“Queen,” the guard says, gesturing me out of the cell.
On my way out, I wave goodbye to the bearded man in the dirty pullover who made small talk with me all evening. “Bye, Brian.”
“Take care, kid.”
Finally someone posted bail. I pray to God that the person waiting on the other side of the electromagnetic locks is Terry McGinnis. As they print-scan me out and give me my shit back, I do a little bargaining with the Almighty. If it’s family, I want Uncle Roy. If I can’t have him, let it be one of the Diggles – Lyla would be fine, but I’d prefer Elaine. At least give me Mom.
Just please, please, please don’t let it be –
“Jonathan,” says a voice that gives new meaning to the word deadpan. “Congratulations on your first arrest as a legal adult.”
I shove my wallet into my pocket, which buys me three more seconds without eye contact. Then I square my shoulders and face him. “Hi, Dad.”
My father in a rage is one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t raise his voice. He doesn’t have to. He just gives you this look, as if only his mercy and restraint stand between you and swift, nasty death.
I was fourteen the first time that look came my way – just old enough to feel worldly and sophisticated, but just young enough to have no clue what a little shit I was. My experiments with casual rudeness toward the forces of conformity and repression (Mom and Dad) were met with stern words and revoked privileges.
Then I got ticketed for underage consumption.
“Jonny, these choices will follow you for years,” Mom said, pacing the other side of the kitchen island. “You are so much smarter than this.”
“Maybe I’m not,” I said, shrugging deeper into my jacket. It was leather. I was that badass.
She rounded on me. “You’re welcome to stay here and think it over during fall break. Dad and Abby and I will enjoy Paris just fine without you.”
In what family lore would later describe as a suicide attempt, probably a cry for help, I leaned the kitchen chair back on two legs and said, “It was just beer. You don’t have to be such a bitch about it.”
A second later I was dangling in midair. The chair clattered to the floor behind me. Dad’s hands were clamped under my arms, and he held me nose to nose with him.
“You do not,” he growled, “speak to my wife that way.”
My heart stopped. The whole world was two blazing eyes in a stranger’s pitiless face. When he dropped me, my legs nearly crumpled under me.
I looked at Mom, who was standing very still at the counter with her mouth in a surprised O.
“I’m sorry I said that to you,” I said through numb lips. “It’ll never happen again.”
“Apology accepted,” she said faintly.
I haven’t called Mom anything nastier than “you crazy woman” since then. In fact, I never earned The Look the same way twice. I’m a creative genius when it comes to pissing Dad off.
But he’s not pissed right now. Right now he is disappointed in me, which is so much worse.
“Let’s go home,” he says wearily.
The cameras are waiting for us outside, of course. They must have been camped out here all day, because Dad took his time coming to get me. Had no one picked me up by nine o’clock, I would have spent the weekend in lockup. Dad showed up at eight forty-five.
“Mr. Queen, are you concerned about your son’s pattern of self-destructive behavior?”
“Jonny, is it true you were intoxicated at the time of the accident?”
This is the second time I’ve done this, so they’re easy enough to ignore even when they trail us across the parking lot. Don’t look directly at them, no particular expression, keep moving, keep your mouth shut.
“Mr. Queen! Jonny!”
They keep a respectful distance, because Dad once did something scary to a paparazzo who didn’t. We make it to his six-speed, and when I slide into the passenger seat I debate whether to buckle the seatbelt. It lies right along the bruises that the other seatbelt left on me. I don’t need to give Dad any more reason to glare at me, so I suck it up and buckle in.
He pulls smoothly away from the curb and leaves the cameras in our rearview.
Apologies are probably in order. I just wish I knew where to start. “I’m sorry about the Beemer” seems like a good place.
He spares me a glance. “The car is really not my primary concern.”
It kind of concerns me. That car was my baby. I even made a few modifications to smooth her out on the turns. A little too smooth, as it turned out. She spun right out of that J-turn.
I give it another shot. “I’m sorry about the moving violations.” All six of them. “I know they’re going to jack up the insurance premiums again.”
“I see. You’re sorry you got caught.” He works the gear shift, whipping us around a corner a little sharper than necessary. My bruises twinge. “A hundred and twenty-three miles per hour, Jon? You could have killed someone.”
“I didn’t.” I’ll own the shit that I actually did, but I take no responsibility for anybody else’s hypothetical shit.
“Please explain to me why cheap thrills are important enough to risk people’s lives.”
“Like whose? There’s never anyone on that stretch of Highway 20.”
“Definitely my son,” Dad says on a sigh, as if that comparison is even remotely fair.
“Dad, I’ve seen your arrest record.” I unbuckle the seatbelt at last, because fuck it. “Multiple counts of excessive speed. Underage possession, consumption, and purchase of alcohol. Public intoxication. Possession of all the fun drugs, back when that was still seriously illegal. Assault on a police officer. And my favorite, because I have no idea what it even means: criminal mischief.”
“Destruction or defacement of property.”
“Oh.” That’s kind of a let-down. “I was hoping it was something like…” But that’s not the direction I want this conversation to take. “Definitely your son? You did way worse shit than me. Way worse.”
If Mom were here, she’d be glaring at me. The one time I suggested to her that people who used to host keggers in their glass houses should probably not throw stones, she completely shut me down. “Don’t you dare,” she said. “Your father is a good man, and he’s had to work much harder to become one than you will ever know. I don’t want to hear you throw thirty-year-old mistakes in his face.”
Dad is much less defensive about his own rap sheet than Mom is. “That’s more true than you realize,” he says, because cryptic bullshit is a pastime of his. “It’s not what I meant.”
That’s not what he meant? Then what the hell are we even talking about here?
“Your life, Jon,” he says quietly, and the strangest expression flickers across his face. “You were risking your life.”
Even once I’ve figured out that this non sequitur is actually an answer to my rhetorical question thirty seconds ago, I have no idea what to do with it.
I’m the first to admit that I don’t really understand my father. He was a child of privilege who once knew extreme deprivation, a party boy turned serious to the point of severity. I suspect he was a serial cheater back in the day, but I’m certain he has never stepped out on my mother. For as long as I can remember, he’s been stoic to a fault with occasional episodes of frightening sincerity. I’ve rarely met anyone who even vaguely reminds me of him.
And sometimes I just do not know what to say to the man. We spend the rest of the ride in silence.
My phone buzzes. It’s McGinnis. He was the first person I called from central lockup, because I knew he was in town for a few days and I knew he wouldn’t freak. Not only is he my Phi Psi big brother, he’s got an arrest record much more colorful than mine. Before he burgled the wrong crotchety recluse’s mansion, he was involved in some of Gotham’s stupider gangs.
made bail yet? he says.
on the way home to face the music, I text back. or possibly the firing squad
if they kill you can I have your training dummy?
no because you are an asshole who called my father instead of showing up himself
seriously those things are expensive
so ask Wayne pretty please you fucking sugar baby
choke on your silver spoon, shitbird
I squelch a smile and slip the phone back into my pocket. That’s probably the last enjoyable conversation I’m going to have tonight.
When we come in the back door, Mom is waiting for us on a stool at the kitchen island. Her disappointed expression is eerily similar to Dad’s. “Hey, kiddo,” she says gently. “We need to talk.” And she pulls out a stool for me.
As I sit down, Dad busies his hands cold-brewing iced coffee, making himself part of the background. They always do that when we have these nice little talks. One takes point, the other silently covers their six. I think the idea is that they’re both involved, but I don’t feel like they’re ganging up on me. The actual effect is not all that reassuring. Oliver Queen prowling the background has probably never put anyone at their ease.
“Are we discussing how badly I fucked up, the depth of the shit I’m in, or both?” I regret it as soon as it’s out of my mouth, and not just because Dad’s shoulders go stiff at my tone. Mom gives me the look she gives Dad when he’s limping a little and insisting his knee doesn’t ache. Your bravado is a waste of everyone’s time.
“We’re discussing why you fucked up,” she says calmly.
I sit up straighter. Mom doesn’t say fuck. I would have been less startled if she yelled. “I, ah… I don’t know.”
“You are not a stupid or careless person,” she continues. “There must be a reason you keep making these stupid, careless decisions.”
In the long pause that follows, the only sound is water running into the carafe.
“I don’t know why,” is all I come up with.
She puts two fingers to the bridge of her nose. “And if you’d hurt someone else?”
“There was nobody else. That’s why I picked Highway 20 at two in the morning. If somebody went through a windshield, it was only going to be me.”
Wrong thing to say. Completely wrong. Tears spring to Mom’s eyes. “Jonny,” she says with an earnest tilt of her head. “Do you know what it felt like, getting that phone call?”
Oh, no. Oh, please no.
“‘Mrs. Queen, we’re calling to inform you that your son was in an accident.’”
The tip of her nose is red. Oh, this is bad. “Mom…”
“You’re nineteen. You think you’re invincible, and that bad things only happen to other people.”
“Mom, I swear I’m not as dumb as I look,” I say, trying to get a smile out of her. “I know I’m not invincible, I promise.”
But tears are slipping down her face now. “Sweetheart, you don’t understand how fast your whole life can change. You can lose… you can lose more than you thought possible. In a second. Things you thought would last forever. People you thought would always be there.” She brushes at her cheeks. “Bad things can happen to you, baby. To our family.”
Dad is watching her over his shoulder, and when she meets his eyes, for half a second it’s like I’m not even in the room.
There are pictures of my grandparents and Tommy Merlyn around the house, and Dad mentions them casually without pain. Mom still tells funny stories about Dick Grayson. I know about the kidnappings, shootings, bombings, and felony charges that plagued the Queens in the years after Dad’s return from the island. I know about my family’s involvement in the Undertaking. The Arrow himself nearly shot my grandmother, and he once beat the hell out of my dad. Of course, there were also the times the Arrow rescued Mom from murderous psychopaths, which Dig says makes him one of the good guys.
My parents have been through some shit. These are not secrets.
But Mom tries to hide her migraines and her insomnia. I’ve seen my father’s scars a handful of times, but only for about two seconds before he pulled a shirt on. In contrast, the worst thing that ever happened to me was the time I trespassed on the wrong sorghum field and got shot with a rock salt round at close range.
And here I am making my mother cry. Shame does not begin to cover it.
“They say having children is like tearing your heart out of your chest and letting it run around outside your body and get a driver’s license,” she says, sniffling. “I really need you to take good care of it, ok?”
Shame doesn’t even cover the foreword. There are chapters and chapters of guilt still to come.
“And you know Abby thinks you hung the moon,” Mom adds, twisting the knife. “So maybe try to be a little more careful with her big brother?”
“Mom.” I hope I don’t sound like I’m begging, but I’m begging. “Please don’t cry. I’m sorry.”
Dad actually looks at me for the first time since I sat down. When it comes to apologies, he’s a big believer in specificity.
“I’m sorry I was stupid and careless and totaled the car and got arrested, and I’m sorry your heart has a driver’s license – well, not anymore, it’s suspended now. And I’m sorry I scared you,” I add, which is the truest part. “I really am.”
She pulls me into a hug. Jesus Christ. I am scum. I am the amoeba that live in the scum. There are things growing in forgotten tupperware at the back of the refrigerator that are probably my moral superiors.
“Go on,” Dad says when Mom releases me so she can blow her nose. “Get some sleep, Jon. Big day tomorrow, remember?”
That’s right. Mom’s fiftieth. The guest list for the party runs to three hundred people. I bet nobody else is giving her a misdemeanor for her birthday.
“Make sure you have your tux.” Mom calls after me as I escape. “The bowtie is mandatory!”
I take the stairs two at a time. That’s why I trip over Abby on the landing.
When I’m sure she’s not actually hurt, I say, “That’s what you get, nosy.”
She untangles her gangly limbs and gets to her feet. “That was some really good groveling,” she tells me, not without sympathy.
I shoo her toward the top of the stairs, and I’m not surprised when she makes a left for my room instead of a right for hers.
“I don’t think you hung the moon,” she reassures me, bouncing on my bed. “I know you’re kind of a terrible role model, so don’t worry about, like, leading me astray.”
“I really don’t.”
Abby is the universe’s apology to Mom and Dad for their fuckup son. She’s the kid you brag about to the other parents, casually dropping into the conversation that she’d love to spend the summer at a camp for gifted children if it didn’t conflict with her volunteer work at the animal shelter. I couldn’t lead that kid astray with a leash and a cattle prod.
“I hope you get your license back by August,” she says. “It’s more fun when you drive me to school.”
And that’s the end of it. She’s not here to interrogate me or to make big, sad, disappointed eyes at me. She just wants someone to talk to about –
“…auditions on Friday for Summer Lyric Theater, and I don’t know whether to do something new, like Flor de Caña, or a classic from Wicked.”
“I am the worst person in this house for you to ask.” Mom loves Broadway, and she takes Abby to shows a few times a year. Dad can tolerate exactly one musical, The Lion King, which is one more musical than I can tolerate. “The actual worst.”
Abby doesn’t care. She sings both for me, and they’re about equally obnoxious. Not because of her; she’s got a perfectly decent voice. It’s just that musical theater is the armpit of the arts world. I make a completely arbitrary decision. “Um, the first one. Now get out of here, junebug.”
“Dontcallmethat,” she says, as automatically as a bless-you after a sneeze. She’s been trying to put a stop to her nickname for a year now, and the only person who’s given her any ground whatsoever is Dig. “I’m surprised you went with Wicked. I really thought you’d be more of a—”
“Seriously. Go to bed.”
“Fine.” She rolls her eyes theatrically. “Good night, Jonny.” And there she goes, bounding away on her skinny legs like a baby deer. Her hair is even roughly deer-colored.
The energy drains out of the room with her, and I flop backwards into my pillows. A night on a bench in police custody really takes it out of you. I close my eyes, and I hope like hell that I won’t dream.
At seven a.m., I wake from nightmares of screeching metal, of weightlessness and then bone-jarring impact. When I grouch my way downstairs, I pass Dad’s study, where I can hear him grouching at someone else over the phone.
I find Mom and Abby in the kitchen with the morning news in the background. They’re making omelets, which must be hilarious, because they’re giggling over the chopped onions and tomatoes. Mom smiles at me warmly, as if she weren’t crying into my shirt just last night.
I give her a one-armed hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Happy birthday.”
“Oh, no, thank you,” she says pleasantly.
“No, thank you?”
She points a whisk at me. “How do you want your eggs?”
Before I’ve even settled onto the stool at the island, Abby sets a fluffy cappuccino in front of me.
They’re kind of sweethearts, the women in my family. I can’t manage a smile, but I can at least turn off the frown.
Mom talks party plans, giving us last minute instructions and the timetable for the catering staff. “Will you be home to help, Jon?”
She grew up in a cramped apartment with a mother in the service industry and a weekly date with a coupon book. She is allergic to the sight of her kids sitting idle while other people work around us. Usually I can exploit a loophole by staying out of sight. No way I can do that today. “Yeah, I’ll help.”
“Oh, and Abby, I put the Caravelli dress in your room. Do you want to come look through my jewelry and find something to wear with it?”
“Actually.” There’s an apologetic pause. “I was thinking I’d wear the pink one I bought with Kaylee.”
