Sapphire Angel – Beginnings (Chapters 18-19)
Written by CJS :: [Thursday, 20 June 2019 21:32] Last updated by :: [Friday, 21 June 2019 17:33]
Stanley and Beth rushed off the elevator and charged down the hall toward the waiting area. Beth clutched her bag tightly at her side to keep it from banging against her hip. The added bulk of her boots, tucked away in the bottom with the rest of her costume, made the bag unwieldy.
Mrs. Devor stood in the waiting area, her eyes a mix of dark circles and redness. She had been through hell.
Stanley embraced her, and after a moment they pulled Beth into their hug. Beth could feel the woman choking back sobs.
As they broke off from the hug, neither Beth nor Stanley spoke. She was afraid to hear what Mrs. Devor had to say. Was John dead?
“He’s still hanging on,” Mrs. Devor finally spoke, her voice cracking. “But he’s taken a turn for the worse. I almost…”
Her voice cracked and she held a hand to her mouth, biting on a knuckle. She composed herself and continued.
“I almost can’t look at him. He doesn’t even look like our John. The doctor said he won’t make it through the night.”
The room spun around Beth. She stumbled sideways, reaching for a chair, and lowered herself into it. Despite what Stanley and Mrs. Devor had said, this was her fault. If she hadn’t pushed John to enter the Fizzure building, they wouldn’t be here right now.
She barely heard Mrs. Devor speaking as she focused on her trembling hands in her lap. By the time she looked up, all three of them were crying.
“I’m sorry,” Beth said, not sure if she was apologizing for not hearing Mrs. Devor, or for causing this whole mess.
“That’s okay, sweetie. The doctor said they can bring him out of his current state for a few minutes. Enough for us to say goodbye before he goes back under.”
Beth nodded. “You go, first,” she rasped. “If he doesn’t stay awake long enough, you should be the ones to talk to him.”
Mrs. Devor hesitated, before taking Stanley’s hand and heading off to John’s room.
Beth hung her head and let the tears flow. Her shoulders trembled with her sobs as the bitter taste of helplessness boiled up within her. Despite all her newfound powers, there was nothing she could do to save John. She reflected on the happy times in their years together, when they wouldn’t have considered the events of the past two days to be possible. They had assumed they would marry and spend their lives together. And now this.
She wasn’t sure how long she had been sitting there, lost in her memories and sobbing, when footsteps approached. She looked up to see Stanley and Mrs. Devor walking toward her, holding hands. Their bloodshot eyes told the story.
“He should be awake for a few more minutes,” Mrs. Devor said, and nodded toward the door.
Beth rose and headed for Ethan’s room. She walked like a zombie, wanting to see him, but not wanting to see him like this. No matter how hard she tried to prepare herself, she wasn’t ready for what awaited her when she reached his room.
She paused in the door and looked toward the bed. John was a shell of his former self. Most of his body was covered with tubes and masks, or wrapped in gauze and bandages. The only skin visible was around his eyes, and that hung loosely from his face, mottled and grey. But his eyes were open.
Seeing him brought a flood of emotions, and Beth’s inhibitions evaporated. She rushed to his side and gently took his hand, reaching around the various tubes running into his arm.
“Hey,” she whispered, forcing a smile.
“Hey,” he replied. His voice was dry, like someone had taken sandpaper to his vocal cords.
“John, I am so sorry,” Beth said, choking back a sob. “I should never have pushed you to enter the building.”
“Stop, now,” he answered, and for a moment his voice was rich and full of command. “I’m an adult. You don’t make decisions for me. Promise me you won‘t blame yourself for this.”
Beth stared at him as tears blurred her vision. She didn’t know if she could make that promise.
“Promise me!” he commanded.
Beth bit her lip before finally nodding. “I promise.”
He sighed, as if relief had washed over him. Neither of them spoke for several moments until he broke the silence.
“My parents have filled me in. On Fizzure. On Gruden. On you and your powers. This is crazy, huh? Like our Halloween costumes came to life.”
Beth nodded. “If we weren’t living this nightmare, I wouldn’t believe it.”
