the floor.

“Where’s Ethan?” Fang asked.

Lauren stopped pacing and turned to Fang.

“We don’t know,” she said. “We’ve been trying to get a hold of him all morning but he’s not answering his phone. I already swung by his house. He’s not there.”

“He’s probably hungover somewhere and sleeping it off,” Fang said.

“I somehow doubt that,” Lauren said. “Ordinarily I wouldn’t be worried, but after yesterday morning I don’t know what to think. Did he tell you anything about what happened?”

Fang shook her head.

“He just told me to stay of it,” she said.

“And you didn’t see anything unusual?” Lauren asked. “I mean, other than the mess.”

“Well… there was a woman,” Fang said. “She came out of the office just as I showed up. No idea who she was, though.”

“What did she look like?” Lauren asked.

“Like serious business,” Fang said. “A secretary, maybe. Or a lawyer. She—”

On the desk in the corner, the phone rang. Lauren marched over and answered it.

“ELFEN Marketing Solutions, good morning,” she said. “Jesus, it’s about time. Where are you calling from? I don’t recognize this number… Uh, yeah, we’re all here. What’s going… Okay, fine, but where… Hello? Hello? Son of a bitch.”

“What did he say?” Fang asked.

“Nothing,” Lauren replied. “He just gave me our tasks for the day and then hung up.”

“Well, as far as dickishness goes, he sounds pretty normal,” Fang said, smirking.

Erica and Nelson snickered.

Lauren rolled her eyes but said, “Fair enough.”

///

A pair of convertibles chased after each other in an airborne street race above Gerard’s lot. One of them dragged a banner behind it advertising the Thanksgiving sale. Fang resisted the urge to turn the whole scene into a fiery car crash.

She managed to avoid Gerard for most of the morning, but eventually he slithered up beside her again. She clenched her fists instinctively, waiting for him to speak.

“So,” he said finally, “when are you going to let me buy you a drink?”

“What?” she muttered.

“A drink,” he repeated. “It’s an alcoholic beverage that causes intoxication and lowers inhibitions.”

She looked him in the eye and could tell he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. The longer she hesitated, the wider he grinned, and the more she wanted to smack him across the face.

“I’m not allowed to date clients,” she said finally.

Gerard rubbed his chin and swayed on the balls of his feet.

“I’m sure Ethan can find it in his heart to forgive you,” he said. “Especially if I send some more business his way after the week’s over.”

The veins on Fang’s forehead began to throb. She opened her mouth to tell Gerard off, but hesitated. Her eyes drifted past him, to a woman standing on the sidewalk across the street from the lot. She looked like a secretary. Or a lawyer.

“Excuse me just one second,” Fang said through gritted teeth.

She stepped around Gerard and headed for the entrance. The woman didn’t move an inch as Fang crossed the street and marched toward her.

“Okay, just who the hell are you?” Fang snapped.

“I’m a business associate of your boss,” the woman said. “I had an appointment with him this morning, but he seems to be avoiding me. I was wondering if you might have any information as to his whereabouts. It’s very important that I locate him.”

Fang stared at the woman for a long moment.

“Haven’t seen him,” she said.

The woman made a hmm noise and handed Fang a business card. It read, “Delilah Wong, Financial Consultant” along with a phone number.

“When you change your mind, you can reach me at that number,” she said. “I might even throw in a little reward for your assistance. Call it a finder’s fee.”

She turned and walked away. After a few steps, she stopped and glanced back.

“But be quick about it,” she said. “The longer it takes me to find him, the worse it’ll be for him when I do.”

She headed down the block and disappeared around the corner at the intersection. Fang flipped a bird in Delilah’s general direction and returned to the lot.

“That was that the woman you saw yesterday, wasn’t it?” Erica said.

“Yeah,” Fang replied.

“Who is she?” Erica asked.

“I’m not sure,” Fang said, shoving the business card into her pocket, “but I’m going to find out.”

///

After several hours of dodging Gerard, Fang finished her shift and hurried back to the ELFEN office. She checked the last number on the call display and looked it up online. After a bit of poking around, she traced the number to a payphone on the north end of town.

She cleared the call display, locked up the office, and headed downstairs. She peeked out through the lobby doors. She didn’t see any sign of Delilah, but just to be safe, she conjured a crowd of people and stood in the middle of them.

She pressed the button and the doors opened. The crowd moved out onto the sidewalk, appearing to talk among themselves. Fang kept her head low, directing the crowd to the left and down the stairs of the nearest subway station.