“Oh.” For about .3 seconds, Mom looks the slightest bit disappointed. “I thought you liked the one we picked out.”
“I do. I mean, maybe I’ll wear it,” Abby says, squirming and trying entirely too hard not to hurt Mom’s feelings. “I haven’t really decided yet.”
Mom gives me a knowing smile, recognizing little stabs at independence for what they are, and she bumps Abby’s hip with hers. “Either way, you’re welcome to anything in my jewelry box.”
“Anything?” Abby says hopefully. “Like, even the pearly magnolias?”
“Anything else. I’ve got dibs on the pearly magnolias.”
“Hey, I forgot to ask,” I say. “Can McGinnis come?”
“You mean you didn’t invite him already? Jon-a-than.” She punctuates it with three taps of the plastic spatula on my arm.
I hear my name from the TV at the exact same time. That is never, ever a good thing.
“Abby, change the channel,” Mom says.
The anchor is going on about “billionaires behaving badly.” These people love cutesy alliteration. Two pictures of me and Dad leaving central lockup appear onscreen before Abby flips to a classier news station.
GNN has never once concerned itself with me, which is awesome. But they’re nattering on about the reappearance of the Bat in Gotham, which is less awesome. They’ve set two pundits at each other’s throats on the question of masked vigilantes: heroes, criminals, or both?
You can walk into any bar in Starling, mention the Arrow, and have yourself a nice long spat about that very question. I’ve heard every argument a thousand times, and hey, I’m not too old for Saturday morning cartoons. I steal the remote.
“Ren and Stimpy,” Mom says, whisking eggs. “Classic.”
Three eggs, some bacon, and a lot of cheddar later, I’m not talking in grouchy monosyllables. Unfortunately, when Dad arrives from his study, he is still wearing a trashcan lid for a hat.
“Was that Laurel?” Mom says mildly.
Dad glances at me. If he were talking to Starling City’s D.A., it would be about my arrest, wouldn’t it? But he shakes his head. “No, it’s something Panoptic sent over last night. Probably nothing, but…” He winces when he sits down, which for Dad is kind of like an outright scream. “It’s just bad timing.”
His kid is going in front of a judge soon, there’s a massive party at his house tonight, his knee must be hurting him, and now Dig and Lyla’s private security company is sending him “probably nothing,” but maybe something. “Is there a good time for that?”
Ah, shit. My big, smart mouth. I didn’t mean to make him scrub his hand across his face that way.
Mom swoops in, bringing coffee, and when she sets his mug down, she reaches out and runs her hand across his shoulders. His posture relaxes, and his expression softens. At the stove, Abby says, “How do you want your eggs? Please say an omelet. I’m getting really good at flipping them.”
Between the two of them, Mom and Abby have turned him back into a human being. He actually smiles. “Why don’t you surprise me, junebug?”
She smiles back. Dad’s allowed to call her whatever embarrassing nickname he damn pleases, and she never protests.
I don’t like hearing people call Abby a daddy’s girl, but it’s true that they’ve always had some kind of special father-daughter connection that the rest of us can’t fathom. He knows how to calm her down when she’s a ball of manic energy, and she has a sixth sense about when he’s stressed or tired or grumpy. She’ll go sit next to him and just lay her head against his upper arm. You can see the tension leave his face when she does it.
Dad stopped hugging me casually around the time I started high school. I finally ducked out of enough of them, I guess, and he wasn’t going to force the issue.
Mom, on the other hand, was never shy about opening her arms and ordering me into them. “Come here, Jonathan. I know, it’s excruciating, having parents who love you. Why can’t we all come into being through binary fission?”
Dad backed her up, with that almost-smile that meant he was laughing on the inside. “Hug your mother. Three seconds, minimum.”
Point is, Dad tends to project his bad moods for several yards in every direction, whether he means to or not. I don’t much want to cuddle anyone, least of all my disapproving father, so I’m always kind of relieved when Mom or Abby jump in like little rays of sunshine and turn his gray skies blue, or whatever it is they do.
He leaves for his pet nonprofit’s meeting in a considerably better mood than he sat down.
“Have fun Board of Directoring,” I call after him.
“Enjoy your provisional release,” he calls back. The door shuts behind him, and Mom bites down on a laugh.
It’s a bit of a hike from the Lower Garden District to Panoptic Security’s downtown office, but it’s not like anybody’s going to give me car keys two days after I flipped a Beemer. Besides, it gives me time to text McGinnis.
come to moms birthday party tonight. black tie. open bar
nope I fly back to Gotham at 6am
dont be such a puss.
wayne wants me to work tomorrow
tell him to fuck off
ok but youre scrubbing my brains off the floor after
I never see you since you graduated and you’re only in town for two and a half seconds and you don’t want to party with me. This is hurtful. I am hurt.
Fuck you, queen. do you have an extra tux?
At Panoptic, I wave to Gail at the reception desk, and I make a left for the fitness center. Dig just renovated, and the place is amazing. The men’s locker rooms don’t even smell like ball sweat yet.
Dig’s already there, of course. “You’re late.”
“I walked,” I say, testing the waters.
The man has eloquent eyebrows. They can articulate entire paragraphs. Like, for instance, I am your godfather and your parents’ closest friend of twenty-five years. Of course I already know you spent a night in jail. In fact, it was my suggestion to let you cool your heels for twenty-four hours before posting bail.
I shift my weight over my feet. “Should we get the lecture out of the way?”
He looks me over. “I wasn’t planning on it. I’ve got a good one on file, if you really want. Lots of stuff about consequences and personal responsibility.”
“Mom cried. I don’t think you can make me feel any shittier.”
“The point is not for you to feel shitty.” He walks to the far wall, where he keeps the bo staffs. “The point is for you to learn from your mistakes. Are your ribs ok for this?”
“Yeah, just bruises.” I catch the staff when it flies at my head.
Right now I desperately need to beat the shit out of a training dummy. Dig seems to have arrived at the same diagnosis. He works me harder than he has since the month before I won Regionals. He doesn’t get down on the mats with me anymore, not since the back injury on the job last year, but he can still bark orders as if he never left the Army.
“Drop and beat your face. Faster… eight, nine, ten - on your feet! What was that, a dance move? Again. That’s it! Keep it loose, keep it tight.”
It clears my head. McGinnis, whom I met through MMA tournaments two years before I rushed his chapter of Phi Psi, says that throwing punches makes the world look simple for him, just action and reaction. That’s not how I’d describe it. It just feels like finally hearing English after hours of struggling to understand Mandarin. Mom says I’m a kinesthetic learner, “just like your father, God help us.”
An hour later, I throw my last punch. Dig stands back, satisfied.
“He said I was definitely his son,” I pant into the silence.
Dig takes that in stride, handing me a towel to wipe my face. “You definitely are.”
“But he said it on the way home from central lockup.”
Dig takes his time before he answers me, voice measured and even. “I don’t know how much you know about your dad’s – ”
“Of the two of us,” I say, “I am the one who has never in his life, not even blackout drunk, not even at Mardi Gras, not even once, urinated on an officer of the law.”
Dig nods assent, because there’s really no arguing with that, but then he raises an eyebrow and says, “You remember why you started training with me?”
When I was eight, doctors suggested medication to keep my ass in the chair during the school day. My parents argued about it for two days before Dig offered an alternative.
“You of all people know that focus can be learned,” he told Dad. “Just send him over after school. I’ll give him somewhere to channel all that energy.”
Dad was surprisingly open to the idea, possibly because he has dabbled in martial arts himself. After the fifth or sixth kidnapping, he asked Dig to teach him some basic self-defense, and to this day people occasionally walk in on them smacking each other around at Panoptic's gym. "One of these days, I'm going to beat him," Dad always says.
Mom rolls her eyes like he's the biggest doofus on the planet and says, "Yes, let's all hold our breath."
Dad laughed out loud when the first exercise Dig gave me was slapping water in a bowl. It felt stupid, and I’m sure it looked ridiculous, but it wasn’t that funny.
Martial arts did exactly what Dig hoped: taught me discipline and wore me the hell out. I can’t say Ms. Callahan never gave me detention for “visiting with my neighbors” again, but the principal stopped calling my parents to schedule concerned talks about whether Starling Prep was the best environment for Jonny’s learning style.
“You get bored easy,” Dig says. “You need to be moving, you need to be engaged with the world.”
Sure, ok. I nod along.
“You’re an adrenaline junkie.”
“That’s…” not how I would put it, because it makes me sound kind of strung-out and pathetic, doesn’t it? “…Accurate.”
“And you have,” he pauses diplomatically. “Let’s call it an underdeveloped sense of self-preservation.”
I shrug. I think I preserve myself just fine, personally.
“Imagine all of that, unlimited resources, and no one ever telling you no. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it,” Dig says ruefully. “TMZ has a lot of it on video.”
“If my problems are just a rerun of his problems, then why does it feel like he’s the last person on the planet that I can explain any of this to?”
Dig folds his arms and gives me one of those perceptive looks that make me avoid his eyes. “Why do you think he needs it explained?”
I head for the showers, because no one asks you incisive questions when you’re naked.
On my way out the door, Dig calls after me. “You have your bowtie, right?”
I wave him off, and I try not to think too hard during the long walk home.
We’re Queens. We know how to throw a party.
The floor is cleared for dancing, the food is ready and waiting, and the open bar is armed and dangerous. I helped move furniture, and I’m wearing the stupid bowtie, which means I deserve cake. I eat six of the petit fours from one of the caterers’ trays before I get caught. Then I hang out with Jerry the bartender to make sure he knows my face. And name. And drink of choice.
“But if you can make it with Black Booster, that would be – hi, Dad,” I say, leaning against the bar. “Just making friends. Have you met Jerry?”
“Yes, we know each other,” Dad says, nodding to the bartender. “My son’s palate was refined in a frat house. Don’t serve him anything top shelf.”
“No danger of that, Mr. Queen,” Jerry says pleasantly. “You don’t stock anything nearly as nasty as what he asked me for.”
The first guests arrive at eight o’clock sharp. The Lance family is freakishly punctual.
“Jonathan,” Captain Lance says, shaking my hand. He raises an eyebrow, and I know instantly that he ‘s heard all about my night in jail. He probably knows I smartassed the booking officer too. The man spends his retirement playing poker with every high-ranking cop in the city; he knows things. “It’s good to see you’re still in one piece.”
“Yeah, the roll cage on the 6 Series really saved my ass.”
“Not that. I thought your father might actually kill you this time.”
“Dad, let him be.” Laurel kisses my cheek, and her perfume washes over me. “I hear your semester went well,” she says with the resolute brightness of someone scraping the bottom of the barrel for something nice to say. “An A in ancient military history?”
You’re damn straight. Ask me about the Battle of Marathon, I dare you. But I just shrug. “Mom likes to brag.”
Laurel smiles, and she glances past my shoulder at Dad, who is shaking hands with QC Board members. “Oh, I didn’t hear it from her.”
More QC muckety-mucks glide in a few paces behind them, and so begins the first round of shaking hands, smiling politely, and pretending to remember people. For some reason, Mom and Dad’s business associates are all really impressed by the fact that, “Jonny, you’ve gotten so big! The last time I saw you, you were yea high.”
Unlikely. I have not been waist-height on any of these people for years. If their idea of small talk is, Are you aware that you are six feet tall?, surely they won’t mind if I say things like, “Kids, right? Apparently if you feed them, they get bigger.”
Dad shoots me a glare, but he’s trying not to laugh. Less than twenty-four hours out of jail, and I’ve made my dad laugh. I’m doing way better than the time I blew past a police roadblock on my bike at a hundred and twenty miles an hour.
When the Diggles arrive, Elaine greets me with a smile so warm she raises the temperature of the whole house half a degree. “Jonny!”
“Come here, give me a hug. You dumped that girlfriend yet?”
“Sorry. Still taken.”
“Damn it. Well, true love waits.”
Elaine Diggle was my first love. I was eleven, she was sixteen, and I spent a whole summer following her around, making a capering jackass of myself to get her attention. We have to joke about it, because if we don’t, our families will do it for us.
“You look very dashing,” she says, straightening my lapels.
I blink in surprise. Tonight she is exactly eye level with me, which has never happened before. “And you look very tall.”
“Three inch heels,” she says shyly, poking one out from beneath her floaty blue dress. “I don’t usually wear them, but I forgot to get this dress hemmed.”
“Oh, ok,” I say, not quite sure why she’s justifying her shoes to me. “You’re not going to break an ankle or anything, are you?”
“I might if you make me dance with you again.”
“Don’t even. You had fun last time.” Even if I did get a cuff link caught in her hair.
From somewhere behind me, I hear a woman say, in a piercing voice that probably carries all the way to the veranda, “I was so sorry to see your son in the news again, Felicity.”
Elaine lays a hand on my arm. “Don’t even look over,” she murmurs. “It’s Mrs. Collins.”
I know for a fact that woman was only invited because she is our next door neighbor, and we couldn’t avoid it. I resist the urge to roll my eyes, and I offer Elaine my arm. “I think it’s time for drinks.”
“The CelebCast segment was just brutal,” Mrs. Collins continues, as if consoling Mom on my recent execution for a string of gory homicides. “I can’t even imagine how you must feel.”
In the voice she uses for people who try to talk to her while she’s coding, Mom says, “I wish I could tell you what your concern means to me.”
Elaine clamps down on a giggle so hard that she snorts.
At the bar, Jerry refuses to make me the cocktail I asked for, on the grounds that it is disgusting. Instead he makes something with rye whiskey and bitters that he claims he learned in New Orleans, which he will not serve on the rocks no matter how nicely I ask.
“May I have a gin and tonic with extra lime?” Elaine says.
“Of course, Miss Diggle.”
“Oh, he gives you what you want,” I grumble, sipping on what turns out to be a lowball glass of straight-up awesome.
Before Jerry can hand over the gin, a bright pink blur streaks across the room and slams straight into Elaine. Abby hugs her tight around the middle.
“Oh, my God, it’s been forever!”
“Oof! You have got to stop doing that, junebug.”
“Don’tcallmethat. Did I tell you I finally saw Phantom onstage? It was pretty much the best experience of my life. Please, please tell me you’re coming to Flor de Caña in September.”
They start jabbering excitedly about so-and-so being the best Christine since Sarah Brightman, and Elaine’s attention is forfeit. I discreetly slip away to walk the edges of the party, watching the room fill up and avoiding known asshats. I’m on the hunt for the roving server with the platter of hors d’oeuvres when I notice a dark-haired girl in a blue satin dress. Dilemma: she and the cheese puffs are going in opposite directions.
I follow the food. The girl will probably still be around later, but cheese puffs definitely will not.
Aunt Thea and Uncle Roy arrive fashionably late, as usual. There are half a dozen bright pink balloons tethered to the back of Aunt Thea’s wheelchair, which she tugs loose and hands over to the birthday girl with great ceremony. Mom ties them to the banister, where they clash cheerfully with the event planner’s carefully coordinated decorations.
“Nice bowtie,” is how Aunt Thea greets me.
“Yeah, yeah. Nice, um,” I twirl my hand at the back of her head, which is a mass of extremely complicated curls. “Nice hair.”