John studied her before squeezing her hand. He leaned back and his eyes drooped. She thought he was fading off to sleep, but a moment later his eyes opened.
“Kind of fitting, huh?” he asked, before wheezing. He coughed and continued speaking. “The girl who cares so much about other people gets the ability to help them.”
Beth shook her head. “I know what you’re thinking, John. But, no.”
There was another long pause as he closed his eyes. A few seconds passed before he opened them again and spoke.
“No, hear me out,” he said. “What if this really was your destiny?”
“God didn‘t put you on this earth to play a role in some sick cliché, John. This isn't one of your comic books, where tragedy spurs the hero to a life of fighting crime. This is real life. Things aren’t always fate. Sometimes they‘re just coincidences. I refuse to accept that fate led you to this hospital bed.”
“But what if it is more than a coincidence?” he asked. His eyes were closed as he spoke, and he paused between words. “You’ve always wanted to help people. People who couldn’t help themselves. You‘ve always jumped in when you see someone being taken advantage of. Now you really can help.”
She refused to believe this was some higher calling for her. He wanted her to be something she wasn’t cut out to be.
“John, I’m using my powers now to save you. And I‘ll admit to you it feels good. But this isn’t a permanent thing. I’m no hero. I'm just a girl who wants her boyfriend back, and to finish college. That‘s it. I can‘t consider, not for a moment, that you were destined to end up in this hospital bed. Because that‘s the flip side of believing I was destined to become Sapphire Angel.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, opening his eyes for a moment before closing them. “I guess it just makes it easier for me to accept all this, if I can imagine it happened for a reason.”
His words hit her hard. He wanted his sickness to have meaning. He needed it to be more than just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He'd read one too many comic books, but she couldn't deny him hope right now.
“We’ll see,” she murmured. She felt his hand go slack. For a moment she panicked, thinking he had died. But she glanced over at the heart monitor, which still recorded his vitals. He had just faded off. As she looked down at him, she wondered if his talk of her powers would be the last words he ever spoke.
Veins bulged in the neck of Demarco Dominick, and his face flushed red. Two men sat across from him, squirming in their seats. Dominick pointed the remote at the television in the corner of the room, and turned it off.
“Damnit! What the hell was that? You got your asses kicked by a girl!”
Dominick was overreacting, but he had to get his frustrations out of his system now. His next meeting was the one that worried him. He’d be talking to the man with the silver eyes, and he needed to keep a level head. The strange man could, at the very least, influence the people who were funding Fizzure’s current project. And those funds couldn’t dry up now. His daughter’s life depended on it.
The whole project would have seemed crazy if the man with silver eyes hadn’t shown him evidence of its possibilities. Perhaps the evidence wouldn’t convince anyone else of the project’s full possibilities, but it was enough to convince the Fizzure CEO. Enough to convince him he could save his daughter.
The stocky man on the right, Rick Malone, wore a black skullcap on his head. He looked like someone had clubbed him in the face with a baseball bat. His nose was flattened and blood caked his face. Malone gazed down at the ground, not meeting the eyes of his boss. This enraged Dominick even more.
“Look at me when I’m talking to you!” he shouted as he pounded a fist down on his desk. Malone looked up, making his injuries even more apparent. Dominick took a deep breath, but his voice still quivered as he continued. “You were fucked up by a woman. You should have been able to break her in half.”
“You’ve seen what she can do, Mr. Dominick,” the other man said, pulling at his beard with trembling hands as he spoke, before jerking his hands back as if even his own touch caused him pain. And it probably did, as his face looked only marginally better than Malone’s face. At least he met Dominick’s eyes. “Nobody would have stood a chance against her.”
Dominick glared at the bearded man, but did not respond. Instead he turned back to Malone.
“Perhaps it is too much to expect you to handle this woman. This Sapphire Angel. But you came close to showing your faces on video, and you barely got away before the police arrived. You were lucky it was dark out.”
“We didn’t know Gruden would meet a TV reporter,” Malone said.
“You should have found out, first. After the botched attack at the hospital, I figured you would have learned to cover your ass before acting.”
