The Official slid a tabloid across the desk.
"Ooooh, I loved this issue," Bobby said, picking it up. "That poor Moth Man, never got his fair chance in the world."
"Moth Man? Wait, did I miss something here?"
"We're having some reporters come in tomorrow," The Official said, suppressing giggles, "and we just wanted to give you boys the…heads-up."
"Reporters? Since when do reporters believe in what goes on around here? And since when do we let them in?" Darien snatched the paper out of Bobby's hands.
"Well, these reporters possess a certain—how would you say it—"
"Incredible paranoia." The Official cut in for Eberts.
Bobby looked up. "Actually, sir, if you read the articles you mind find that—"
"Don't tell me you believe this stuff, Hobbes?" Darien asked, flipping through the pages that had articles on topics ranging from "Man Discovers Third Eye and Goes Blind" to "Alien Sex Fiend Rocks Nun's World!" and one Darien earmarked to read for later, "Ten Ways To Tell If That Demon Inside You Needs To Be Exorcised."
"I never said that. Did you hear me say that?" Bobby said.
"Well, you sure sound like you've got a history with Mr. Antennae, here—"
"—all I'm sayin' is that sometimes the truth is hidden right in plain sight, and you of all people should know that, my friend, bein' in the business we are—"
"What business is that, the one where I think that leprechauns are living in my toilet and dragons are in the sewers?" Darien said.
"Oh, here we go again, sure there can be an invisible man, but I seem to remember your lady friend Aquamama having a few unbelievable tricks up her slippery sleeves—"
"Boys!" The Official looked like an exasperated father.
They quieted down, and Bobby snatched the paper back.
"Tucker Burns is coming here tomorrow. They've been bothering us for months, calling and taking up Eberts's valuable phone time—"
"Eberts," Bobby muttered under his breath, rolling his eyes.
"And I've decided that it's time we put an end to all this nonsense."
Bobby was nodding. "Get them off our trail, sir?"
"Exactly. They're coming for an interview tomorrow, and I want you two to convince them that nothing's going on and get them to leave us alone, once and for all."
Eberts materialized color-coordinated packets from who-knew-where and handed them to Darien and Bobby. "The Keeper and I have already begun to clear out any evidence that might be incriminating in preparation for their tour tomorrow, and if you'll just open up these packets and turn to Appendix Three, sub-section eight, you'll see on page two all the responses that The Official and I prepared in anticipation of 'Operation No Cover-Up' for the interviews you'll be conducting—"
Darien stood up, rolling up the packet Eberts had handed him into a tube and slapping it into his palm. "Wait a minute. Wait just a minute."
Bobby threw his packet on the desk in disgust, shooting Eberts the evil eye, before turning in his seat to face Darien. "What's cookin' in that gland-happy skull of yours, Fawkes?"
"Okay." Darien pointed the rolled-up paper at Bobby. "I want you to imagine you're a reporter, Hobbes. What's the first thing you do if someone tells you nothing's up?"
"Snoop around to see if they're lying," Bobby replied immediately, starting to nod. "I think I see where this is going, my friend."
"We can't just tell these guys that nothing is going on. That's what they're expecting. I bet they're just itching for a reason to snoop around here and find out all our little dirty government secrets."
"What are you proposing?" The Official said, narrowing his eyes.
Darien smiled. "What better way to discredit the Invisible Man project than to have it appear on the front page of The World Chronicle?"
"You thinkin' of pullin' another Luke Lawson?"
"This is what I am thinking."
"We got that mother good."
"Exactly. We tell these guys just enough to write an article that will make any red-blooded American scoff at the idea of an invisible man."
"And if anyone tries to use it as proof—"
"They'd be a laughingstock."
"Keep our secrets by admitting them right up front. That is mighty sneaky, partner."
"Who's the man?"
The Official handed Eberts back the stack of packets, shaking his head while Eberts mournfully put them through the shredder. Once Darien and Bobby left the office, still giving each other "props," he said to the empty chairs, "Let's just hope we get out of this in one piece."
"Can you believe this place?" Tucker said as Wes walked through the halls snapping photos. "I mean, when I stood outside The Chronicle building I was pretty suspicious of what I'd find inside, but the offices proved me wrong pretty quickly. Whereas this place…"
"Is just as nasty inside as it is outside." Wes peeled a strip of paint off the wall.