She grins and pulls me down into a hug. She pulls hard. The woman has Olympic upper body strength. “As your godmother, I’d like to register my shock and dismay at your recent arrest, just to get that out of the way.”
“You and everybody else at this shindig.”
“As former overnight guests of SCPD,” Uncle Roy says, bracing his hand on the back of her chair and tucking the other into his pocket, “we’d like to welcome you to our very exclusive club.”
“In fact,” Aunt Thea says, leaning forward conspiratorially with her hands in her lap, “to qualify for this family, you have to commit at least three misdemeanors or one felony.”
Maybe it’s just the whiskey finally working its way into my bloodstream, but I laugh at that for a good long time.
You wouldn’t think Queen family felonies could be funny, given that one time my grandparents were accessories to mass murder, but my aunt and uncle tell me about more wacky hijinks with cops. Their favorite seems to be the time Dad was arrested for vigilantism, which the whole family seems to find hilarious.
“And what was the tagline for that party he threw?” Aunt Thea says.
“Come before Oliver Queen gets off,” Uncle Roy supplies.
She sighs happily. “Class act, my brother.”
The guest list was three hundred people, and it looks like every last one showed up. Just when the party hits full swing, the music fades out and the band’s lead singer hands the microphone over to Dad. Everyone pays polite attention as he thanks them for coming, and a few people get expressions of wine-soaked sentimentality on their faces when he raises his glass to Mom.
“This is not a birthday toast,” he begins. “This morning my wife informed me that she will be disregarding this birthday and remaining forty-nine indefinitely.”
“This is a toast to Felicity, whom I have been privileged to know for twenty-seven years now. I have never met a woman more passionate about her work, more dedicated to the people she loves, or more patient and forgiving with her husband.” More obligatory chuckles. “And I have never had a truer friend. To the next fifty years.”
We drink to her, and Mom smiles at Dad so wide she might sprain something. The band starts up again with a jazz standard, like they think this is prom night in 1938, and my parents open up the dancing. Abby appears at my elbow expectantly.
“What do you want?” I say, though of course I know perfectly well.
She makes ginormous Bambi eyes at me.
I lead her onto the floor.
Two hours and five drinks later, my bowtie is flapping loose around my neck, my top buttons are undone, I’m kind of sweaty, and I own the goddamn dance floor. I spun Abby around like crazy, I dipped Elaine so low she went “Eep!”, and I whirled Mom all across the floor. I even showed Laurel a good time, and she doesn’t even like me. I swear, I am the Fred Astaire of this party. When I spot the dark-haired girl in blue satin, I ask for a dance. Turns out her name is Madeleine, she’s a QC Board member’s daughter, and she knows how to follow a lead.
I’m on my way back to Jerry to fetch us another round of drinks when I catch the middle of a conversation.
“…embarrassing, the way they let him run wild,” a middle-aged woman holding a glass of wine is telling a man I assume is her husband. “You remember a few years back when CelebCast filmed him throwing up on Canal Street? And he – well, you know. Just like his father. I wonder if he was drunk when he flipped the car.”
“Nah,” I say, leaning into their space. I lean a little too far, and I have to sway back to balance. “But he’s kind of buzzed right now. And he thinks you should stop swilling his family’s booze while you insult them.”
Her jaw drops. Her companion turns to square up with me, but his attempt at The Look barely registers on my personal scale of Uh Oh.
“Is this the way your mother taught you to treat her guests?” he says in a carefully controlled tone.
Before I realize what I’m doing, I take a threatening step toward him. “Leave my mother out of it.”
“No offense was meant,” the woman says stiffly. “It was a private conversation.”
“Uh-huh. In our living room.”
Dad’s voice right behind me makes my back straighten. “Is there a problem?”
The aggrieved guests adopt identical peevish expressions.
I roll my eyes. “No, not at all.” Without a glance at Dad, I walk away.
Before I’m quite out of earshot, I hear the man’s voice: “I’d say the problem has a little something to do with the fact that you gave your juvenile delinquent free run of the open bar.”
Dad can field that one.
Maybe I just snarked off at prospective business contacts. Maybe it was a couple of higher-ups from City Hall. Maybe Mom and Dad are going to spend all of next week wining and dining them to make up for Jonny’s pissy immaturity. Maybe they’ll nag me to write a letter of apology, which I’ve honestly gotten pretty good at with practice.
The French doors onto the veranda stand wide open, and I don’t stop where the lights do. I go all the way to the old live oaks in the farthest corner of the backyard, and I balance on the edge of the hammock. Just rock back and forth, feet dragging in the dirt.
In a moment of drunken whimsy, I’m tempted to wrap myself all the way up, like when I was little and Mom read me The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the zillionth time. I remember she used to pretend not to recognize me when I burst out of the hammock. That’s not my caterpillar. That’s a butterfly!
A cocoon might be nice right now.
In her diaphanous white dress under a full moon, Mom looks otherworldly as she crosses the lawn. I start composing her speech for her. Guests, hosts, manners, be the bigger person, brain to mouth filter, etc. I put my head in my hands. It feels heavy with the whiskey and the late hour.
She steps right up to me and tousles my hair. “Want to come back inside?”
“And what? Apologize?”
“To the Montalbas? Dad took care of it. Something like, ‘Sorry the evening ended this way, let me call you a cab.’”
“He gave them the boot?” I look up at her, mouth open a little bit. “He’s like a politeness ninja.”
“You should try it sometime,” she says pointedly. Then she tilts her head at me, and the light gleams off the cluster of mother of pearl flowers in her hair. “Jonny, listen to me. Dad and I are not ashamed of you.”
I duck my head. I don’t want to do this right now.
She reaches out and gently finger-combs my hair, fixing what she tousled. “We know you, baby. You sometimes do really… baffling things, and we get mad and Dad makes scary faces. But we know your heart, and we know what kind of man you can become.” She lays her hand on my shoulder. “Believe me. We are not embarrassed.”
I cover her hand with mine.
She gives me a little shake. “Didn’t you leave a young lady waiting for a drink?”
“Madeleine. Oh, crap.” I jump to my feet, kiss her cheek, and run for the French doors yelling “Thanks, Mom!”
Dad catches me at the bar and grabs me very firmly by the elbow. He pivots me away from Jerry and leans over to mutter in my ear, “If you don’t want to give the impression that you are an out of control, drunken party boy, you’ll handle rude guests differently next time.”
He nods to the drink in my hand. “Is that a Sazerac?”
Jerry nods. “Just like they make them at the Roosevelt.”
Dad lifts it out of my hand and takes a long, appreciative sip.
Just then, McGinnis comes through the big mahogany doors, scanning the room with his hands in the pockets of his jeans. I catch his eye and wave him over to the bar. Dad shakes his hand. “Good to see you again, Terry. Thank you for your help the other night.”
“You too, Mr. Queen. And I didn’t do all that much, really.”
I punch his appallingly underdressed shoulder. “Dude, how did you get in here?”
He looks at me funny. “The door.”
“But they let you in dressed like that?”
He shrugs. “Nobody tried to stop me.”
“That is bullshit. I got turned away from the QC Christmas party because I left the bowtie at home.”
“Injustice abounds,” Dad says, taking another sip of my drink.
“Come on, I’ve got clothes for you,” I say just as Jerry sets Madeleine’s drink down on a cocktail napkin. “Just let me make a quick delivery.”
But Madeleine cold shoulders me for ditching her, and I find myself standing there with her unwanted whiskey-coke. So, silver linings.
Five minutes later, McGinnis precedes me down the stairs in my extra tux. It’s really unfair how much the bowtie makes him look like James Bond, as compared to how it makes me look like a pretentious twit. When we hit the dance floor, it is some consolation that at least I look better doing an eight-count step.
Then McGinnis spots Abby, and when he calls her name, something surreal happens.
My sister has known McGinnis for three years, he’s on the list of people who can pick her up from school, and she has always treated him pretty much the way she treats me. But tonight she turns faintly pink, and in a mouse-quiet voice, she says, “Hey, Terry.”
Mutely I dare him to laugh. If he looks even the slightest bit condescending, he’ll pay for it next time we spar. But he just gives her a friendly smile and holds out his hand. “May I have this dance?”
She nods mutely. Jesus Christ, this is weird.
He takes both her hands and starts asking her about drama club. A minute or two later, she is Abby-colored and talking a mile a minute once again.
When the band starts playing “What a Wonderful World,” it’s time for me to take a seat. I don’t do slow songs. On the other side of the room, Dig drags a protesting Lyla onto the floor. Uncle Roy picks up Aunt Thea bridal-style, and he sways in a circle like this is an eighth grade sock hop. He dips her, and she beams.
A few chairs away from me, Captain Lance waves his cranberry-soda at his successor as head of homicide, Detective McKenna Hall. “It’s Gotham. Not our business.”
“It could become our business very quickly. Gordon seems convinced this new Bat is a protégé and not a copycat. After thirty years, if he’s back full-time…”
Captain Lance nods along. “Could be something bad is brewing. Something big.”
She shakes her head. “Plus, you know he won’t be the end of it. Every time some flamboyantly dressed vigilante appears, a half dozen more pop up like mushrooms after a rainstorm.”
At the edge of the dance floor, I spot Dad scanning the room, brow furrowed. Elaine says something to him that makes him smile, and he pulls her into a dance.
Abby appears at my elbow, carrying a glass of red wine. “Have you seen Mom?”
“No, not for a while.” I nod to the glass in her hand. “When did you start drinking?”
“Oh my god,” she says, long-suffering, “you know it’s for her.”
“Is that a dry red? I would have guessed a sickly sweet chardonnay for you.”
She shakes her head at the lost cause that is her brother, and she disappears into the crowd.
I have three slices of birthday cake, which is an awesome idea. I dance to “Mustang Sally,” which is not.
Around midnight, people start to go home, and the Lances take their leave. “Have you seen Felicity?” Laurel says when Dad bumps cheekbones with her. “We didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye to her.”
Something ugly stirs in the back of my mind. This is the third time I’ve heard someone ask where Mom is.
Mom’s probably in the bathroom. Or she felt a migraine coming on, and she’s laying down for a few minutes.
Dad pauses for just a moment before he says, “Jon, could you please go find her?”
I go through every room of the party. When I run into Abby, I send her looking upstairs. I knock on all the bathroom doors. Then I go through every room of the first floor, and though I find a drunk couple making out in the parlor, I do not find Mom. She’s not out in the backyard either.
Abby and I meet at the bottom of the stairs.
“Jonny, she’s not here.”
The ugly thing in the back of my mind steps out of the shadows.
Abby doesn’t sound worried, just puzzled. She’s too young to remember the stalker who went through our trash, the disgruntled employee who sent Dad death threats, or the attempt to gently lead me away from Mom at the zoo one afternoon. As far as Abby knows, we have never required the services of Panoptic Security, and our parents are just paranoid for turning the closet of the guest suite into a panic room.
Dad comes over to us, eyebrows raised. McGinnis isn’t far behind him.
“We can’t find her.”
“Could she have gone out for something?” McGinnis says.
Unlikely as it sounds, I can’t think of another explanation. At least, not another pleasant one.
Dad pulls out his phone and tries to call her. Voicemail. Abby runs upstairs to their bedroom and finds Mom’s purse, keys, and cell phone on the vanity chair like usual. McGinnis checks the garage; all of our vehicles are there.
Dig, Lyla, and Uncle Roy hold a brief conference with Dad, and then they start quietly going around the room, asking guests and catering staff when and where they last saw Felicity Queen.
“Are they taking notes?” McGinnis asks me, frowning at them typing on their phones.
“Hell if I know.” I run my hands through my hair. “Watch her walk in the front door any second now and make us all feel like idiots.”
But she doesn’t.
The dark thing in my mind goes on the prowl.
Dad asks the band for quiet, and he takes the microphone. “I don’t mean to alarm you, but it’s been an hour since anyone has seen Felicity, and she doesn’t seem to be anywhere in the house. We’re a little concerned, and we would appreciate your help finding her.”
With the exception of the extremely intoxicated people, the hundred or so guests still here are eager to help. Uncle Roy and Aunt Thea, who know the neighborhood, end up leading a small army in formalwear through six square blocks.
“Did something happen to her?” Abby says, trotting along next to me as we search upstairs for the fourth time.
“I don’t know,” I say, because I can’t lie to Bambi eyes. “I hope not.”
I stop short in front of the linen closet, where it is physically impossible for Mom to fit. I open it anyway.
Abby hovers close and hugs herself. “Should we… I don’t know. Call the police? Has somebody done that yet?”
Surprise, surprise. It’s linens. I slam the door. “They won’t consider her officially missing for twenty-four hours, but I’m pretty sure Captain Lance just got finished waking up everyone he knows over at the station.”
By two in the morning, everyone is exhausted, but they all feel too awkward to leave. Dad picks up the microphone again and thanks them for their help. “You’ve done all you can, and I truly appreciate it. Please feel free to go home and get some sleep.”
McGinnis claps me on the shoulder. He’s in jeans again. “Hey, I hate to leave like this, but I’ve got a flight to catch.”
“Dude, get out of here. Go.”
Slowly, the house empties, until the only people left are named Queen, Harper, or Diggle.
We stand in the foyer after the door closes behind the last guest. Abby glances between all the grownups as if the game is over and they’re about to tell her where Mom’s been hiding. As if they’re any less freaked than she is.
Dad tugs her close to his side and drapes his arm over her shoulder.
“All right,” Dig says at last. “Roy, Thea, will you hold down the fort here?”
“Of course,” they murmur.
“Are you going out looking?” I say. “I want to come.”
Dad says, “Please stay here with Abby and Elaine.”
“What good is that going to do?”
“Please stay here, and stay inside.” His eyes are asking me to trust him. Just trust his judgment and do what he asks.
I’d follow Dad over a cliff if he told me to, and I’d stick my hand in a fire if he said it wouldn’t burn. It’s just that, “I hate sitting here on my ass.” But I nod assent.
He lays his hand on my shoulder, and he kisses the top of Abby’s head.
“Try to get some sleep,” Lyla tells us.
Then all three of them are gone.
“So we just wait?” Abby whispers.
We just wait.
Aunt Thea doesn’t say anything about sleep. She finds some flimsy reason to relocate every half hour, kitchen to dining room to living room to kitchen. She knows how motion can give the illusion of progress.
We all compulsively check every form of communication we own. We have circular conversations about where Mom might be, in which everyone assures each other that she’s fine. Uncle Roy’s casual rounds every so often – entry point to entry point, checking the windows – start to freak me out around the sixth time.
“What is it you’re keeping watch for?” I ask him off to the side.
He looks at me very seriously. “Mrs. Collins.”
At three-thirty, Elaine climbs the stairs yawning to fall asleep in Abby’s bed, and Aunt Thea heads off to the ground floor guest room. Abby and I sprawl on the sofa, trying to give a shit about the Harry Potter remake. She cries a little bit on my shoulder, then falls asleep. I don’t quite doze.