The train rolled in, dragged by a tall white guy with dark hair and rippling muscles. The crowd around Fang vanished as she stepped aboard.

Twenty minutes later, she climbed the stairs back to the sidewalk and followed her GPS app to the payphone. She glanced around.

The neighborhood appeared quite diverse, with signage in multiple languages but very little English. Most of the businesses in the area were shops, restaurants, and grocers. But at the end of the block, she spotted a tall building marked with what she guessed was the Russian word for “hotel”.

She stepped inside and approached a plump old woman sitting behind the counter with her face pressed into a romance novel. Her hair was thin and white, her skin creased and pink.

“I’m looking for someone who might be staying here,” Fang said. “Can you help me?”

The woman glanced up, muttered something in Russian, and turned back to her book.

“No English, huh?” Fang said. “That’s all I needed to know.”

The woman mumbled something else. Fang smiled and headed for the door. As she opened it, she created an illusion of Ethan on the front step.

“There you are!” she said, stepping back so he could enter. “I tried asking for you at the front desk but they were less than helpful. Shall we head up to your room?”

Fake Ethan nodded, and she followed him to the stairs under the watchful eye of the desk clerk. Fang climbed to the first floor landing and considered her options: she could knock on every door in the building until she found him, or….

She dispelled Fake Ethan and stepped out into the hallway. Next to the stairwell door, a handmade sign written in Cyrillic was taped to the wall above a bright red lever. She pulled it, and the fire alarm went off.

Fang retreated to the stairwell and backed into an out-of-the-way corner. Soon people began to filter down the stairs, ignoring Fang as they hurried out of the building. After a few minutes of this, she spotted a familiar face on the landing, staring at her like a deer in the headlights.

“How did you find me?” he said over the wail of the alarm.

“Where else would a guy who can speak any language go to hide from someone who can’t?” she replied, and crossed her arms. “Now, do you want to go somewhere a little quieter or what?”

Ethan sighed and said, “Follow me.”

He led her across the street to a Vietnamese restaurant where they ordered stir-fried pho and watched the crowd gathering outside the hotel.

“So,” Fang said, “this is that part where you explain what the hell is going on.”

Ethan stared down at his plate and took a deep breath.

“We’re broke,” he said. “The company, I mean. I made some risky investments and lost pretty much everything. I was convinced I could turn things around if I just had a bit more time, so I… borrowed money from a loan shark.”

“You what?” Fang said.

“It was stupid, I know,” Ethan said. “Now she’s come looking for payment and I still don’t have the money. That’s why the Gerard account is so important. The guy’s connected. If he can just lead us to some new contracts, I can pay Wong back and everything will be fine.”

“Yeah, about that,” Fang said.

Panic flashed across Ethan’s face.

“What did you do now?” he said.

“Nothing,” she replied. “He’s just not going to hook you up with any of his contacts unless I go out on a date with him.”

“Seriously?” Ethan said. “Oh thank God, we’re saved.”

“I’m not actually going to do it,” Fang said.

“But… you have to,” Ethan said. “This is our only hope.”

“Do you even realize what you’re saying?” Fang asked. “What you’re asking me to do?”

“I’m asking you to save my life, Stef,” he replied.

She stood from the table.

“Save yourself,” she said.

She stormed away. He followed after her and grabbed her by the wrist. She glared back at him.

“I’m sorry, okay?” he said. “I don’t want to make you do anything you don’t feel comfortable doing. It’s just… you saw what she did to the office, and to my face. I’m in real danger here and I’m running out of options.”

Prostitution is an option?” she asked.

“That’s not…” he trailed off and rubbed his forehead. “Look, just don’t rule anything out. Not yet, anyway.”

She glanced down at her wrist, the anarchy tattoo peeking out between Ethan’s fingers.

“No,” she said, pulling her hand free. “I’ve already crossed too many lines for this company that I swore to myself I’d never cross. I’m done. I quit.”

She turned back to the door.

“And my name is Fang,” she said, stepping outside.

She turned down the sidewalk without pause and reached into her pocket. It would serve Ethan right if she called Delilah right now and told her where to find him. But… she couldn’t do it.

She called Lauren instead.

///

Fang sat in Lauren’s kitchen, explaining everything that had happened. When she finished, she threw back a bottle of beer and wiped her mouth on her sleeve. Lauren leaned back in her seat with her arms crossed.

