“What do you mean, she’s missing? Are they ruling it as a Temporary Death?” I asked the guy on the television screen. He was old and white, with the wrinkled skin to prove it.
“We’re not sure,” he said, looking sternly at me and my teammates. No typing on the computer, no ignoring us. His attention was a hundred percent focused.
“So what does that mean for us?” Blue asked. “The team.”
“You still have the charter,” he said. “If that’s what you mean.”
“But what about Agent 09?” I asked.
“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” he said. “This sort of thing happens all the time–agents falling off the map, only to come back a couple months later. If she’s lucky, she might even come back with superpowers!”
“Or she might’ve found something that drove her insane,” I said. “Or she could’ve lost a limb. Sorry, but I’m kind of having a bit of a problem because we just don’t know anything. Like, you can’t tell me what case she was working on?”
“That’s classified,” he said.
“Where was she?”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“Did it involve the ideaviruses?” I asked.
“You’re not supposed to know about anything of the sort,” he said. “So I’d advise you to shut your mouth about that. It’s classified.”
“And what the Hell isn’t classified?” I asked.
“Your mother’s probably going to be fine,” he said. “I’m sure she wants to come back to you as soon as possible.’
“That’s not an answer,” I said. “That’s bullshit.”
“It’s all I’ve got, and now I’ve gotta go,” he said.
Just like that, static littered the screen.
“Damn,” Cathect said. “You have a lot of problems. My biggest problem is figuring out what to watch on Netflix. But you? You’ve got problems.”
“You want me to–” Hellfire began to say, but I cut him off.
“Is there anything we can do to help?” Blue asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “No. I’m sorry, but I don’t think so. We don’t know where she was or what she was doing or who she was working with. We have no idea what happened to her. I don’t even know how we’d begin trying to find out.”
“I guess the best thing to do is just keep on living,” Blue said. “I’m sure Sum Industries will keep us busy while we wait to figure out what happened to your mom.”
“We’ll find out what happened,” Hellfire said.
“I’m sure she’s fine,” Blue said.
“I hope so,” I said. “Thanks, guys. This means a lot.”
The truth was I felt awful. These guys were being nice to me. They were willing to do anything to help me out. And here I was, lying to them. But how could I tell them about Sotto Voce? What would happen if I did?
Cathect turned on Barry Ring.
“I’ve got a question for you. Whatever happened to The Banana? She committed one of the biggest crime sprees of this century, only to split…”
— — —
“Did you friend know much about Marquez?” Sotto Voce asked, sitting on my bed. She looked kind of cute, actually, with a red curl sticking out from under her cloak.
Oh god. It was a bad idea to think Sotto Voce was cute, right? I mean, she claimed she was trying to help me out, but I didn’t really know whether or not that was true. Plus, she could have been some super violent crazy person.
But that 20th century Sotto Voce who had gone and killed a bunch of people was different than this Sotto Voce, right? Was it right to judge one person based off of what their predecessor did a bunch of decades ago? She wasn’t necessarily a super crazy killer, right?
Was this going to turn into a Patty Hearst situation?
“There wasn’t too much to know, apparently,” I said. “Nobody knows her. She seems clean.”
“Nobody knowing her doesn’t make her clean,” she said. “Makes her mysterious–dangerous.”
“I guess,” I said. “I don’t know. I just wish I knew more about her.”
The truth was, I actually kind of liked what I knew about her. She’d been super nice to me and the team, she was interested in everything I knew because of my parents, and she really seemed to want to know me. I don’t know, it was nice. And of course, the fact that she was gay made everything different. It meant that she was like me.
I guess Charlie was like me, too. But it felt different. When she’d been born, everyone had treated her like a man. She’d known she was a woman, but she’d been treated like a man. And that does stuff to a person, you know? There were so many ways I could relate to her, but when it came to that, I couldn’t even imagine what she’d been through. And what did that do to a person? What did that do to a person’s sexuality, when they were misgendered by so many people for so long, including themselves?
I hoped Charlie was happy. I didn’t know sometimes. It must’ve been so hard to be her.