Mom got sick of us and took off. Someone drugged her and carried her away, and they’re interrogating her for the account numbers in the Caymans. A serial killer spirited her out of the house, and she’s already in six separate trash bags. Most likely it’s kidnap for ransom. Our family carries insurance for that kind of thing.
“Hey,” Uncle Roy says, nudging my shoulder. “It’s not time to freak yet.”
I take a deep breath. “You’ll let me know when?”
“Oh, you’ll know it when you see it.”
For a little while I finally manage to sleep. I dream of the car rolling over again, and this time Mom is in the passenger seat. Crushed against the ceiling with blood and crumbled safety glass in her hair, she looks right at me and says, “I asked you to take care of my heart.”
“Jon.” Someone is brushing my hair back from my face. “Jonny.”
It’s dawn. Dad stands behind the sofa, and I can tell by his expression that he hasn’t found Mom. I can also tell that he has a pretty good idea what I was dreaming about. The compassion in his eyes makes it hard to look him in the face.
“I’m going to make coffee,” he says softly. “Would you like some?”
“I would like all of it,” I croak, shifting Abby into a more comfortable position on my shoulder. My shirt is wet where she’s drooled on me. “Then make another pot. That is what I would like.”
He smiles, and it’s tired and sad. “Take her upstairs to bed, and I’ll see what I can do.”
The Sunday that follows is the longest of my life.
At eight o’clock, SCPD arrives at the house with a million questions, many of which seem uselessly vague or kind of stupid, and all of which they ask at least six times. Did Mrs. Queen exhibit any unusual behavior in the past week? Did she meet anyone new? Did she change her routine in any way? Have you noticed anything out of the ordinary? Anyone hanging around who didn’t belong?
Then the lead detective from Missing Persons asks Dad if it is possible that Mrs. Queen left of her own volition.
It’s a treat to watch Dad give The Look to someone other than me. “Ask me that again, Detective Palmer, and you will not like what happens next.”
I almost feel sorry for the poor bastard, who subtly freezes before he clears his throat and says, “You understand we have to be thorough.”
“I appreciate your professionalism.”
Dig and Lyla arrive shortly afterward to give SCPD everything Panoptic has got so far, which I assume is nothing but a list of places Mom definitely isn’t. Dad leads them and the two detectives into his study, and they close the heavy doors behind them.
At first, Abby and I don’t know what to do with ourselves. There is no school to keep us busy, and Dad doesn’t want us leaving the house. We dutifully answer questions and play fetch and carry when we can, but mostly we do pointless bullshit.
Aunt Thea and Elaine keep Abby distracted with baking and show tunes. I rope Uncle Roy into sparring with me once, but mostly I spend the morning on the sofa with my phone projecting newsfeeds on the wall.
Mom’s face is all over the networks. Felicity Queen, software developer and philanthropist, mother of two, went missing from a celebration at her home last night. Shaky video of Dad leaving Panoptic’s office flashes across the screen. Oliver Queen has offered a reward for information that may lead to Mrs. Queen’s recovery. To provide any such information, please call the following number…
I finally discover something real to do when photos from the party start popping up on social media. I send a mass email asking for any photos that include Mom, preferably time-stamped. They come pouring in – eight hundred and twelve of them. Elaine and Abby help me sort through them, and we piece together a timeline from last night. The very last photograph of Mom was taken near the French doors at 11:52. I consult the notes that Dad, Dig, and Lyla took. People noticed her going out onto the veranda, but no one remembers seeing her come back in.
That means I was the last person who laid eyes on her. I took off and left her out there in the dark.
Dig and Lyla sit me down, and they question me as thoroughly as SCPD did. Exactly what did she say? How did she sound? Did you notice anything strange in the yard – smells, sounds, anything? Show us the exact spot where you saw her last. Was she carrying a drink or not? What song was playing when you came back into the house?
“I don’t remember the song. I was just trying to get to the bar.” It seems so stupid now. I meet Dig’s eyes. “I should’ve walked with her.”
“Hey,” he says softly, “don’t even start. It was the backyard, not a war zone, and you are not her bodyguard.”
Meanwhile, Dad comes and goes at odd intervals, and he looks more pissed off and strung out every time he crosses the threshold. I’ve seen him like this before. I was only five when Aunt Thea had her accident, but I have hazy, stomach-turning memories of the days that followed, when Dad became someone else. The survivalist who made it off that island, maybe. The pitiless stranger who once held me nose to nose with him.
The colder his eyes get, the more afraid I am for Mom.
At the dinner table Abby scoots food around her plate and asks us, “Is he ok?”
“The grouch-monster?” Uncle Roy says, getting a smile out of her, while Elaine nudges the salad bowl her way as if lettuce might persuade her to eat where my reheated lasagna has failed. “He’s going to be fine just as soon as your mom’s home.”
He makes it sound like Mom is just away for the weekend at a tech conference with Barry or a casino with Sara. I know that optimism is pretty much mandatory in front of Abby, but my fist clenches in my napkin. Yeah, just as soon as she’s home, Pollyanna.
“This isn’t even the worst grouch-monster he’s ever turned into,” Aunt Thea says, rolling up to the table with a basket of garlic bread in her lap. “Roy, you remember how he got when Jonny was overdue?”
“Yeah, you took your sweet time getting born,” Uncle Roy tells me, swiping the basket and getting his hand smacked. “Once you finally showed up, Oliver sent us all apologies.”
“I got a flower arrangement as tall as I was,” Aunt Thea says with satisfaction.
“He gave me a watch,” Uncle Roy says. “The fancy kind that people wear to climb Everest. He’d been that big of an asshole.”
“Don’t you worry about him, is what they mean,” Elaine says. “There might even be presents later.”
Abby musters up a smile, and she lets me finish her food for her.
Late that night, she climbs onto my bed by the blue light of the muted TV. “I should’ve just worn the dress,” she says, flopping down next to me on top of the covers.
It takes me a minute to work out what the hell she means. “Please tell me you haven’t been worrying about that this whole time.”
She shrugs. “It’s a nice dress, and it would have made her happy. I should’ve just worn it.”
“Unh-huh. You ruined her whole birthday.” I lay the sarcasm on thick, because this girl’s favorite color is bright-ass pink, and subtlety isn’t really her thing. “Dick move, Abigail.”
She giggles, which is probably less because I’m funny and more because I used a dirty word. Either way, mission accomplished.
We drift off to ancient Looney Tunes episodes, and I sleep fitfully. When the dreams don’t wake me, it’s Abby’s rolling and kicking that does it.
At 1:48am, I wake to see Dad standing in my doorway, looking… fragile. Life-size and no larger. He’s not wealthy and powerful Oliver Queen, master of all he surveys. He’s just a man who doesn’t know where his wife is.
Abby wakes up enough to scoot closer to me and pat the space she’s just made. Dad comes around to her side of the bed, favoring his bum knee. He settles onto the edge of the mattress, swings his legs up painfully, and holds up an arm for her to cuddle under. She accepts the invitation graciously.
“What happened to your hand?” She nods to the bandage winding around his knuckles.
“It’s nothing. I lost my temper, took it out on the wrong wall.”
She believes him, but I’m not so sure. I’ve punched walls, and I’ve punched people, and usually it’s teeth that leave those little gashes on your knuckles. I hope they weren’t Detective Palmer’s.
“No news?” I ask.
“No,” he says softly, covering Abby’s head with one hand. “No news.” Then he hugs her hard, presses his mouth to her hair, and squeezes his eyes shut tight.
Panic courses through me. It’s like the sky is tumbling down, the waters are boiling, and the mountains are crumbling into the sea. If my father is about to cry, we’re all fucked.
“Hey,” I say weakly, laying a hand on his shoulder. “Hey.” Mom would know what to say. Mom is who he needs. But she’s not here. There is just Abby, doing an admirable job as his teddy bear, and me with my stupid hand on his shoulder, repeating a meaningless word like a fucking moron.
But next second, he’s got a hold of himself again. I take my hand away hastily, and as if none of that just happened, he says, “How are you two holding up?”
“Oh, you know,” Abby murmurs into his chest. “We’re holding.”
“I think I might finally be getting somewhere with Elaine,” I say. “She’s going to agree to a sympathy date any time now.”
Dad comes extremely close to smiling – really, he was almost there – and ruffles my hair. “I see so much of Mom in both of you. Every day, but especially now.”
Both of us? As often as people say that I look like Mom, I think we’ve recently established that I am a photocopy of Dad.
“I love you both,” he says softly, “and I don’t want you to be frightened. Mom’s coming home soon, and everything is going to be ok.” He takes a deep breath. “You understand?”
He’s whistling in the dark. That much I understand. But I figure this whole speech is for Abby’s benefit anyway, and I’m not about to be the asshole who argues.
“We think you’re pretty shiny too, Dad,” Abby says.
He looks down at the top of her head and once again comes damn close to smiling. Then he turns the almost-smile on me, and his hand comes to rest on the back of my neck. He gives me the kind of nod that he often gives Dig – like we’re in this together, partners in some greater purpose. Like he’s counting on me.
Without knowing why, I nod in return.
When I startle awake again at five-thirty in the morning, the TV is off and the covers are tucked in around me and Abby. A charcoal grey suit jacket hangs on the back of my desk chair, which has been turned to face the room. Mom’s always fussing at Dad for leaving his coats and ties wherever he happens to take them off. She’ll give him her I told you so head tilt when he can’t find it later.
I curl up around my pillow, and I lie awake until dawn streams into the room.
At seven in the morning, Aunt Thea answers a knock at the door, and about the last person I expect is standing on the other side.
“Mrs. Collins?” I say.
The neighbor who was so deeply concerned about my self-destructive behavior looks like she might start crying on our doorstep any second now. “I found this,” she says, holding out her cupped hand. “I was weeding, and I found it in the flowerbed.”
Aunt Thea and I lean in to look. It’s a silver comb with mother of pearl magnolias.
“It looked so lovely on her the other night, I must have complimented her half a dozen times,” Mrs. Collins says. “So of course I recognized it.”
“Thank you so much,” Aunt Thea says to Mrs. Collins. “I think Mr. Diggle is going to want to see exactly where you found it.”
“Of course. Anything you need. I’m…” She swallows. “I’m very fond of Felicity.”
Huh. Didn’t see that coming.
Dad and Dig do indeed go out in the yard with Mrs. Collins and stare at the flowerbed right up against our property line. I don’t think it tells them anything. To have found any tiny fragment of Mom is exhilarating, but the fact that it was a hair ornament twenty yards from our back door is, frankly, anticlimactic.
“Is this some big clue?” I ask Lyla. “Are you going to dust it for prints or something?”
“We’ll look at it closely,” she says neutrally.
“Well, do we have any other clues? Anything at all?”
“We’re looking into everything we can think of, Jon. Background checks on all three hundred twenty-four people who were at the house last night, checking photos and video for people who didn’t belong there… It takes time.”
None of that answers my question. I’m suddenly reminded that I’m talking to the only person on the planet who routinely beats my mother at poker. “I don’t know what good you think you’re doing, leaving me in the dark.”
Her careful neutrality cracks, and she glances around us – for Abby, I assume. “She didn’t leave of her own volition, which means someone took her. They did it with three hundred witnesses nearby, left no trace, and no one noticed a thing. That means professionals. Extremely capable professionals.”
“What do they want with her?”
She grimaces. “It’s been two days. If they wanted money, we’d have heard from them by now.”
Mom is an extremely successful software developer and information security consultant, wealthy in her own right and married to a billionaire. “The hell else could they want?”
“We don’t know, Jon.” She shakes her head, and suddenly it occurs to me that Lyla has known my mom a lot longer than I have, and she cares about her too. “No bullshit – we just don’t know.”
In the hallway, I find Abby hovering outside Dad’s study. I can hear him through the half-open door, using the tone of icy patience that struck fear into my heart back in high school.
“He hasn’t eaten,” Abby says, hugging herself and shifting her weight nervously. “But I don’t want to interrupt him.”
“He’s going to hang up in a second,” I tell her. “That’s your in.”
I hear cursing.
“Now,” I tell Abby.
She looks at me doubtfully. Then she cranes her neck, glimpses Dad through the cracked doors, and her eyes go big with sympathy. I don’t have to look to know that he’s bent over in his leather chair, elbows on his knees and head in his hands. She slips into the study.
“Hey, junebug,” I hear him say, in a completely different voice from ten seconds ago.
“You want something to eat, Dad? I can do eggs in the basket.”
I hear him inhale, long and slow, and it’s a good bet she’s just run her hand across his back the way Mom does. He’ll be straightening up now, squaring his shoulders. “How about some coffee?”
“I can make that happen.”
Yeah, Abby’s got this.
I go find Captain Lance.
When he showed up this morning, Dad gestured him in wordlessly. He’s got no official role here in our living room, but he has taken up a post in the depths of the wingback chair in the corner, from which he can supervise the room.
“How you holding up, kiddo?”
I take the nearest corner of the sofa. “I’m fine. Abby’s scared, but she’s dealing. Honestly it’s Dad who’s… you know.”
Captain Lance nods. He knows. “You got her looking after him?”
I shrug. She’d do it whether I told her to or not.
“You know,” the Captain says slowly, “your mother is one of the smartest, ballsiest women it has ever been my privilege to know.”
It feels wrong to smile right now, but I can’t help it. One time soon after I turned sixteen and Mom noticed I was bigger than her, she demanded I carry her through rain puddles to save her designer shoes. Just last week she yelled across the house for me to come kill a spider in her closet. But she is also one of a handful of people on the planet who can go toe to toe with The Look.
“Wherever she is, she’s fighting to get back to you.”
I can’t really say anything. Most of the time, with the Captain, I don’t have to.
“She’ll leave a trail or get a message to us if she can. If she can’t, she’s got a world class team working round the clock to find her.”
“In all the cop shows,” I say, more hoarsely than I’d like, “they say that after forty-eight hours…”
“I know what they say.”
“I’d rather have the truth, sir, either way.” I look him right in the eyes. “Are they looking for my mom’s body?”
He leans forward, and his fingers steeple like he wants to tell me something. He rolls his lips together, ducks his head. When it comes up again, it’s with a different answer. “Some of them are. But they’re not the ones who are going to find her.”
When he leaves with Dad and Dig twenty minutes later, he slips Abby a Werther’s caramel on his way out. I watch the door close behind them, and I feel a dull ache settle in my chest. “I hate being everybody’s mushroom.”
“Kept in the dark and fed bullshit?” Aunt Thea says sympathetically, appearing at my elbow. “Believe me, I know how frustrating it is. But they’re doing the best they can. Just remember it’s not about whether you’re strong enough to handle it, ok? It’s really not about you at all.”
I strike my most bro-tastic, beer-chugging pose and borrow from Douglas Adams. “If there’s anything not about me in this house, I want it caught and shot now.”
She laughs, which goes in the win column. For a few seconds, it helps. But watching her laugh lines smooth out again, I feel the ache in my chest spread.
Aunt Thea must see it in my face. “They’re going to find her, you know.”
“Don’t,” I whisper. I didn’t mean to, and as soon as I see the dismay on her face, I want to reel the word back in. But I’ve never been able to keep my damn mouth shut. “It’s just, everybody keeps saying that. But sometimes people disappear, and nobody ever finds a scrap of evidence to explain it. Their families spend the rest of their lives just… wondering. People vanish. Eventually, they get declared dead. It can happen that way.”