“I’m going to kill him,” she said finally. “I’m going to grab him by the neck, drag him up the side of a building, and drop him. Then I’m going to do it again.”

“You might have to wait your turn,” Fang said.

“I can’t believe he’d do this to us,” Lauren said. “Ben and I are still making payments on this place. If ELFEN goes under….”

“I think it’s pretty much already sunk, Lauren,” Fang said. “Otherwise Ethan wouldn’t be in hiding.”

Lauren stood and started pacing around the kitchen.

“We can still fix this,” she said. “I’m going to call our lawyer and arrange a meeting. If we remove Ethan as CEO and separate our assets from his, we might be able to….”

“Lauren,” Fang said, then raised her voice. “Lauren!

Lauren stopped and turned to Fang.

“I meant what I said to Ethan,” Fang said. “I’ll see the Gerard job through, but after that, I’m leaving.”

“We can talk about that tomorrow,” Lauren said. “In the meantime, I have some appointments to make.”

She stepped over to the counter and picked up the phone. Fang rose from her seat.

“Good luck,” she said quietly, and saw herself out.

///

Fang stared up at the sky, guiding dozens of cars over ramps and through hoops. Erica stood by the entrance, glowing faintly, while Nelson let loose a flurry of flyers. And Lauren unfurled a banner beneath the previous one that read, “FINAL DAY!”

“You’re really amazing, you know that?” Gerard said, leaning back against a nearby car and watching her illusions.

She eyed him coldly and said, “I do.”

He chuckled.

“You’re funny, too,” he said.

“I’m sarcastic,” she said. “There’s a difference.”

He chuckled again. She gritted her teeth and tried to ignore him. But he pushed off from the car and took a step toward her anyway. His hand brushed against hers.

“So, have you given any thought to my offer?” he asked.

She looked into his smug face for a long moment, trying to decide between changing the subject and elbowing him in the stomach. Instead….

“You mean the offer where I go out with you in exchange for payment in the form of access to your business contacts?” she asked.

The color drained from his face, and for the second time in two days, a man gave her that “deer in headlights” look.

“Hey, you’ve got the wrong idea!” he said, pulling his hand away. “I was going to give Ethan those contacts either way. That was just, you know, playful banter. I certainly never meant to imply some kind of… of quid pro quo arrangement. I’m sorry if you’ve misinterpreted my intentions.”

He grew more flustered with every word, and he seemed to be forgetting to breathe. She just smiled and nodded past him.

“You’ve got some customers waiting,” she said.

She could see the relief wash over him. He stood up straight, adjusted his tie, and marched over to a small family gathered around a minivan.

“Good talk,” she said to herself.

“I’m impressed,” Lauren said, approaching her from behind. “For a minute there, I was sure he was going to end up lying on the pavement.”

“Well, I couldn’t do that in front of you, could I?” Fang said with a wink.

Lauren shrugged.

“I probably would’ve let you have that one,” she said.

“Really?” Fang said. “In that case, I’ll be right back.”

She turned toward Gerard and took a step forward. Lauren laughed and grabbed Fang’s arm.

“You were doing so well,” she said. “Don’t ruin the moment.”

Fang feigned a sigh and said, “Oh, fine.”

Lauren smiled.

“So… about tonight,” she said.

“What about it?” Fang asked.

“Well, I’ve arranged a meeting with our lawyer,” Lauren replied, “and I’d really like you to be there.”

“I can’t,” Fang said. “I’m not a part of this company anymore, remember?”

“I know that,” Lauren said, “but you’re the only one who’s spoken to Ethan since he took off. Your words will hold more weight than my third-hand account.”

“It’s a board meeting, not a murder trial,” Fang said.

“I’m only asking for a couple more hours of your time,” Lauren said. “After that, you’re free to go.”

Fang glanced up at the cars soaring around the sky, and sighed.

///

Fang sat at the end of a conference table in the offices of the law firm Brenner & Everett. Lauren, Erica, and Nelson sat around the table, along with their lawyer, Violet Fletcher, and a slender white man with close-cropped blond hair.

The man’s fingers blurred across the keys of a steno machine as Fang recounted the events of the last few days. She wasn’t convinced any of it would matter, but she made sure not to leave out any details, anyway. When she finished, she leaned back and took a deep breath.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” Erica said.

“Ethan was always the responsible one,” Nelson said.

“People change,” Fang said, and shot a look at Lauren.