— — —
I decided to tell Marquez the truth.
“I’m in contact with Sotto Voce,” I said. “She’s broken into my room a couple times, now.”
That’s dangerous,” Marquez said. “She’s dangerous.”
“Yeah,” I said. “But it’s not exactly like I invited her in. I wasn’t like, ‘Hey, lady. I know you’re being possessed by a crazy egregoric spirit and everything, but that’s nbd. Wanna hang at my place?”
“That’s cute, but this isn’t the time for jokes.”
“Feels like jokes are all I have,” I said. “Mom’s gone missing.”
“Which one?” she asked.
“Agent 09,” I said.
“Any idea what happened?”
“I’ll look into it,” she said.
“It’s not a problem. Just make sure you watch your back around Sotto Voce.”
“I will,” I said. “Can I ask you about something else?”
“Sure,” she said.
“Are you gay?”
She let out a huge laugh. “Rather forward way of asking that question, don’t you think?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m sorry. It’s just that– I don’t know. I’m gay. But I still don’t know about a lot of things. I feel so unsure. And when I heard that you were gay, I thought, ‘OK, that’s cool. She’s kind of like me.’ And I was just wondering–”
I couldn’t find the words. What the Hell was I wondering about?
“How I felt,” she said. “You were wondering what it was like to be an older lesbian.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Want to know the secret that I tell anyone who’s willing to listen?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I really do.”
“Things are never perfect in life, and being gay makes it all even harder,” she said. “You just have to find the happiness where you can. Now, not to change the subject, but my wife was wondering. Would you and your team like to join us for dinner tonight?”
“Yeah,” I said, wondering why I felt sad.
— — —
“Does she even know who I am?” Cathect asked. “Or am I just invisible to her?”
“Don’t be like that,” Blue said. “Marquez has been good to us.”
“Easy for you to say,” he said. Marquez talks to you. She invites you into the her office. But me? I’m chopped liver.”
“Have you ever had chopped liver?” I asked. “Has anyone ever had chopped liver? That always seemed like a weird turn of phrase to me.”
“That’s the whole point. Nobody has chopped liver. Nobody likes chopped liver. Nobody really even sees chopped liver anymore. That’s why I’m chopped liver.”
“Sorry,” I said. “But I don’t play the violin. I don’t have even the tiniest violin to play for you.”
“Whatever,” Cathect said. “You don’t have to worry about getting Marquez’s attention. She loves you.”
I mean she didn’t really care about me. I figured she was just interested in me because of Sotto Voce. But I couldn’t tell Cathect that.
“Why does she like you so much, anyway?” he asked.
“Probably because I’m super charming,” I said.
“Look, if you don’t want to share your real opinion, that’s fine,” he said. “But I just wish you’d be a little less obvious with the lies. You? Charming? Come on.”
“Hey!” I said, shoving him out of the way so that it was just Blue and I in front of the mirror. “I am super charming, and everyone knows it.”
“She does really seem interested in you,” Blue said.
Blue had a point. Thing was, it seemed like a lot of people were interested in me these days. I wish they all had a little less of that “there’s a distinct possibility that I’m a supervillain” vibe, though. Ohmygod. What if they both Marquez and Sotto Voce were supervillains? What if I was just some supervillain magnet?
“Cathect,” Hellfire said, walking into the bathroom. “I took your red tie again. Hope you don’t–”
“I figured,” Cathect said, in a resigned sort of way. “It’s fine.”
“I think it makes me look cool,” he said.
“It does,” Cathect said.
“What do you think Marquez’s wife is like?” I asked.
“Must be interesting,” Blue said. “I don’t think Marquez would settle for less.”
“That was fast,” Cathect said. “What, have you thought about that already?”
“I like getting a read on people,” Blue said. “And I don’t think Marquez is the sort of person who settles for stupid or uninteresting.”
“What if she was married to a gorilla?” Cathect asked.
“Don’t be such a–” I began, but got cut off.
“No, really,” he said. “I mean, Bo is married to that fashion designer, right?”