“It can,” she says softly. “Of course, it’s also possible to get picked up by a fishing trawler off the coast of China and declared alive again.”
“Yeah, that only took five fucking years.”
My God, did I really just say that to the person who actually lived through those five years? Zero to asshole in less than three seconds, well done, Queen. She’s even looking up at me with what Mom calls her Dearden face. She gets those scary eyes from your grandmother. Take them seriously.
“Sorry.” I scrub my hand down my face. “I’m really sorry, Aunt Thea, I didn’t mean to be a dick.”
After a brief pause, she says, “It’s ok, Jonny,” and she seems to mean it.
I can’t take any more kindness and understanding right now. I just can’t. “Hey, I need some air, ok? I’ve been in this house too damn long.”
“Of course,” she says quietly, and she lets me escape.
I go to the farthest corner of the backyard, shaded by old live oaks, and I wrap myself up in the hammock. All the way up – total cocoon.
My breath hitches. It hitches some more. It actually takes a while for me to get it under control. But catharsis must be a real thing, because after a while, I finally drift off to dreamless sleep.
It’s not long before someone pokes me awake. I open my eyes, and the first thing I see is a white lacy dress.
“You have to eat a real breakfast,” Abby says, standing over me with her hands on her hips. “And could you maybe not disappear and then not answer when we call you? Because nobody’s in the mood for hide and seek lately.”
Elaine trails a few yards behind her, and Lyla watches us from the back door. I guess they formed a search party. “Won’t do it again,” I groan, trying to get to my feet and abruptly remembering how much harder it is to get out of a hammock than into it.
She turns on her heel and heads back to the house, but Elaine waits for me, and she falls into step with me up the garden path.
“I hope you like pancakes, because we made a stack a foot high.”
I narrow my eyes at her. “You put anything in them?”
“Half are blueberry.”
She starts to laugh, and then something explodes six feet to my left.
Chips of brick spray from a brand new hole in the exterior wall. A deafening crack echoes across the yard. Shards lodge in my back and shoulder, which feels remarkably similar to a rock salt round from a shotgun.
Elaine whirls around in bewilderment. “What the – ?”
But I’ve hunted deer on Phi Psi retreats, I’ve been to Panoptic’s firing range, and of course there was the sorghum field. I know that sound. It flips a circuit in me. Every siren in my body lights up and sounds off before my brain has even figured out what’s happening.
“Down!” Lyla bellows.
I dive for Elaine and squish her beneath me. Three more deafening cracks rattle my whole nervous system. Brick shards pelt my back, and powdered mortar showers down on us. Ten feet in front of me, Abby curls in a tight ball. Lyla crouches over her, eyes up, scanning the pretty Garden District trees. Above her head, concentric cracks burst into life in the dining room windows.
People say that time slows down in life or death situations, and it’s true. Meaningless details sear themselves into my memory, like the mess of Elaine’s black curls in my face or the gleam of sunshine off the silver skin of the parked town car. We should probably find cover, but some scared-rabbit instinct deep inside me is shrieking, Hey, we haven’t gotten shot in this spot! This is a good spot to not get shot in. Let’s never move, ever again!
“Inside!” Lyla shouts at me and Elaine. “The safe room. Move, now!”
“Ok,” Elaine hisses beneath me. “Oh, God. Ok.”
Lyla scoops Abby off the grass and, covering as much of her as she can, hauls her to the front door. Elaine and I scramble to our feet and follow, and all four of us barrel into the foyer as three more rounds punch into the house’s façade. Lyla hustles us to the most interior room of the house – the ground floor guest suite, where Aunt Thea is hauling herself out of bed and into her wheelchair. She’s across the room in seconds. She throws open the heavy solid-core door of the safe room and gestures us in. The second Lyla drags Abby in, Aunt Thea follows and slams the bolt home behind us.
Everything is pitch black.
There’s a rustle, and I feel Abby stumble into me. I catch her on the way down, and as if my arms were permission to completely lose her shit, she starts to cry into my neck.
Aunt Thea flips the lights on. “Is anyone hurt?”
“I’m not,” Elaine whispers.
“I’m fine,” I say vaguely. I’m shaking like a hypothermic bunny, but I’m not hurt.
“I’ll call the police,” Elaine whispers, reaching for the phone in her pocket and missing twice.
“They’re on their way. So is Panoptic,” Lyla says, leaning back against the door, voice strained as if she got the wind knocked out of her. She lifts the teardrop pendant on her necklace. “Panic button.”
“Jon, is that blood?” Aunt Thea asks with supernatural calm.
I realize Abby’s white dress is wet, pressed against my chest and soaking through my shirt. I move her back a step. “Abby?” My fingers squeeze too tight around her skinny arms. “Abby, where are you hurt?”
“It’s ok.” Lyla slides down to sit on the floor, leaving a red streak on the door behind her, which does nothing to slow my hammering pulse. “It’s not hers.”
Elaine turns several shades paler. “Mom?”
“Shh, shh,” Lyla says, reproachful. “Don’t make a fuss. Help is going to be here really soon. If you could just put pressure on the entrance wound, please.”
Elaine drops to her knees, tearing her sweater off and balling it up to press to the wound. Aunt Thea slides down out of her wheelchair to help. Lyla talks to them quietly, calling Elaine a bunch of pet names I haven’t heard in years. Between them, they slow the bleeding.
For what seems like eternity, I sit and shiver. Abby sniffles and hiccups into my neck, and the blood sticks our clothes together as it dries.
Abby has been clinging to Dad since the moment he pulled her from my arms. She let go long enough to change her bloody clothes, but then she answered all of SCPD’s questions while wrapped around him like a Velcro monkey. Here in the waiting room at Starling General, she’s a little too lanky to fit comfortably in his lap, but she curled up tight enough to manage it. His chin rests on her head.
Next to me on the leather-upholstered sofa, Elaine is huddled under Dig’s massive arm, drowning in his suit jacket and threading her fingers through mine. She might think we’re holding on to her to give her comfort. I’m pretty sure it’s for us.
“So she’ll make a full recovery?” Dad is asking the Diggles.
“They’re optimistic, yeah,” Dig says. “It helped that we got her here so fast.”
“With some of Kord’s new biotech,” Elaine adds, “it might even be possible to replace the kidney with one grown from her own cells.”
Dig pulls Elaine tighter against him. “It’ll take some time, but she’s going to be ok.”
“They probably can’t fix the crazy, though,” I say. “Don’t make a fuss? Was she serious with that?”
Elaine smiles, though it’s a little watery. “Mom’s hard-core.”
Dig’s phone rings. He gives Dad a meaningful look, then gives Elaine a quick squeeze before getting up to take the call. Dad gets to his feet and gently tips Abby into my lap. To my surprise, she re-Velcros around my neck as if I am a perfectly acceptable substitute.
“Roy,” I hear Dig say before he and Dad get out of earshot. His voice is the auditory equivalent of The Look, and I shiver involuntarily. “Tell me whose head I’m taking off.”
They come back a few minutes later, and I swear there is murder in their eyes. Right on their heels, a nurse arrives to take us in to see Lyla, and they both compose themselves, which actually looks even creepier. Maybe they’re doing stoicism wrong. I don’t think it’s supposed to give you the cold, soulless eyes of a shark.
Laying there between the monitors, Lyla looks unsettlingly normal – like herself, only paler and with more cannulae. The nurse says she won’t wake for some time yet, and that we should keep quiet and let her rest. Abby pulls me to the foot of Lyla’s bed, and she looks up at Dig. “She’s got tubes and stuff in her hand. Will I mess anything up if I touch her?”
“No, honey. You go ahead.”
She scoots a chair close to the bedside and very carefully slips her hand into Lyla’s.
Elaine curls in the chair opposite, knees drawn up to her chest, Dig’s jacket buttoned in front of her shins. She holds her hand out to Dad to draw him further into the room. He takes it, kisses the top of her head, and sinks stiffly into a crouch in front of her. I can’t make out what he murmurs to her, but it makes her smile. “You can ask her when she’s awake again.”
Next to me, Dig surveys the room, taking in all of these people whose safety he has made his personal responsibility. He braces his arms on Lyla’s footboard, and his head drops low.
“What did Uncle Roy say?” I ask him.
Just loud enough for me to hear, he replies, “The night of the party, someone at Panoptic used my ID to call off the security detail around the house.” His jaw clenches. “We knew we had a mole. Now we know who.”
“Who is it? Can they tell us where Mom is?”
“He can’t tell us anything. He’s dead.”
I should probably react to that with the gravity it deserves, but all I’ve got is, “Well, shit.”
“Yeah.” His knuckles pale on the footboard. “Shit.”
Then his phone rings again. He breathes deep, straightening to his full and imposing height as he fishes it out of his pocket. One glance at the screen, and he goes still. “Oliver.”
Dad straightens, leaning a little too hard on Elaine’s armrest to do it.
“It’s Waller,” Dig says.
They have one of their wordless conversations, which I translate roughly as, Shit just got real. They head for the door, and I’m close on their heels. “Where are we going?”
“Hold on just a moment,” Dig says into his phone. He lowers it, covers the receiver with his hand, and gives me a stern look. “Now is not the time, Jon.”
“Is this about Panoptic or Mom?” Stupid question. “It’s both, isn’t it? No way is this entire avalanche of shit coincidence.”
Dad holds up a stop sign hand. “Stay with your sister.”
“I’m not your fucking mushroom! All I’m asking for is the truth.”
“And you’ll get it,” Dig says. “When it’s time.”
“Just tell me what’s going on. Give me something here, please.”
Dad looks me right in the eyes, and he puts a firm hand on my shoulder. “Soon, Jonathan. I promise you. Soon.”
I take a step back. They turn, and Dig tells whoever’s on the other end – Waller, I guess – “Yes, I’m still here.”
They leave me in their dust.
At eleven o’clock, Elaine and Abby are sharing the empty bed in Lyla’s room, and I’m camped out in the waiting room with my jacket for a pillow. I spent an hour trying to get comfortable before Uncle Roy stopped by to tell me he’d be prowling the halls and keeping an eye on things. Then I drifted off.
A finger jabs me in the ribs. I grumble. Sleep has been elusive enough lately without people poking me, and this asshole got me right in one of the butterfly bandages beneath my shirt.
“Queen,” McGinnis says, holding out an open bag of Cheetos. I can smell the grease and salt from here. “You hungry?”
“What are you doing here?” I growl at him. “You’re supposed to be in Gotham.”
“Hey, look, food.” He gives the bag a shake.
I take a Cheeto. “How did you even know?”
He gives me a patient, long-suffering look, and he points over his shoulder at the TV hung high in the waiting room corner. The blond anchor in the red suit is mouthing words on mute, but I can read the scrolling text at the bottom. BRITNEY TO BECOME GRANDMOTHER. GAS MAIN EXPLOSION IN WAREHOUSE DISTRICT, KORD INDUSTRIES BUILDING DAMAGED. SHOOTING AT QUEEN FAMILY HOME, ONE INJURED.
He sprawls on the bench next to me as if this were his own living room, and he props the Cheetos next to my hip. “How are you, man?”
“I’m…” I’m not fine. He knows I’m not fine. “We fight people for fun all the time. We’ve gotten in some real scrapes too. You remember those bikers on spring break?”
McGinnis nods along.
“But I didn’t know what it felt like to have someone honestly trying to kill me.”
What I see in his face is not pity, just clear-eyed compassion. “I’m sorry you found out.”
“Yeah,” I murmur, and we don’t have to talk about it anymore. I finish the entire bag of Cheetos, and I lick my fingers clean.
At two-thirty, Dad and Dig step out of the elevators. There’s something different in the length of their strides, the purpose to their movements. They know something. They’ve got something to work with.
McGinnis gets to his feet the moment he sees them, so crisply that I think he might snap off a salute and stand at attention. Instead he offers Dad his hand, and, for all the world as if they’ve never met before, gives him a deep nod. “Mr. Queen.”
“Terry.” They shake hands, and Dad nods back with just as much gravity.
“Um,” I say into the respectful silence.“The hell are you doing?”
No one answers me, and with just as much bizarre formality McGinnis shakes Dig’s hand - “Mr. Diggle” – and they also exchange meaningful nods.
“Bruce sent you?”
McGinnis smiles. “The old man thought you could use a hand.”
“He’s not wrong. Panoptic’s compromised, and we need all the help we can get.”
Suddenly McGinnis seems an inch or two taller than when he showed up with Cheetos. “What can I do?”
“Our safe house is no longer secure,” Dad says. “Roy is making other arrangements now. If you could back him up for the duration, we’d appreciate it.”
“Of course. When do we leave?”
I have a high threshold for cryptic bullshit, but this is just weird. I step into their little circle of knowing-what-the-fuck-is-going-on, and I hold up a hand. “Dad. Dig. You said soon. Is it soon yet?”
Dig gives Dad an eyebrow which I’m pretty sure means, He’s your kid. You explain. He heads for Lyla’s room. “I’ll go wake the girls.”
Dad turns to me. “We believe the organization that’s holding Mom is threatening our whole family to force her to comply with their demands. It’s not safe to rely on Panoptic’s resources right now, so Elaine and Abby only go with people we trust.”
My brain is so unprepared to receive actual information that the hamster napping in his little wheel gets thrown for one complete loop before he catches up. “Um. Oh?”
“An hour after the shooting, an extremely classified government agency suffered an attack on their secure system. Whoever did it clearly knew their way around the firewalls your mother designed.”
“Can you start again from ‘the organization that’s holding Mom’?”
McGinnis says, “They wanted her to hack her own work?”
Dad nods. “Which meant putting her in front of a computer with an Internet connection.”
“And they thought that was going to go well for them?” McGinnis shakes his head in disbelief. “That is adorable.”
Dad looks like he’s considering the possibility of maybe smiling at that. Ultimately, I guess he decides a smile would be too human and approachable. “She got them in, and she did actually retrieve some files. Heavily-encrypted, extremely important-looking files.” This time he can’t squash the smile. “Requisitions for office supplies.”
“She also took the opportunity to pass us a message.”
McGinnis raises an eyebrow. “Polybius code?”
Dad nods, and I snap, “Dude, who even are you?”
McGinnis just smiles.
Dig comes out of Lyla’s room with a bright pink bag over his shoulder. Elaine trails close at his side, leading Abby by the hand.
Immediately, Abby marches up to Dad. “You’re sending us away?”
He winces, hearing her put it that way. “It’s only for a day or two. Terry’s going to take you both someplace safe with Uncle Roy.” He puts his hands on her shoulders, which relaxes her only a little bit. “Even I won’t know where it is.”
“Why isn’t Jonny coming with us?”
That part is news to me, but it doesn’t surprise me nearly as much as what Dad says next. “I need his help with something. It’s important, honey. I wouldn’t ask either of you to do this if it wasn’t.”
Tears stand in her eyes. “I’d really rather stay with you.”
Dad crouches down to eye level with her, and though I can’t see his face, I can hear in his voice how much he hates doing this. “Be strong for me for just a little while longer? I promise everything’s going to be okay.”