“In any case,” Lauren said, “we need to put as much distance as we can between Ethan and the company before things get any worse.”

“If it’s the loan shark you’re worried about,” Violet said, “she doesn’t actually have any legal standing to collect her debt. So your assets are safe regardless of Ethan’s status with the company.”

“I don’t know about everyone else,” Lauren said, “but I just can’t trust him to run things anymore. I think we should take a vote.”

“Okay,” Violet said. “Show of hands: all in favor of removing Ethan Henderson as CEO of ELFEN Marketing Solutions.”

Lauren, Fang, Erica, and Nelson all raised their hands. Violet glanced at the stenographer.

“Let the record show the vote was unanimous,” she said.

The man’s fingers moved impossibly fast, typing full sentences in a fraction of a second.

“Now we’re left with the question of who should take his place,” Violet said.

All eyes turned to Lauren, who smiled and said, “I nominate Fang.”

“Um… what?” Fang muttered.

“It makes perfect sense when you think about it,” Lauren said. “You stood up to the loan shark, you tracked Ethan down, and just today you showed tact and patience with Gerard when anyone else would’ve lost their temper. I think you’re ready for this.”

“This is a terrible idea,” Fang said.

“I don’t know,” Erica said. “I think I could live with it.”

“Me too,” Nelson said.

Lauren grinned at Fang.

“Show of hands?” Violet said.

Lauren, Erica, and Nelson raised their hands. Fang crossed her arms. Violet turned to the stenographer again.

“The vote is three-to-one in favor,” she said.

“So, what do you say?” Lauren asked Fang. “You in? Or would you rather take your chances on the job market?”

“If I agree to this,” Fang said, “we’d be doing things my way?”

“That’s the idea,” Lauren said.

Fang leaned back in her seat and rubbed her chin.

“Well… there is a new bike share company opening soon that could use some advertising,” she said.

“See, you’re a natural leader,” Lauren said.

“You just don’t want to do it yourself,” Fang said.

“There’s that, too,” Lauren replied.

Fang rolled her eyes and said, “Fine, I’m in.”

///

Fang knew something was wrong when Erik didn’t come running the second she opened the door. Reaching into her pocket, she pressed a button on her phone and stepped out into the living room.

“Nice place you have here, Miss Wu,” Delilah said.

She was sitting on the couch with her legs crossed and Erik sleeping on her lap. Fang stepped in front of her and pointed to the hallway.

“Leave,” she said.

“Can we talk first?” Delilah asked.

“I’ve got nothing to say to you,” Fang replied.

“Then just listen,” Delilah said. “Your boss skipped town today. Hopped a plane to the mainland. He could be halfway to Newfoundland by now.”

“Good for him,” Fang said.

“Yes, good for him,” Delilah said. “Bad for you.”

“I don’t see how,” Fang said. “Ethan’s problems are none of my business.”

“Well, the thing is, he put his company up as collateral,” Delilah said, “so I’m afraid it is your business. Now, I could get lawyers involved and sue you folks for all you’re worth, or we could iron out some kind of arrangement tonight and make this all go away.”

“Sure, I’ve got an arrangement for you,” Fang said. “You hand over my cat and get the hell out of my apartment, and I might not call the police.”

Delilah shook her head condescendingly.

“You really should take this seriously,” she said.

“Not my style,” Fang replied. “Now, why don’t you take your threats and peddle them somewhere else?”

“Trust me,” Delilah said, leaning forward, “if I were threatening you, you’d be a lot more afraid of me right now.”

Fang rolled her eyes.

“Okay, I’ve heard enough,” she said, reaching into her pocket. “I’m calling the police.”

Delilah gathered Erik into her arms and stood up. With a flick of her wrist, she threw the couch across the room. It slammed against the wall and crashed to the floor in a misshapen heap. Erik yawned and licked her hand.

Now I’m threatening you,” she said. “This doesn’t have to end badly, but it will if I don’t get my money.”

She set Erik down on the floor and he meowed up at her.

“Have a good evening, Miss Wu,” she said. “I’ll be in touch.”

She turned and strolled out of the room. The front door opened and closed. Fang let out a long breath and grabbed Erik from the floor. She hugged him until he clawed her arm and squirmed free.

She took her phone out of her pocket and pressed the STOP button on the voice recorder app. The file replayed itself automatically.

“Nice place you have here, Miss Wu,” the recording said.

 

 

 

END