“The plan at the hospital should have worked," Malone said, his voice shaking. "It was just bad luck. Some girl showed up, and caught me in the act. I got the stuff injected, but she must've gotten the doctors to him in time. What more could I have done?"
He had a point, but Dominick would not concede it to him.
“You don’t know who she was?” Dominick asked, gritting his teeth.
“No. But she really freaked when she saw me, so I'm guessing she knew the guy. Girlfriend, maybe?“
Dominick pondered this information for a moment. Girlfriend. Or perhaps family, or just a close friend of the Devor kid.
“How old was she? His age?"
Malone shrugged. "Maybe. She looked younger, but kind of deceptively so. Like she was probably older than she looked, if that makes sense. And she was a tiny little thing. Blond hair. Pretty.”
Dominick tilted his chair back, and steepled his thick fingers under his chin. Between Gruden, Sapphire Angel, the Devor kid, and this girl, there were too many loose ends. Loose ends that needed to be handled.
“Gruden is our first problem,” Dominick began. “He knows everything, and now he’s shown he wants to talk.”
“We can find him easy,” Malone said. “He still hasn’t discovered the tracker on his car, or the bugs in his house.”
“Has he told anyone else?”
“He hasn’t even told his wife anything yet, or at least since we planted the bugs,” Malone answered. “I bet talking to this reporter was going to be his big reveal.”
Dominick set his jaw. This had spiraled out of control. He didn’t want to kill Gruden. He didn‘t want to kill anyone else. But there was no other way.
“Do it,” Dominick said in a quiet voice, his eyes boring into Malone’s.
“Yes, sir,” Malone said, looking away. “He’ll be dead within the hour.”
“We still need to deal with the Devor kid’s girlfriend, or whoever she is,” Dominick continued. “Rick, you keep an eye on the hospital. If she knows the Devor kid, she’ll be back. She’s not going to just let him there to die. If you need extra eyes, I‘ve got a few more men who will keep their mouths shut.”
“But I’m the only one who knows what she looks like,” Malone said.
Dominick scowled. “Then use your brains. Give the other men cameras or something. You can monitor the footage. If you cover all the entrances and exits, she’s bound to show up.”
Malone nodded. “And then follow her and kill her?”
Dominick shook his head. Malone said the words too easily, as if taking a life was a trivial matter. Killing Gruden was a necessity, but killing the girl wasn’t. Yet. And it had always been harder with the young women. They reminded him too much of his own daughter.
“No. I need to learn what the Devor kid told her, and if she knows if anybody else spread any news. Maybe she even knows about this Sapphire Angel woman. So don’t kill her. Grab her and take her to the farm. Hell, maybe she’ll fit the profile we need.”
Malone nodded, but said nothing.
“Steve, your job is similar, but with the kid’s parents. We have their address. You need to grab them. I wanted to avoid snatching them, since it could raise suspicions. But it looks like we don’t have a choice. Can you handle two old people yourself? I‘d rather not bring more men into the loop if we can avoid it.”
Steve nodded. “I can handle it.”
“I need to come up with a plan for Sapphire Angel. She has a knack for showing up where she‘s not wanted, so we need to be ready for her.” Dominick said. “When she was kicking your asses, did she say anything? Did she give any clue why she was there? Why she gives a shit about what we’re doing?”
Both men shook their heads, but said nothing. Dominick gritted his teeth. It was just his luck that some hero straight out of a movie would interfere in his plans. He needed to figure out a way to stop her.
“Let me chew on our superheroine problem. You get started on the girlfriend and the parents,“ he said, motioning to the door with a wave.
Both men stood and left Dominick’s office. He sat back, considering how to handle Sapphire Angel. If he thought he would get time to ponder the situation, though, he was wrong. He saw the silver-eyed man making his way down the hall. The Fizzure CEO swallowed.
His fear of the robed man was irrational and involved more than just a fear of losing funding. There was something else about him that worried the large black man. Dominick couldn’t put his finger on it.
The man glided into his room as if Dominick had invited him, his black robe flowing about him, and made his way to the chair across the desk from. He sat.