She knows there is a story here, and she could throw a fit and demand answers if she wanted. I did, just a couple hours ago. But Abigail takes a good long look at all three of the people who seem to have a clue, and I guess she decides that they are not lying assholes. “I’ll see you in a day or two, then.”
“I love you,” he whispers, and he pulls her into a hug way too tight for only a day or two.
Dig and Elaine, who have been talking quietly a little way off, come back and join us. Dad squeezes both of Elaine’s hands, Dig smoothes Abby’s hair, and Elaine kisses my cheek.
For some reason it’s me Abby holds onto the longest. “Take care of Dad,” she whispers in my ear.
I want to laugh, because it’s cute how she thinks there is anything I can do on that score. But then I glance at him, watching his kids hug each other, and I remember the nod he gave me the other night. “I’ve got his back, junebug.”
“You ready?” McGinnis says, taking the pink bag from Dig.
She squeezes me one last time, and then she turns and smiles at McGinnis, just the way she used to before the recent blushing and bashfulness. “Let’s go.”
Dad, Dig, and I watch them all the way down the hall, and we keep watching while they wait for the elevator. They step into it and out of sight before I realize Abby let me call her junebug without protest.
I turn to Dad and Dig. “You know who has Mom.”
Dad gives me a long, steady look. Whatever he has planned, this is his last chance to reconsider. I can practically see the war going on in his head. Finally, one side wins. He nods, mostly to himself. “Come with us.”
“Ah, crap. Where are you stashing me for the duration?”
They take me to Panoptic, of all places. In a forgotten corner of the fitness center, behind a stack of training mats, there is a steel panel set into the wall. It’s about the size and dimensions of a door. I feel more than a little stupid when I realize that’s exactly what it is. I just never noticed, because it has no visible knob, handle, or keypad.
Dad leans close to what looks like an ordinary light fixture, and he says, “Panda bear ballet fifty-two.”
The steel door swings open onto complete and total darkness.
I stare at him in incredulous amusement. “I’m sorry, the password is what?” Even at a time like this, I can’t help myself. I just want to hear him stand there in his Italian suit, with his dangerous secrets and his grim expression, and say those words one more time.
“Your mother set up the security here,” is all he says.
Dig leads the way, flipping on soft yellowish lights, and Dad brings up the rear. We descend metal stairs to a cement floor.
“You have a top secret… gym?”
Free weights, mats, staffs, training dummies, punching bags… With the exception of the weird ladder thing at the far end, it’s nearly identical to the fitness center upstairs. The equipment is up to date and well-used.
Then Dad flips a bank of light switches.
At one end of the room, glass cases light up bright white. Inside are six bows of widely varying makes, dozens of arrows with specialized heads, and one set of green leathers fitted neatly over a mannequin, with a hood pulled low over the blank face. On the other side of the mannequin is a collection of obsolete computers, displayed in chronological order just as proudly as the weaponry.
Ho. Lee. Shit.
“That,” I say slowly, “is the Arrow’s gear.” Some people collect baseball cards. This is simultaneously way cooler and way creepier.
“Yes,” Dad says, walking over to the leftmost case and inspecting the simple recurve bow inside. “We hung onto all of it.”
I narrow my eyes at him. He can’t be saying what I think he’s saying.
“I know it’s a lot to take in,” Dig says, spreading his hands and taking a couple of steps toward me.
I hold out a hand to stop him, because everybody needs to just stand still for what I’m about to ask. “Hold up.” I point straight at Dig’s chest. “You were the Arrow?”
He raises an eyebrow in surprise, and for an instant I think I’ve gotten this situation embarrassingly wrong. “I wore the hood every now and then, but no.” He looks at Dad, who turns to us with no kind of expression on his face. “He was the Arrow.”
I stare at my father. “You’ve got to be shitting me.”
Dad just stands there, ramrod posture and serious eyes, backlit by the same display light that falls on the hooded mannequin.
“But they arrested you for that,” I protest. “You were cleared. Completely cleared. You and Captain Lance still tell that story like it’s the craziest idea he and SCPD ever had.”
“It wasn’t nearly as funny at the time.”
“But I thought the Arrow beat the shit out of you once. How could you beat the shit out of yourself?”
“I told you,” Dig says, “I wore the hood every now and then.”
“What the fuck?”
Dad walks over to the wall, picks up a staff with disturbing familiarity, and tosses it to me. “Try and hit me.”
That’s when I laugh at him. “No no no. Nuh-uh. I am not doing that.”
I can’t shake the feeling that this is a bad idea on multiple levels. For one thing, my inner five year old is screaming, You’re gonna be in sooo much trouble! But when I glance at Dig, he nods.
So I attack my unarmed father with a heavy stick.
I don’t know what I thought would happen. I would have been surprised if I’d hurt him, but I would have been equally surprised if we’d gone a few rounds and he’d proved he could handle himself.
What I did not expect was for Dad to hand me my ass in three moves.
He stands over me, twirling my staff, and he holds out his hand. “Again.”
Flat on my back, I stare at his hand. “You’re the fucking Arrow.”
“I’m one of the fucking Arrows,” he says patiently. Over there on the sidelines, I think Dig might have cracked a smile. “Roy wore the hood for years after I hung it up. Get up and try again.”
But the hamster is running faster and faster in his wheel, and my legs won’t work until he hits eighty-eight miles an hour. “The Arrow had a scary tech genius. Was that…?” But now I’m getting carried away. “No, that’s stupid. Mom would never. That was cyber-terrorism.”
“Yes, she would, Jonathan,” Dad says impatiently, still trying to gesture me to my feet. “How many scary tech geniuses do you think I have?”
“Holy shit, that was Mom!” I gesture wildly to the glass cases. “Those are her cyber-terrorist computers.”
“She named all of them. You can go over and read the plaques later if you want,” Dad says, and is he smiling? Is that a smile?
I take his hand, and when he hauls me to my feet it feels no different from the times I stumbled as a kid or the times he dragged me, drunk and sloppy, off the sofa and upstairs to my room. Same guy, same careful strength. He’s just my dad.
Then he presses the staff into my hands, picks up one of his own, and takes a ready stance. He’s my dad, but he is someone else too.
I should dance around him to start with, feel him out, learn how he moves. I should threaten his left side to see if his bum knee slows him down. I should strike from high to find out if his bad shoulder is aching today.
Instead I throw myself wholeheartedly into the attack.
It’s not like sparring with Dig, Uncle Roy, McGinnis, or random strangers at tournaments. Somehow it feels both intensely weird and incredibly familiar. We move across the floor like we’ve done this a thousand times before, but there is nothing easy about it. I’m younger and faster and all my joints work properly, but he’s seen my every move. It’s like he knows what I’m about to do before I know myself.
But this is a conversation, not a fight. We’re finally speaking each other’s language.
That’s a bad habit, says a rap across my knuckles. Fix it.
Don’t think you know everything, old man, I say with a sweep that nearly slips in under his guard.
He smiles, and I have to admit his next comeback is pretty snappy.
With every blow, it becomes clearer. The scars. The aches and pains. Mom’s night terrors. Dad’s laser focus, which Dig said he had to learn the hard way. The wordless connection between the three of them, which runs too deep to be the result of just long-term proximity. They fought a war together, didn’t they? This even explains the power of The Look, which I always chalked up to the fact that Dad is six feet of muscle with really good lawyers. But no, the reason he looks capable of murdering your sorry ass with his bare hands and crumpling your corpse into a little ball is that he totally fucking is.
“Everything about you just started making some goddamn sense!” I yell over the clatter of staffs.
I don’t know why that makes him laugh, but I find myself laughing along. My muscles burn, my vision clears and focuses, and for the first time in days I can breathe deep. I don’t even stop smiling when he lays me out on the floor again. I’m already imagining our next sparring session and all the things he could teach me.
By the look on his face, he’s thinking the same thing. In fact, I’d lay money that he’s wanted to do this for eleven years.
“How long were you going to hold out on me?” I demand as I get to my feet.
“We planned to tell you on your eighteenth birthday,” Dig says, walking over to collect both our staffs. “Like we told Elaine.”
“You told her and not me? Did I fail some sort of initiation test?”
They both give me a look. Come to think of it, my eighteenth might have been the birthday I spent in the hospital with alcohol poisoning.
“Right. Of course. The ‘alarming failure to appreciate the consequences of my actions,’” I quote.
“This isn’t a joke,” Dig says. “And it isn’t a game. People get hurt. Some of them get hurt really bad.”
Dad bows his head, and something about his furrowed brow makes it click for me. “Aunt Thea.”
“Yes,” he says quietly. “She and Uncle Roy worked together as the Arrow and the Canary after we retired. The fall she took was not an accident.”
“The whole family was vigilantes? Like, everybody? Jesus Christ.” I scrub my hand down my face. “I was little, but I remember you kind of... You were different, after that happened. You picked up the bow again, didn’t you?”
“For a little while. Roy wasn’t…” He’s trying to think of a diplomatic way to say that, for a few months, Uncle Roy shadowed his wife like a particularly angry, unstable guard dog and growled at people who got too close. Like I said, I was little, but I remember. “Roy had more important places to be.”
“And you got the guy?”
“He’s been in prison for fourteen years,” Dad says, with no real satisfaction.
Dig folds his arms. “Those are the stakes.”
My mom’s been missing for sixty-eight hours. I got shot at this morning. Lyla’s blood was all over my baby sister’s clothes. “I know the stakes.”
Dad and Dig have another brief, silent conference from opposite sides of the room. Dad obviously doesn’t like whatever they’re about to say to me, and Dig isn’t a huge fan either. But they exchange nods and turn to me together. “We need your help, Jon. It’s extremely dangerous, and I hate to ask this of you, but – ”
“Are we going to get Mom?”
Dad raises his chin. “Yes.”
“Put these on,” Dad says, throwing me a bundle of charcoal grey leathers.
“The organization holding your mom is called the Black Hand,” Dig says, zipping up the jacket of his identical dark leathers.
“Sounds sketchy,” I say, stripping off my jeans and hopping from foot to foot to get into my gear. It’s all the right length, but a little too roomy. I’m guessing it was made for Dad.
“The Hand was one of very few cartels to survive legalization,” Dad says.
I whistle. When governments worldwide started legalizing narcotics in the twenties, the cartels’ profits plummeted hard and fast. The day Congress decriminalized cocaine was like the Black Thursday of drug trafficking. The gangs spent the next ten years clawing each other to pieces over the carcass of their cash cow.
“How’d they do it? By being meaner sons of bitches than everyone else?”
“That, and their jefe changed the business model,” Dig says. “He sank everything they had into biotech. Regenerative therapies were still pretty new, and it paid off big time. They’re making more off of coerced stem cell harvest and tissue trafficking than they ever did off of drugs. And for a little side business, they’re also suspected of human trafficking, arms dealing, and at least one coup d’état.”
I tug at the shoulder seams of the jacket, which hang a little low on me. “Mom told you who they were?”
“Know what a man wants, and you know who he is,” Dad says, and though it sounds like he’s quoting, I can’t think whom. He pulls his boots on, tucking in the pant hems of his green leathers. “Based on what she gave us, we just had to go ask some polite questions.”
“Polite…” I blink at them. “A building in the Warehouse District exploded. Was that you?” Run faster, hamster. Who the hell else would it be? “That was you. So now they know that we know.”
“It’s in our informants’ best interests that the Black Hand never finds out they breathed a word,” Dig says. “They’re handling the cover-up.”
“That’s creepy and comforting, but, um, does it kind of worry you that Mom pulled nothing but orders for fresh Post-Its? If the Hand people don’t get their information, what’s to stop them killing her?” I pull on black gloves of such high quality, they’re like a second skin. “You think maybe they want to turn a little profit off a ransom on top of everything else?”
“It would be easier if they did,” Dad says. “The Hand’s captain here in Starling, Jason Mora, has never once reneged on a ransom. But, no. He’ll kill her once she’s no use to him anymore. Right now, the multiple layers of security on those requisitions are just buying her time.”
Which she must have known when she hacked the secret agency under duress and slipped a message out under her captors’ noses. “That woman has nerves of high grade surgical steel.”
“You have no idea,” Dig mutters.
“Here’s the plan,” Dad says, one foot up on the table to lace his boot. “I’m going in, Dig is taking the bird’s eye view with a sniper rifle, and we need you standing by with a vehicle to get us very far away, very fast. We’ll be wearing earpieces to stay in contact at all times.”
“I’m the getaway driver?”
“If everything goes according to plan, which is about as likely as it sounds,” Dig says, carefully prepping a beautiful M24.
From a drawer full of them, Dad hands me a no-kidding, real-life, actual black domino mask. “Never let them see your face. On the comms you’ll answer to Speedy.”
“Like hell I will.”
Dad zips up his jacket with a smile, obviously enjoying this as much as I enjoyed hearing him say panda bear ballet. “What would you prefer, with your vast opsec experience?”
I’ve got nothing off the top of my head. I grunt at them. “You guys have codenames too, I assume?”
Dad tips his chin up. “Arrow.” Nods to Dig: “Watchman.”
“No real names, ever,” Dig says. “Don’t call your parents Mom or Dad, either.”
“And, Jon,” Dad says, buckling on his quiver. Then he stands in front of me in full Arrow gear. My mouth probably falls open a little bit, because my dad and a legendary badass are occupying the same space. It simultaneously makes perfect sense and no sense at all. “I need your word that you will follow any order Dig or I give you, no matter what you see or hear.”
“Yeah. Of course. You’re the experts.”
“Be sure you understand what we mean by ‘any order’ and ‘no matter what,’” Dig says.
“Under any circumstances.” I toss off a salute, which earns me a glower. “Regardless. Even if the sky falls.”
“Even if you hear screaming,” Dad says, taking a step toward me. “Even if it’s Mom. Even if you hear us get hurt or killed. Even if we tell you to run or hide. Even if we tell you to leave us and save yourself.”
I stare at him. He stares back.
“Will you follow any order we give you?” Dig says evenly.
“I’m not going to…” But with them looking at me like that, I swallow. Hard. “Yes, I will.”
They tell me the plan. It sounds pretty simple.
Mom is being held at a Port Authority office building adjacent to the shipping container terminal at Starling’s largest wharf. We spend two hours familiarizing ourselves with layouts, exits, and hazards. We talk contingencies and comms protocol. Then I shoulder a backpack, Dig picks up his M24 and my staff, and we slip out to the alley.
“This is what you’ll be driving tonight,” Dig says, gesturing.
“Well, hello there.” I run my hand over the hood of the silver CTS. Cadillac claims this baby is capable of speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour. It also looks like the kind of car you take to a party where you get schwasted on ridiculously overpriced champagne. “Dad, where have you been hiding this?”
“I borrowed it,” he says, so innocently that I’m sure it was the illegal kind of borrowing.
“Did we not have enough cars?”
He throws the keys at my head, and I snatch them out of the air. “Nothing with our names attached needs to be spotted at a crime scene. The owners will be compensated.”
The backpack gets to ride shotgun, because Dig stretches out across the back with my staff and his M24. “This is a nice change, getting driven around.”