“Marquez is not married to a gorilla,” I said.
— — —
A gorilla opened the front door. And there I was, my jaw near the floor. And there the gorilla was, dressed in a nice formal suit. But wasn’t Marquez supposed to be a lesbian? Maybe it was a butch lesbian gorilla?
Blue covered us, as usual.
“Nice to meet you,” she said, sticking her hand out. “Mis–”
“Po,” the gorilla said.
We stood there for a couple seconds, and I felt really awkward, so I blurted, “Are you–”
“The madames are ready for you,” Po said, talking over me. I was glad. Maybe it’d gotten that question a bunch over his time working for the Marquez’s? It made an elaborate bow and then moving out of the doorway so that we could walk through it.
Cathect shot me a look and jabbed me with an elbow. You know. Because he’s really good at subtlety. Then we followed Hellfire and Blue through the door.
The house was really nice. And it smelled nice, too. You know those fancy-ish two story suburban-y houses, that are nice-looking but not too nice-looking? The sort that make you feel like they’re a nice American Dream-y sort of home?
That was what Marquez had. It made me feel good that she’d been so accomplished. It’s like, I knew we didn’t live in a society that burned lesbians at the stake or anything. But sometimes I still wondered. Would people treat me differently for who I was and who I loved? Would that change me?
Some of them would, obviously. But at least there was a chance that I’d be able to laugh at them one day with my perfect home and my totally-not-a-monkey-wife. Even if it made me sad sometimes, I guessed…
I don’t know. I just wanted to be happy.
I heard footsteps above us. They didn’t sound like gorilla footsteps.
Before long Marquez was walking down the staircase.
“So glad you four could make it,” she said, with such ease.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I said.
“I hope that’s not true,” she said. “If the world was in danger, you’d really need to leave this party.”
“Classic superhero problem,” Blue said. “But we have our priorities straight.”
“We always find a way,” Hellfire said.
“That’s nice,” Marquez said, seemingly unsure quite how she should take the comment.
“Where’s your wife?” Blue asked.
“She’s still upstairs, getting changed,” Marquez said.
“Is she a–” I began to say. But I stopped.
A petite blonde came loping down the staircase, a handbag draped across her shoulder. There was such a lightness to her step that it looked like she was walking on air.
She smiled wide, practically running towards us. It was only when she’d gotten off the stairs that I realized she wasn’t wearing any shoes.
“You’re the superheroes, I take it?” she asked, extending her hand. I shook it.
“Yeah,” I said, softly.
“You make it sound like such a secret. We’re not afraid of superheroes in this house.” She laughed, moving to shake Hellfire’s hand.
“Honey,” Marquez said. “What happened to your shoes?”
“Oh, those?” the blonde asked. “I couldn’t figure out which to wear, so I figured I wouldn’t wear any at all!”
Something seemed off about her. Or maybe it wasn’t her that was off, but how I felt about her. Did I know her from somewhere?
“My wife is quirky, to say the least,” Marquez said.
“Oh, you just say that when I do something you don’t like!” she replied.
“You’re not wrong,” Marquez said.
“Come on. Let’s eat!” She grabbed Blue by the hand, practically dragging her to the dining room table.
Marquez seemed to move at a slightly slower pace. Cathect leaned over to me, whispering, “She didn’t shake my hand. What am I, invisible?”
“Better invisible than chopped liver,” I said.
“They mean the same thing!” Cathect said.
I shut up for a second when I realized that Marquez and Hellfire were having a more interesting conversation.
“My CFO has some interesting things to say about you,” Marquez said.
“What things?” Hellfire asked.
“Nothing in particular,” she said. “Just a couple–”
I didn’t hear what she said, because Cathect got all in my face.
“You’re ignoring me, too!” he said. “Am I ugly? Am I boring? You’d tell me if I was boring, right?”
“You’re not boring,” I said. “You’re a lot of things, but you’re not boring.”
The six of us sat down at the dining room table. Cathect was on my right and Marquez was on my left. Marquez was at one end of the table, while Blue was at the other end. Hellfire sat across from me and the blonde was next to Blue and Hellfire.