“Hello,” the robed man said with a nod and a slight smile. His voice was gentle and quiet, yet somehow filled the room. Dominick shivered, only meeting the man’s eyes for a moment.
“Welcome,” Dominick mumbled.
“How is the work progressing?”
“It’s coming,” Dominick replied. “We made progress yesterday. We’ve kept the flow going for a bit longer.”
The silver-eyed man smiled, but it wasn’t a smile of pleasure. It was a smile that told Dominick he couldn’t keep anything from this man.
“We still have work to do,” Dominick hurried to mutter. “But we will get there.”
The silver-eyed man stared at Dominick. Dominick looked down at his desk, but still felt those eyes boring through him.
“18 seconds,” Dominick blurted out. “We kept the flow for 18 seconds. On Friday night, it was half that. That tells me we’re on the right track.”
“Ah, Friday night,” the man said in his melodious voice. “The night Sapphire Angel and the boy showed up. How are you doing with that problem?”
Dominick knew he shouldn’t fudge any answers with this man.
“Not so good. One of my men tried to take care of the boy at the hospital, but a girl interrupted them.”
“Was it Sapphire Angel?”
“No, definitely not her. Just an ordinary girl. Maybe family. Or a girlfriend.”
“So it seems we have a few problems, don’t we? This Sapphire Angel, plus the boy in the hospital, plus anyone he might have talked to? What are your plans to deal with them?”
“The boy is under guard at the hospital, but a source tells me he is unconscious. So he’s not a problem. His parents are his only family in the area. We’re taking care of them. And I’ve got people watching the hospital. This girlfriend, or whoever she is, will show up again. We’ll grab her when she does.”
The robed man waved a hand dismissively, as if those problems didn’t concern him. “The girl. The one in the costume. I need you to tell me what have you learned about her.”
Dominick squirmed in his seat.
“I‘ve got nothing. I don’t know who she is or where she came from, or why she’s stuck her nose in our business. She is incredibly capable. She’s easily handled my men three times now.”
“Yes. Twice here in the building, and there was a little scrap with her earlier tonight on the West Shore. I’m doubling all my manpower, so we’ll be ready if she shows up again.”
“Did the West Shore encounter involve the men I passed in the hall?” the man asked with a twinkle in his eyes. “The ones who looked like they were run over by a minotaur?”
“A mino - “ Dominick began, and raised an eyebrow. “Yes.”
The silver-eyed man smirked again. “Let me ponder this Sapphire Angel problem a bit. I might cook up a way for you to handle her. But if you learn anything more about her - anything - tell me. I want you to talk to all of your men, and get every detail they have about their encounters with her. The moment you learn anything about her, you call me.”
“I’ve already talked to my men.”
“Do it again,” the man said, his voice rising. “I need to know everything about her. Do some digging, too.”
Dominick nodded but didn’t speak. This was the first time he had seen the strange man’s veneer crack. The robed stranger actually looked worried about Sapphire Angel. What did he know?
“Remember,” the silver-eyed man said, as if he sensed Dominick’s thoughts. “She could expose us. And you. This project must remain secret.”
Of course the project had to remain secret. If anyone ever discovered Fizzure’s actions, people would go to jail, or worse. The silver-eyed man didn’t need to remind him. No, the robed man was hinting at more severe consequences if the project was discovered. Or was Dominick just being paranoid?
“We’ve kept this close to the vest,” Dominick replied. “The inner circle is small. Even those hunting for the girlfriend don’t know why.”
The silver-eyed man gave a thin smile. “Let’s keep it that way. The less anyone knows, the better.”
Surely the man saw the irony in his statement, didn’t he? Dominick knew nothing of the man or his motives, including where the man got his funding and other resources. Dominick had pressed him on this several times in the past, and the man had asked a question in reply. “Do you really want to know?”
Dominick didn’t want to know. He didn’t want a moral dilemma to interfere with the project. The man with the silver eyes offered too much.
The robed man rose from his seat, having made his point.
“Keep me informed, as usual,” he said. “And if you need any more… supplies, call me.”
The way the man said the words sent a shiver down Dominick’s spine. But there was no turning back now.