“Put your earpiece in and get moving,” Dad says. “I’ll lead on the bike.”
The Caddy makes a beautiful noise when I start the ignition. Dad’s motorcycle roars out onto the street, and I can’t help but smile when I lean on the accelerator to follow. The wheel and the gear shift on this thing feel fantastic under my hands. I follow Dad through downtown Starling, dark and nearly deserted at the witching hour.
When we pass the courthouse, something occurs to me.
“Hey, Dad?” I say, just loud enough for the comm to pick up. Dig will hear everything anyway, but I’m going to speak softly on this topic.
“Everybody remembers the Arrow for tying up bad guys in a bow and leaving them on Captain Lance’s doorstep,” I say, working the gear shift. “But he killed thirty-one people the first year he was active.”
“Forty-three confirmed,” Dad says. It’s neither a boast nor a confession. It just is. “I’ve killed forty-three people.”
“And then you just… stopped?”
“If I had it to do over again, there are a few I would kill twice as messy. But for most of them, there was another way.”
“And are we taking your other way tonight?”
His voice hardens. “Tonight you are doing whatever is necessary to defend yourself and get your mother home safely. Let us worry about the ethics.”
We ride on through the night.
The gantry cranes cast long shadows over the container terminal. A block away, the historic Port Authority’s silvered windows and art deco reliefs gleam under the waning moon. No place this close to the heart of a city should be so quiet.
Dad and I part ways at the entrance to the terminal, and he disappears among the stacks of containers. I pull around slow and smooth to drop Dig off as close as possible to his vantage point.
“Hey, Speedy?” he says just before he closes the car door behind him. “Keep it loose, keep it tight.”
I nod to him. “Shoot straight.”
He disappears into the darkness, and I pull around and take up my position at the edge of the container terminal. Half-hidden by dumpsters, tucked away from the road, I kill the engine. The sudden silence runs down my spine on little millipede legs.
Now I listen, and I wait.
“In position,” Dig says.
“Roger,” Dad replies.
For long stretches, all I hear is breathing. Dad’s, Dig’s, mine. Periodically they exchange terse updates as they scope out the building, counting security guards and looking for lights in the windows. A beautiful analog clock is set into the Caddy’s dash, and I watch the second hand twitch.
Finally, Dad says, “I’m going in.”
Glass shatters, and a scream crackles in my earpiece. Dad doesn’t do subtle any more than Abby does.
The next few minutes are nothing but pained grunts, panicked yelling, the smack of blunt force trauma, and the creak-whisper of the Arrow’s bow. I flinch hard the first time Dig lets a shot off. I hear it from his comm a fraction of a second before I hear it from Dad’s.
“Nice shot, Watchman,” a deep, distorted new voice says. Dad has turned on the voice changer.
Two more shots. “You’re clear down the east hall.”
“Heading to the lower levels now.”
“Heads up, incoming bad guys,” Dig says. “Black Mercedes pulling up to the west entrance now. I count four – no, five.” There’s a pause. “Arrow, I think one of them is Mora.”
The strange voice makes a noise startlingly like a growl. “He can’t know we’re here for her. He’ll cut his losses and kill her. You got a clear shot?”
“I take it, and all hell breaks loose. Plan B?”
“Plan D. Moving out and drawing fire. Speedy, you know what to do. Wait for Watchman’s word.”
My heartbeat spikes. My bit part in this craziness just turned into a leading role. “Um.” I lick my lips. “Wilco.”
Dig is going to open fire, and Dad will go out there to be a big dramatic distraction while I slip in and grab Mom. It’s a simple plan. I’m sure it’ll go great.
“Speedy, hit the east entrance,” Dig says. “Go, go, go.”
The Caddy whips right out of this little hidey-hole, veers hard into the terminal, and hums along as fast as I can push her through the rows of containers. Shortcut, jump a few medians – Jesus, the suspension on this thing is phenomenal - and I race up the short private road to the gleaming main entrance of the Port Authority.
I jump out of the car, lock it out of habit, and start running to the rescue.
“Forgetting something, Speedy?” Dig says in my ear.
My staff is still in the backseat. “Shit!” I run back for it, and I only fumble with the key fob for a second.
Now to the rescue.
Yeah, this plan is going to work like gangbusters.
The second before I shatter the glass doors with my staff, Dig takes his shot, and it sounds like an entire army opens fire on the other side of the building. I kick down the crumbled glass to the sound of distant screams and Dad’s creepy digitized voice yelling defiance.
The marble-paneled lobby is so silent, I turn down the volume on the gunshots and screaming. I sprint past antique brass elevator doors and down the stairwell to the basement level.
“Three more exiting the building,” Dig says calmly. “They’ll be undermanned inside, Speedy.”
“Great news,” I hiss.
We know she has to be on the basement level; nowhere else is soundproof. Half the suites are in legitimate use, so we narrowed it down to three. I jog down the mazelike halls as quietly as I can on these slick concrete floors, looking for a light under a door.
There. End of the hall. A faint glow and a man’s voice.
I send up a quick prayer that I’m not about to attack some poor shmuck working late, and I cannonball right through the flimsy wooden door.
The man waiting on the other side has incredibly quick reflexes. One second, he’s fuming into his comm, “What the fuck is going on out there?” The next, he’s pointing a handgun at me.
Mine are quicker. One swipe of the staff sends the gun skittering into the corner. The next lays him out on the floor.
I stand and stare at him for a second, and I swear I can feel the adrenaline tingling in my veins. That really just happened. There was a gun. Pointed at my face. If I’d fucked it up, no referee would have called it and set us up for another round.
“I’d really like to know that too!” a familiar voice calls out.
The door stands open across from me. I skid through it exactly like James Bond and not at all like a puppy on a wood floor.
Up against the wall of the drab little room, Mom is zip tied to a straight-backed wooden chair. She’s still wearing her white party dress, and I really hope the dark circles around her eyes are smudged makeup. I pull out a pocket knife and lunge for the zip ties, and she flinches hard. “Hey, it’s okay, it’s okay. I am so glad you’re alive, very fast car waiting for you outside, if we could just – “
Her jaw drops. “Jonny?”
“I was told no real names, ever.”
The second her hands are free, she yanks me down into a hug. I squeeze back hard, and I breathe her in. Honestly, after three days in the same clothes, she’s a bit pungent. She smells like herself – like everything I associate with comfort and safety and home – just cranked up to eleven. “I am incredibly glad to see you, and I am going to kill your f—I’m going to kill the Arrow for bringing you.”
“Can’t wait to see that. Just maybe after we rescue you? Here,” I say, offering her the extra earpiece stashed in my pocket, “this is for you.”
She tucks it into her ear hurriedly. “Arrow, are you there?”
Over the sound of gunfire and yelling, I hear Dad’s natural voice, unaltered by the morphvox. “I’m here, Felicity.”
They both breathe deep, as if this is the first fresh air they’ve tasted since they last spoke, and honestly I’m kind of embarrassed for them. They’ve said nothing icky, but I feel like it still isn’t for me to hear.
“I’m glad you’re all right,” Dig says.
“And I’m glad to hear your voices again.” Mom wobbles upright, stiff and clumsy after so much time restrained. “But you might not be as happy when you hear what I have to say next. I’m going to need a little help here,” she says, reaching for me, and I let her lean on me. As we pass the thug on the floor, she gives him a dark look and a little kick. “I need to get back into the server room.”
“What for?” Dad says.
“They had me using their system to get into ARGUS – which, can you believe? Did they forget it’s a computer, and I can use it to talk to people? I’m assuming you decoded my message, well done, by the way – and while I was in there, I, um, poked around. And I set a few things aside to retrieve later.”
“A few things?”
“Enough evidence to finally link Jason Mora to the Black Hand. If I copy it to a data key, they won’t even know we’ve taken it from under their noses.”
“Can I vote no?” I say. “We’ve got you, we’ve got a ride, we’re leaving.”
“Best not to deviate from the plan any more than we already have,” Dig agrees.
“You know who these people are,” Mom says grimly. “You know what they do, and you know how many innocents they hurt. This is a chance to do some real damage to their organization. You can’t tell me we’re going to pass it up.”
“It’s risky,” Dig says.
“I don’t like it,” Dad says.
“Plus,” Mom continues, fingers tightening on my arm, “they kidnapped me, sent a hit man to my house, and showed me a live cam through the scope of his rifle. I’m kind of pissed.”
There’s a long pause, filled with the harsh breathing and grunts of hand to hand. “Leave the building with Speedy,” Dad says at last. “Mary’s waiting in the car for you, if that helps. I’ll get to the server room, and you can walk me through it.”
Mom turns to me and mouths, “Speedy?”
“I wasn’t consulted,” I hiss back.
“Heading to the car now,” she tells Dad. She’s walking pretty much without my help now, but with no clue where we’re going. “Umm, I was blindfolded. You know the layout here?”
I heave a sigh. I have a bad feeling about this. “This way.”
She kicks off her high heeled party shoes, and the walls echo with the smack of her bare feet as we haul ass out of there. Navigate the maze of the basement. Fly up the steps to the lobby. We’re going out the way we came in, and Mom’s barefoot.
“There’s glass. Jump on my back!”
I don’t stop to put her down until we make it to the car. We throw ourselves into our seats, and I fire up the engine as fast as I can. Mom paws through the backpack and drags out her Meridian X10 prototype.
“Mary!” The screen glows to life, and she starts pulling up blueprints and network specs and God knows what else. “All right, Arrow, the server room is on the fourteenth floor.” To me she adds, “Get us out of here. Fast. Don’t kill us.”
Sure, yes, awesome. I can do all three of those things. Thirty seconds later, I realize I’m going to have to do them with two motorcycles tailing me. Where the hell did these guys come from? I’m pretty sure those are automatic rifles slung across the riders’ backs. One of them has a handgun already drawn.
“We have a problem,” I announce.
“Just like we talked about,” Dad says calmly in my ear. “Now turn off your comm and focus on the road.”
I do as he says. In fact, I focus so hard that we go from thirty to seventy in three seconds. But the bikes, light and overpowered, follow us easy. Too easy. Too close.
“Are you wearing a seatbelt?”
I brake hard, and one rider completely loses his shit. Swerves off crazily, narrowly missing my rear bumper, and the bike slides out from under him. I don’t even look to see what happens to him.
“Oh. That’s why,” Mom says, completely unruffled. “Elevator shaft on your left, Arrow.”
The other bike zooms up on our ass, and I stomp on the accelerator again. I swing into the container terminal, where I might be able to lose him. As I weave down lanes of storage containers, Mom’s fingers dance nonstop over Mary’s holographic interface. When the bike starts gaining on us, pulling up in her mirror, she says without looking up, “Honey, please don’t let this man on the motorcycle shoot me.”
I whip us hard around a corner, slamming her into the door and generally giving her seatbelt a good workout. She stays deep in Mary’s interface, telling Dad to open this file, run that code, stick the data key here, wipe the digital fingerprints there. She’s trusting me to rocket through a dense maze of very solid shipping containers at eighty miles per hour.
I zig hard left, then zag back on course at the next lane between containers. The bike takes the first corner beautifully, but skids out of the second one with gravel flying. This time I watch the rider skip like a stone, smash into a wall of corrugated steel, and crumple to the ground.
No way he survived that. Which means I just led someone to his death.
There’s no time to think about it.
“Car incoming on the security cameras, Speedy,” Mom says. “Maybe turn around?”
A black Mercedes studded with bullet holes comes skidding around the corner up ahead, and I see nasty-looking muzzles pointing out the windows. I slam on the brakes again. “Motherf—“ But Mom’s in the car. “God damn it!” I throw the car into reverse, push the needle up to twenty, thirty, forty, and pray to any god who might be listening that I’ve got enough lateral space for a J-turn. “Hold on!” I throw the wheel over hard. We spin a hundred and eighty degrees, which would have been beautiful if a bullet hadn’t shattered the rear passenger side window halfway through. I stomp on the clutch, slip back into first gear like a fucking ninja, and floor it again.
We’re still alive. And they’re falling behind. “Did you see that?” I yell, and there’s no helping it, I have to let out an elated whoop.
But next to me, Mom has gone chalk white, fingers still.
“What’s wrong?” I demand, flipping my comm back on.
“Arrow, Watchman,” she says quietly. “They’re holding people in one of the shipping containers. Six in all.”
That’s ridiculous. Who puts people in shipping containers?
Dad starts muttering over the comm, and I’m 80% sure that is Russian he’s speaking right now. Whatever it is, I’m 100% sure it’s the basest filth the language has to offer. What is his problem, exactly?
Then I get it. The Black Hand’s primary revenue source is biotech and tissue smuggling. My breath leaves me in a rush.
“Can you locate the container?” Dig says. “It’s a big terminal out there.”
“Half a minute,” Mom mutters, and her fingers fly. “The camera hookups should tell me…”
We don’t have time for this, I think frantically, throwing us screeching around another corner. We’re only four people, we’re split up, we’ve got psychos chasing us with automatic weapons, and we’re already pushing it with Mom’s little side project. It’s not our fault that complete strangers have shitty luck in our immediate vicinity, and we don’t owe them a damn thing. I can barely protect my own family.
The car behind us is gaining again, and I can hear the bursts of gunfire getting closer. They’re burning through ammunition fast, and I might be able to outlast them until we can get out of here. But, no, better to shake them altogether.
I swing onto the longest corridor of unobstructed ground I can find, zoom down the length of the terminal toward the container graveyard. I’ve got to slip in before they’re sure where we’ve gone.
Yes. There. A rusted-out red container with the doors hanging open, half-off their hinges. Three-point-turn, reverse into the gloom, cut the engine.
We sit in sudden, creepy silence. Ten seconds later, the psychos blow right past us, doing at least seventy. I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. On its way out it turns into a slightly crazed giggle.
“Found them,” Mom says. “Northern end of the terminal, just east of the gantry crane. Container 858769.”
I lean over and peer at the screen in her lap. She’s pulled up multiple security camera feeds. I can see Dad taking on a small army by himself in one camera, which, I’m not going to lie, is really fucking cool. In another square, I see Black Hand taking shots at the mysterious sniper on the opposite rooftop. One of them catches a bullet in the hand, drops his weapon, and starts yowling. Nice shot, Dig.
In a small window in the bottom corner, six people slump in various states of listlessness in a narrow room. One woman leans against the corrugated steel wall, lethargically tapping her foot against it.
A tall, bearded man steps aside, revealing a girl seated on the floor. She can’t be much older than Abby. She has Elaine’s unruly black curls.
“We’re closest,” I say. “Let’s go.”
Mom nods to me, exactly the way Dad nodded to me the other night with his hand on my shoulder. Like we’re in this together, partners in a greater purpose.
I put Luke Skywalker’s Death Star trench run to shame, zipping down those corridors.
With Mom navigating, we find the container in under two minutes. She throws the door open before we’ve even come to a complete stop, and she rushes to the red steel doors marked 858769.
Mom wrenches at the door of the container, and it sticks. She yanks twice more, to no effect. In exactly the same tone she uses for, Come reach the top shelf of the cabinet, baby or Help me with these groceries, sweetheart, she says, “Free the captives for me, Speedy.”