“I don’t think we got your name,” Blue said.
“Jane,” she said, with a mildly obnoxious smile.
“Goodall?” Cathect asked.
I didn’t want to laugh, but I did. Just a little bit. I absolutely hated Cathect for that.
“No, Jane never rolled around with apes,” Marquez said. “Unless you consider men apes.”
“I don’t really like to consider men at all,” I said.
That got a bit of a laugh from Cathect. “I get it,” he said. “Because you’re a lesbian.” I would’ve said something, but he went on. “Wait a second. I’m the only straight white guy here! Is that why everyone’s ignoring me? Is that why I’m boring?”
“Yes,” Marquez said, deadpan.
Jane let out a long sigh, and Blue looked over at her for a second.
“Something you want to say?” Blue asked.
“Oh, no,” Jane said. “Nothing.”
“Why do I feel my team isn’t welcome here?” Blue said. “I’ve enjoyed working for you, but why were we invited here?”
“I don’t mean to offend you,” Jane said. “It’s just that I always hate it when Marquez brings her work home with her.”
“What?” I said.
“I said,” Jane said, a lot more loudly, “‘I hate it when Marquez brings her work home with her.’ It’s nothing personal, you know. It’s just that things get so messy with supes.”
“Messy?” Blue asked.
“You know,” Jane said. “Messy.”
“I don’t know,” Blue said. “What do you mean?”
“Things always happen when you guys are around,” she said. “Broken buildings, missing people. You do your best to save the world. And trust me, I appreciate that. But still. Sometimes I think the world would be better off without you guys.”
“Really?” I said. “I mean, bad guys would still be bad guys, powers or no. So if you give bad guys powers, you’re going to get supervillains. Aren’t they the problems? Aren’t supervillains the problem?”
“Someone from Sum Industries should know a lot about supervillains,” Cathect said.
“Cathect!” I said. This was embarrassing. This night was going so awfully. And Marquez was just sitting there, not saying anything. I would say that wasn’t like her, but how much did I know her? Maybe she just let awkward situations play out? Maybe that would be a way for me to be less awkward. Maybe–
“He has a point,” Hellfire said. “You dislike superheroes, but your wife runs Sum Industries? That seems strange.”
“My wife is a strange woman,” Marquez said, finally speaking up. “She has many contradictions.”
“It’s not that strange,” Jane said. “I don’t like your job.”
“You’d be much happier doing what you used to do?” Marquez asked.
“As a matter of fact, yes,” Jane said.
“What’d you used to do?” Hellfire asked.
“Nothing interesting,” she said.
“Why are you lying?” Hellfire growled.
“Hellfire!” I blurted.
“She’s lying,” he said. “I don’t like liars.”
“I imagine you don’t like a lot of things,” Marquez said. “The way my CFO tells it, you can be a bit of a handful.”
“Never trust a demon to say good things,” Hellfire said. “They don’t.”
“Guys,” Blue said. “Let’s calm down.”
“Why should I calm down?” Jane said.
“My wife has a point,” Marquez said. “We invited you into our home.”
“I’m sorry we’re, like, being awkward.”
“You’re not being awkward, Nano,” Marquez said. “That’s not the problem.”
“Then what’s the problem?” I said.
“More than you could ever imagine,” Marquez said. “We’re ready for dinner!”
One man came out of the kitchen, then another and then another and then another. Four in total poured into the kitchen, wearing suits and brandishing guns.
“I knew it,” Hellfire said, pounding his fist on the table. He began to transform into his demon form, but one of the men took out a dart gun and shot him in the neck with it. As if on cue, three other men took out dart guns.
My neck stung, and I began to feel woozy. I grabbed onto the table for support. I think I knocked something over, but everything felt so numb that I couldn’t be sure.
I fell to the floor. Everything was beginning to fade, and I struggled to speak. But still, I asked, “Why?”
“I’d tell you,” Marquez said. “But you’re going to be dead soon, so what’s the point?”