The Westchester Academy believed in keeping a low profile. So low, in fact, that we drove right past the place twice without seeing the unmarked drive that looked more like an alley than the entrance to a boarding school. As we turned in, we saw that hidden behind the street-side screen of trees and hedge was a very tall brick fence with a coil of barbed-wire on top.
"They're serious about their privacy and their security," I observed as Neeka drove the geriatric government car along the overgrown driveway.
Even without the damn motorcycle, she'd still insisted on taking over the driving. Not that I'd especially wanted to do it. It was nice to just be able to ride and look out the window. It was why she'd wanted to be the one behind the wheel that got my panties in a twist.
That's speaking figuratively, of course. I rarely wear panties. Or a bra. Or more clothes than I absolutely have to. It's not that I'm an exhibitionist – I mean yeah, I am – but my primary superheroine ability is to Change into scary stuff. Usually it's creatures out of myth, because they have a track record of being scary and why re-invent the wheel, you know?
It started with just designs on my skin, but then I got better and better at it until now I can alter my body in ways that make clothes superfluous. Being encumbered with them is also a problem when I have to Change in a hurry. Not to mention the problem of what to do with the clothes while I was wearing different skin and bones. A werewolf running around with a garment bag over her shoulder loses a bit of credibility, you know? Cuts down on the shock value quite a bit.
So I was wearing a pair of S-Mart lime-green running-shorts that kept trying to fall off my scrawny butt, and a man's white 3X t-shirt that I'd managed to cut off just a bit too short. If you think this sounds like I don't care what I wear, you'd be wrong. I care, but I've learned the hard way that my clothes are usually the first casualty in any crisis situation. Wearing nice things would just mean more grief over leaving them behind somewhere or having to tear them to shreds trying to get them off in a blazing great hurry. The fanny-pack around my waist held the stuff I really needed when the proverbial stuff hit the proverbial fan: a bullet-resistant catsuit, some throwing stars, a few snack bars and a wallet full of IDs proclaiming me to be an agent of every part of the government but the IRS.
Neeka didn't used to have problems with clothes. She could wear jeans and any top she wanted, because all she had to do was pull on her leather coat, her chauffeur's cap, and her sunglasses and she was ready to rock as her superheroine alter-ego, Ace of Diamonds.
I was getting more than a little amusement out of seeing her wrestle with her new wardrobe problems. Problems she was having because of her latest fashion accessory – an artificial two-foot-long, quite-realistic horse-tail. Yes, it goes just where you think it does. Which limits what she can wear with it, and where. Today she was sans-tailpiece. She'd compensated by putting her gorgeous red hair up in a tight pony-tail that flounced whenever she turned her head.
I tried wearing my hair like that once when my hair was long enough to manage it. It looked more like a blond puffball than a ponytail. That was before I'd settled on a short, bushy do as being more suitable for me. More practical too. My hair doesn't obey me like my live cells do. I can grow it or get rid of it, but I can't style it just by thinking about it. There is usually a catch with special abilities.
"I want to get there sometime today," she'd said from the driver's seat when I came back from 'visiting the facility' at a gas station. "You drive like you expect the road to open up in front of you any second."
"Even in Florida, the risk of sinkholes suddenly appearing in the road is not that great."
"Many of them are two hundred feet across. I found maps on the Internet! And people do too drive right into them! Check out YouTube."
We had been watching the news about the latest earthquakes in California. I'd said something about the ground staying put under our feet in Florida. It was Neeka who pointed out that we had our own geological hazard: sinkholes. I'd gone and looked it up. Now I couldn't get it out of my head. There were hundreds of the things! And the speculation from geologists was that people were making them worse by trying to move water around to make more dry spots in a state that only has two kinds of ground: beach and swamp.
We stopped in front of a tall wrought-iron gate that someone decided to improve by painting it a pale salmon color. Neeka reached out of the driver's window and pressed the button on a weathered speaker-box.
"Can I help you?"
"Visitors for Jeff Greenberg."
I leaned across and shouted at the box, "Samantha Draco. Just tell him it's Sam."
"Just a minute, please."
It was just about that long before we heard another peep out of the speaker.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Draco. Your name is not on the list of approved visitors."
"Approved? List? Who approved this list of yours? Since when does..."
At that point the man in the back seat leaned forward and spoke up in a voice that could make experienced soldiers snap to attention.
"This is official business. We need to speak to your Director. Open the gate."
The sound the gate made while creaking open made me think it hadn't been used in months. For that to be the case, two things had to be true. There was a service entrance around the block, and the place had very few visitors.
"Thanks, Colonel," Neeka said.
I should have been grateful too. Colonel Brock was simply doing the job that one of his subordinates usually handled – interceding in situations that might cause me to express my displeasure in inappropriate ways. Like ripping the speaker-box off it's pole, kicking in the gate, and going in search of whoever we'd been talking to and shoving their little box up their fat...
His tone was utterly flat and devoid of inflection, yet it brought my escalating anger to a screeching halt. Brock could do that because I respected him more than just about anyone. I might have the freaky powers and the fancy costume, but as far as I was concerned, he was the real hero of our little group. He'd walked the walk and done the deeds and had the medals, citations ... and scars to prove it. He could make me toe the line with a word ... usually.
With my mouth clamped shut and a guilty look on my face, I glanced back at Brock. He didn't look happy. Which, for Brock, meant he was even more mightily-pissed than I'd been on the way to being. I suspected it was because he wasn't any happier than I was to hear that the students at this boarding school had their visitors screened. I wondered if they could even get away with doing that kind of thing at prisons and if not, what did that say about Jeff's school.
Once past the gate, we drove around a circular driveway to a short block of visitor's parking spots on the far side. All of them were empty at the moment. Neeka pulled the car into one and a man walked over to meet us.
The impression I got was more of an orderly/guard in a mental hospital's disturbed ward than someone I'd expect to see working at a boarding school. Around early middle-age, he had a wide face under a sandy-blond buzz-cut that looked too small for his head. The skin of his face was deeply-seamed, as though he'd spent a lot of time in the sun. He wore white slacks and a white jacket over a white t-shirt and white canvas shoes. He was broad-shouldered and his arms hung away from his sides like a body-builder after a couple of sets with free-weights. Like a lot of guys tend to do, he had to be spending more time working his arms than his abs, because while his shoulders were great, his gut was threatening to overflow his waistband. He reminded me of a retired wrestler who tried to stay in shape, but couldn't control his appetite.
His reaction to us was predictable. Neeka rated a good once-over. I got the usual down-up-long-pause look as he took note of my most notable feature – my double-H-cup boobs. When Brock pried himself out of the back seat of the antique Ford sedan, the man got that serious look that guys give other guys that they perceive as a potential threat, which for some guys is pretty much anyone they aren't sure they can beat-up. The man tried to suck up his gut, which was futile. Then he clenched his fists and his jaw.
Brock didn't react to any of this. He was a professional and from what I'd seen, pros only played games with each other and never when they were on the clock.
I smiled at the male-dominance display. Actually trying to pick a fight with Brock wouldn't have ended well for the orderly. If Brock hadn't slapped him silly, Neeka would have kicked him in the knee and followed-up on two vital points before he landed on the asphalt. I would have gone the direct route and used his scrotum for a punching bag. None of which was anything close to what any of us could have done to him if we'd seen him as a real threat. In that case, Brock would have snapped his neck, Neeka would have put a bullet in his ear, and I would have torn him in half – vertically.
My amused smirk distracted him from further chest-beating. He interpreted it as a friendly expression and permission to look at my chest once more.
"I'll take you to Doctor Bargrave," he said when he'd got his eyes full.
.... There is more of this story ...