"I thought it was just a clever ruse. But I'm really starting to think that this is… it."
"Doesn't really seem like the kind of place they'd hole up a top secret invisible agent, does it?"
"No, not really. You think we're following a dead end here?"
"Well, the dude who gave us the tip did send us photos of, you know. Nothing. Because the guy's invisible." Wes was grinning.
Tucker groaned. "How much you wanna bet Grace gets the cover this week?"
"I only make bets I know I'm going to win, Tuck B."
Tucker extended his hand, "Tucker Burns, World Chronicle. My photographer Wes had a few other errands to run, but he'll be along shortly. You're Darien Fawkes?"
Darien ran a finger down Tucker's chest; it was followed by a trail of shimmering silver liquid that, a few seconds after making contact with his skin, left a transparent line straight down the center of him.
"Oh my God," Tucker said, staring right through himself.
Darien spread his arms wide, sitting down in the easy chair. "The invisible man, at your service."
Tucker fumbled with his pockets and sat down, trying to get his pad and pen out while still keeping his eyes locked on the trail of invisibility still on his shirt.
"Okay," he tore his eyes away with obvious regret, leaning forward, all business again, "so tell me, Darien. How did you get this incredible ability?"
"Wellllll," Darien crossed one his legs over the other, leaning back in his chair. "It's a long story, but basically a team of scientists led by my brother grafted a bio-synthetic gland into my brain that secretes quicksilver, a substance which can bend light around it and effectively render me invisible."
Tucker's pen, poised on the paper, didn't move. "Oh."
Darien waited a few seconds; he'd reacted the same way the first time he heard it. But then Tucker looked up from his pad.
"You look disappointed, man," Darien said, disbelieving it even as his eyes saw it.
"I'm sorry," Tucker said, clicking his ballpoint back to its neutral position. "It's just that… I don't know if this is Chronicle material."
Darien uncrossed his legs and leaned forward. "You have got to be kidding me."
"Well, you're right. I am a little disappointed to hear that it's just a gland in your head that does it, but not because it isn't amazing."
"And why would that be disappointing—" Then he smiled, snapping his finger. "You and your photographer were placing bets on what it would be, weren't you? I saw you two talking before you came into the building."
Tucker laughed. "Bets? We would never—"
Darien just looked at him.
"Okay, okay. Maybe just a little friendly wagering between colleagues. But we were both wrong, to tell you the truth."
"So what did you think it was?" Darien asked, unsure whether he should be amused or vaguely insulted that they weren't impressed at his hardware.
"Well, I thought it was a rare skin condition that a government conspiracy has been selectively breeding for generations. There was a passage of Nostradamus's prophecies that looked pretty promising for that lead."
Darien laughed, stopping short when Tucker didn't join him. "Oh, I didn't realize you were serious."
Tucker shrugged. "Once you've seen the stuff I have, the world becomes a very different place."
"So what did nutjob number two think it was?"
"Well, he has this crazy theory about how Big Foot has eluded detection for so long because it has the ability to go invisible—" Tucker was so busy rolling his eyes that he didn't notice how wide Darien's suddenly got, "and he thinks that you guys must have a Big Foot down in your basement and that he's real your invisible operative."
Darien smiled, letting out the breath he'd been holding. "Sorry to tell you boys, it's just some boring ol' biosynthetic gland."
"Oh, you got me all wrong." Tucker looked sheepish. "I wasn't implying there's anything boring at all about it. It's just that—and I'm sure if you've ever read The Chronicle you've noticed this—there's a certain type of article that we run, and they tend not to be very…"
He snapped his fingers. "Exactly. We take the incredible and, at least in the bylines of our paper, make it credible. But what you have already sounds pretty credible, to be honest."
Darien tapped a finger on his chin thoughtfully. "Well, there was this one time I used the gland to channel my dead brother."
Tucker clicked his pen back, raising his eyebrow. "Channeled, you say?"
"Yo yo yo Tuck B." Wes walked through the door, rather resplendent in fuchsia and green, and he and Tucker did their partner handshake. "Sorry I was late, man, but you guys really need to get a parking lot or something."
"Tell me about it, getting parking validated here is like trying to get into a Nun's—"
"Hang on a second," Darien cut Bobby off, stepping closer to Wes and Tucker. "Can you guys do that again?"
Wes gave him the 'don't tell me you're one of those crazies' look. "Do what? Call him Tuck B.? If you want, I could even call you Dare F. Rob H. Or would Bob H. be better? Bob H., kinda has a ring to it."
"No, no." Darien gestured in the space between them.
"I think what my partner means is the handshake thing," Bobby volunteered, slipping his thumbs into his belt and leaning back like he was about to observe something important.
"The handshake thing?" Tucker asked.
"Yeah, you know—"
"With the bada-bing-bada-boom." Bobby waved his hand in the air in an imitation of what Wes and Tucker had just done.
"Oooookay," Tucker said, now adopting his own 'did we all suddenly start talking crazy and no one sent me the memo?' look. Doing a simultaneous eyebrow raise, Tucker and Wes did the handshake once more, in slow motion.
"Ahhh. So you slap, and then hold. Interesting." Darien said, hand on his chin.
Bobby nodded. "I like our way better."
"More symmetrical, with the double-sided slapping."
"Slap-slap-knuckle. Nice, smooth, easy, clean. The king of handshakes, my friend."
"What would you give theirs?" Darien asked.
"Eight point five. You can tell they've practiced. Good follow-through."
"Ah, yes, the wrists—"
"Hold up," Wes interjected, putting his hands on his hips and looking oddly like a thirteen-year old girl about to get into a catfight, "you did not just rate me and Tuck B. at an eight point five."
Darien shrugged, slipping his hands into his pockets. "I think I'm going to have to go with a vowel, Vanna. 'Y' is considered a vowel, isn't it?"
"One of those tricky vowels that's a consonant sometimes."
"Ah, the good ol' tricky vowels."
"Vanna always had a thing for turning over the 'y's over real slow, you ever notice that?"
"I don't think most of the world notices half the things you do, Hobbes—"
Tucker laughed, putting a hand on Wes's shoulder as he was stepping forward, "Let it go, man—"
"Nuh uh. These guys want to come up in here and rate us an eight point five, they best be showin' the goods." He looked meaningfully at Darien's hands.
"That sounded distinctly like a challenge."
"A call to arms, my friend."
"Oooh, good one—"
"Arms, get it? 'Cause we're doing the high five—"
"Okay, now you're just pushing it. Can't just leave the funny alone, can you? That's your problem, always trying too hard—"
"Bobby Hobbes never has to try—"
"And it's a low five, for your information—"
"If you ladies are done flirting," Wes interrupted again, crossing his arms over his chest—possibly to stop himself from snapping his fingers in the air in a three-point formation that could be considered an infringement on Britney Spear's trademark—"I think it's time for less talk, and more skin."
Darien slipped his hands out of his pockets. "You heard the man, Hobbes."
Bobby followed suit by slipping his thumbs out of his belt loops and held them up to his mouth, blowing on them lightly. "Let's do this, partner."
In uncanny synchronization, without anything more than very intensely locking gazes, they reared back their left arms in time, slapping their palms lightly opened-face, back-face, and then interlocking their knuckles. Grinning simultaneously, they said, "yeah, baby," and repeated the same operation with their right hands, moving as if they were one.
Tucker's eyes widened. "Wow."
Darien bowed with a flourish and Bobby smiled smugly. Wes stood absolutely still for a second before breaking into a huge grin. "I've seen a lot of things in my time, baby, but I ain't never seen anything like that."
"Bobby Hobbes in action is a beautiful thing, my young friend."
"We're thinking of getting it patented, but the office keeps telling us if it doesn't have a catchy name they won't give it to us."
Wes and Tucker exchanged a glance, and as if through silent agreement, Wes slipped an arm around Darien's shoulder and Tucker went for Bobby's.
They both smiled widely, and Wes leaned in closer. "So what's a brother gotta do around here to get you girls to give up your trade secrets?"
"Write us a cover story article?" Darien volunteered, shooting Bobby a meaningful look.
Tucker took out his notepad and the zoom on Wes's camera was already powering up. "I think that could be arranged," he said, "Don't you, Wes?"
"Definitely. Grace's three-headed man-eating cockatiel's not gonna have anything on us, Tuck B."
"Well," Bobby said, holding out his hand, "The trick is realizing that it's all in the wrist…"