I throw my back into it. With a lot of squeaking and a groan of steel, the door swings open. On the other side, six faces turn to us in trepidation.
“Hello, there,” Mom says cheerfully. “Who feels like getting out of here?”
A tall, imposing man with olive skin and heavy, dark eyebrows stands up, straightens his rumpled dress shirt, and comes to the threshold. He says something in what I think might be Arabic.
We stare at each other uselessly for a moment.
The little girl jumps up, nods to Mom, and says something to the other six. I think she’s interpreting. The man says something else that is complete gibberish to me, and in a heavy accent the little girl says, “Yes, but how?”
I imagine piling all nine of us into the Caddy, and I wince. “I honestly hadn’t thought it through that far.”
The black Mercedes comes screeching round the corner, and I hear their weapons clicking empty. I feel like pointing and laughing. They’re out of ammo. That’s what you get for spray and pray, assholes. Then five men pour out of the car, two with knives and one with a tire iron. The laughter dies in my throat.
Five is too many. I can’t take five, not with weapons in the mix. And God damn it, I left my staff in the car again.
The tall man and the woman who had been tapping her foot against the wall step up on either side of me. I have no idea what they say to me, but by the tone and the wolfish smiles I think it’s something like, “Payback is going to be a bitch.”
I hear footsteps on metal, then a muffled noise of impact behind me. It’s Digg, jumping down from the top of the container. He says something in Arabic to the two volunteers on either side of me, and they grin broadly.
“I like our odds,” Mom says.
It doesn’t feel all that different from practice. I know that, unlike Dig or Uncle Roy or McGinnis or anyone else I’ve ever sparred with, these men will kill me if I give them the chance. There’s a voice wailing in some back corner of my brain, Oh god this shit is for real oh god oh shit oh god. But adrenaline and eleven years of muscle memory speak much louder.
As it turns out, payback is a ravenous, snarling bitch with pups to defend. My new friends take out Mr. Bowie, Dig serves Mr. Switchblade his teeth for dinner, and lucky for me, Mr. Tire Iron has no idea what he’s doing. I duck beneath two swings, grab his wrist, and twist until I hear a snap. Instinctively he curls his body around the injury, which brings his head down low enough for me to knee him in the nose. He hits dirt.
Mom snatches the tire iron out of his hand just in time to smack Mr. Wifebeater in the face with it.
That’s four out of five sorted. The last guy runs for it.
“May I borrow that?” Dig asks Mom.
She hands him the tire iron. He’s got a good arm and wicked aim. Mook #5 faceplants and doesn’t get up again.
I gesture to the Mercedes. “Your chariot awaits.”
“Half in the mob car, half in ours,” Mom says. “One of us ought to ride with them. I doubt they know the area or who to go to for help.”
Dig nods, tugging the car keys out of Mr. Switchblade’s pocket. “I’ll take the Mercedes. Bullet holes are so stylish.”
He starts giving directions in Arabic, and most of the party rides with him. Mom and I take the little girl and a tiny, doe-eyed woman whom I assume is her mother. We agree to separate routes to make it more difficult for anyone who might try to follow us.
As we head off in opposite directions, Mom turns her comm back on. “Ow! Watchman, you’re fritzing out, and I can’t hear the Arrow. Sign off, please. Oof, thank you. Arrow, you there? The system is doing what, exactly?” She turns her head as if that will make the earpiece louder. Whatever she hears next drains the blood from her face. She looks nauseated. “Oh, God. Get out of there. Now.”
Frantically I flip my comm back on.
“...explosion cut the power. I’ll have to take the stairs,” Dad says in my ear, and I can tell by his breathing that he’s in pain. “As soon as I can force the doors open.”
“What’s going on?” I demand.
“Our trojan triggered a failsafe mechanism that will destroy the server room,” Mom says. “At least the fourteenth floor is rigged to explode, possibly more. Arrow, have you got the elevator doors open?”
There’s a pained grunt. “Knee is slowing me down.”
Mom closes her eyes, because we both know what the Grand High Exalted Mystic Lord of Understatement means by that. His knee is nearly fucking useless, and he can hardly walk. That’s probably the only reason he was in an elevator to begin with. “We’re coming up to get you.”
“You are waiting outside of the exploding building, thank you,” he snaps, as I come up on the T-intersection that will take us to the exit or the office. “I can get clear of the blast.”
Mom glares at me. “Turn right for the office.”
“Speedy, don’t you come near this building. That is an order!”
My hands hover over the steering wheel, and I fishmouth helplessly at Mom, who narrows her eyes at me.
“I outrank him,” she says flatly. “Turn right.”
I do what she says. I hear Dad cursing in Russian again.
“You’re going to have to teach me that sometime,” I tell him.
“No, I’m not,” he grouches back.
Mom hurriedly explains to our passengers that we just need to pick up one more, and I zoom us back to the Port Authority’s front entrance. “There’ll be debris coming down. Park at a distance,” Mom warns me, so I find a spot fifty yards away in the partial shelter of some decorative trees. “We’ll be right back,” she tells the two in the backseat. “Stay low and don’t be seen.”
“How long?” the mom asks, via the little girl.
“If we’re not back in ten minutes, leave.”
I put my hand on Mom’s arm. “Why don’t you stay here?”
“Have you ever tried to carry your father? Trust me, it’s going to take two of us.”
She takes off across the parking lot, and I have no choice but to follow. I piggyback her over the glass again, and we run through the beautiful lobby. I lead the way up the emergency stairs. By the fourth floor landing, she’s panting hard. “Arrow, where are you?”
“Eleventh floor now.”
“That means ten flights of stairs, doesn’t it? Couldn’t you have broken your knee on a lower floor?”
“I’ll be more considerate next time.”
We find him in the middle of a tenth floor hallway, inching along the wall with an awkward, hopping limp. Blood runs down his left leg from a nasty gash across his quads. And that’s his good leg. His bad knee isn’t bad anymore. It’s fubar.
I get my shoulder under his, and Mom tucks herself under his other side. As if we’d practiced, all three of us move together at a brisk clip toward the emergency exit.
“Oh, we cannot miss the QC picnic this year,” Mom says. “Three-legged race, anybody? We would—”
The world shatters into sound and pain.
When I come to, the building is on fire.
For a subjective eternity that probably amounts to twenty seconds, my diaphragm hitches and spasms, and my lungs refuse to fill. I can’t seem to move at all, which is problematic since holy shit, the building is on fire.
Finally I come up choking on thick dust with a charred taste to it. I can’t see much, and if it’s possible for eardrums to feel numb, mine do. “D—Arrow! You there?”
Muffled by my ears’ ringing, Dad’s voice comes back to me. “Are you all right?”
By the creepy, demonic light of burning debris, I take stock before I answer him. My entire left side is going to be one giant bruise, but all my limbs work. “I’m ready to get out of here. You?”
I stumble through splintered two-by-fours and crumbled sheetrock, and I find Mom sprawled on the floor with her head thrown back. “Shit!” I hiss, hitting my knees next to her. Quick, quick, fingers on her neck, ear next to her mouth, is she – oh, thank God. “She’s here,” I shout back to Dad, running my hands over her to check for other injuries. “She’s unconscious, but she’s breathing.” Assuming she’s not bleeding internally, I think the concussion is the worst of it.
In the settling dust, Dad makes his way toward us, hugging the shredded wall and its exposed studs. He lowers himself painfully to the floor next to Mom and checks her over for himself. As he glances around us at the thickening smoke, his hand lingers on her cheek. “You’ll have to carry her.”
He helps me drape Mom over my shoulders in a fireman’s carry, which presses against all kinds of fresh bruises. “Shit shit shit, ow!” I breathe deep, reach across her leg, and grab the wrist dangling in front of me. “Got her.” She makes a vague noise somewhere between a groan and a sigh, but she’s about ninety-seven percent out of it.
Dad puts a hand on Mom’s back to brace himself, and we start moving. At about one mile per hour. Dad struggles along half a pace behind me, nearly overbalancing me every time he leans on me. Every exhale sounds like he’s royally pissed off, so I know each step must be agony.
It’s not far. We only need to make it to the emergency exit at the northeast corner, and then we should be relatively safe getting down nine flights of stairs specifically designed for their non-flammability. Provided the smoke doesn’t choke us. But blue wisps of flame are racing each other to fresh fuel, leaping to life in new corners, making the paint bubble and peel. Barely a quarter of the way down the hall, we both start to cough.
Three quarters of the way, I can tell that something isn’t right. “Does that whole end of the hall look fucked up to you?” I pant. “It looks fucked up to me.”
He makes a growly noise that could be agreement, denial, or I am in too much pain to answer your dumbass questions right now. I really can’t tell.
But I’m right. The door is warped off its hinges, and where there should be a landing and a flight of stairs, there is only twisted rebar with concrete still crumbling off of it.
“Shit,” I summarize.
Dad looks it over. “There’s another stairwell on the southeast corner,” he says slowly. Then he turns to me and slips the sleek black data key into my pocket. “Do not lose that,” he says, “Run as fast as you can. Get her to the car and don’t stop for anything. If you’re followed, shake them. Do whatever it takes.”
I glance up at the acrid blackness creeping along the ceiling. “What about you?”
“You can’t carry us both, kiddo,” he says, and the bastard has the nerve to give me a soft smile. He pulls something from his pocket, and behind my shoulder I feel him turn Mom’s head a little bit. “I’ll be right behind you.”
“I’ll come back for you.” The words tumble out fast, like they can outrun the unthinkable implication of Dad’s instructions. “I’ll get her to the car, and I’ll come back. We’ve got the comms, you just tell me where.”
“Get her clear. Don’t come back unless you get a response from me, understand?”
I can feel the eddies of heat against my cheeks. Behind him, the thin wooden door of somebody’s office goes up in flames with a little whumpf. How long before the rafters start falling? How long before the air is nothing but carbon monoxide? Longer than it takes me to run down ten floors and back up again?
I gave my word that I would obey any order he gave me. I gave my word that I would obey this one specifically. But it’s too much. At some point Mom is going to wake up, and at some point we’ll go home to Abby. If I do what he’s asking, I’ll have to look them both in the eyes and tell them that I left Dad to die. Besides, I made another promise, before he ever took me down into his stupid lair, and that one should take precedence. “I can’t just leave you.”
“Everything’s going to be okay,” he says, for all the world as if he truly believes it will be. It’s all okay to him, provided I take Mom and run.
Then he does something he hasn’t done since I was very small. He stops, pulls my head down, and kisses my forehead right at the hairline. Something behind my sternum freezes and shatters.
He shoves me down the hall ahead of him. “Go.”
I stumble the first few steps, and then I run. Mom’s loose hand bounces off my back.
Fast. Faster, past smoldering debris and doorframes leaking inky smoke. The fire’s crackle builds to a voracious roar around me. I can still hear Dad’s pained breathing in my comm. If I’m fast enough, I can still save him.
I sprint the length of the hall, corner like a Quarter Horse, and then hurtle down another long hallway that looks like it probably leads to an even deeper circle of hell. I let out a high-pitched, girlish shriek when a rafter crashes down not six feet behind us. There’s the emergency exit sign. I nearly skid into the door, throw it open, and start taking steps two at a time. I stumble badly and nearly drop Mom, so I force myself to calm the hell down and do the goddamn stairs correctly.
Five flights down, the comm whines in my ear. “Ow, fuck!”
There’s a burst of static, then a crunch.
I miss a step. An instant before I send us both tumbling to our deaths, my hand flies out and catches the railing. Our momentum swings me into it hard, and I barely keep from squishing Mom’s leg between me and the metal.
“Dad? Dad!” I sag against the railing. “Dad.”
Mom makes a soft sound into my sleeve. I want her to wake up. I want her to tell me what to do.
But I already know what to do. I blink hard, because if I’m going to navigate a burning building I need to be able to fucking see. The stupid mask soaks up the tears, but it doesn’t do a thing for my runny nose. I swipe at it with my leather sleeve, which only smears it across my mouth. I’m sure snotfaced sobbing will look pretty fearsome to anyone who might try to stop us.
Let them try, I think to myself, straightening up and taking another step. Just let them fucking try.
I burst out of the thick metal side door with Mom over my shoulders and the smell of smoke hanging over everything. My legs have started to wobble under the strain of a hundred-something extra pounds and ten flights of stairs, and I’m coughing like a freshman after his first bong hit. The parking lot is strewn with twisted hunks of burning building, and I pray the debris didn’t damage the CTS too badly.
From a distance, I see chunks of building smoldering on the car’s hood, and one of them left a huge starburst crack in her windshield. It’s nothing I can’t drive with. When I open the door, the mom and little girl are wedged down in the backseat foot well.
“Are you okay?”
The mom straightens and says something in Arabic. The little girl’s face pops up too, tear-streaked but calm. “Not hurt.”
“Good. Let’s get out of here.”
I get Mom into the passenger seat – my God it feels good to get her off my back – and I buckle her in. Her head tips back, and in her hair gleams the silver comb with the pearl magnolias.
Dad is a sentimental son of a bitch.
I’ve got the key in the ignition and the door half-closed when I hear the voice.
“I have something that belongs to you, Mr. Queen.”
I turn. A man of medium height and build stands in the middle of the parking lot, calmly slipping his hands into the pockets of his immaculate gray suit. The firelight from overhead glints off the silver caduceus hanging around his neck.
He gestures behind him. Two men in ash-stained jeans burst out of the front entrance, hands to their faces to hold up the rags covering their noses and mouths. One is heavyset, the other wiry, and they are dragging my father behind them. All three are coughing like crazy, and Dad seems dazed.
I leap to my feet. Half of me starts muttering, oh this can’t be good. The other half is throwing confetti and dancing the macarena to the tune of, Dad’s not dying in a fire, yay!
“I’m Jason Mora. I believe you’ve heard of me,” the man in the suit says pleasantly.
“Um.” I glance over my shoulder. Mom’s still out. In the backseat, the mom and daughter are hunkered down again, which is an excellent idea. “Can’t say that I have.”
“I have something of yours, and you have something of mine. Perhaps we can come to an agreement.”
“Pretty sure I don’t have anything of yours.” The lie flows smooth as chocolate silk pie. I’ve been interrogated by Oliver and Felicity Queen, you two-bit middleman. I can keep my cool.
“Information, Mr. Queen.” Mora smiles and adds, “There is also the matter of the cargo you stole from me.”
Cargo? What cargo?
Then I realize he means the people. That bastard just used the word cargo and meant people. I’d like nothing better than to punch him in the throat. Instead I ostentatiously check my pockets. “No cargo, sir. Sorry.”
The pleasant smile fades. Mora turns to the dirty, coughing men standing over Dad, and he gives a little nod. One of them puts his foot over Dad’s busted knee and slowly, deliberately steps down.
Dad screams. Horrible, agonized, uncontrollable screams like I’ve never heard in my life. It scares the everloving shit out of me.
“Ok! Ok, what do you want? What the fuck do you want?” There goes my cool, and probably my bargaining position. But I had to make it stop. I could not listen to that for one more second.
“Return the data key and the extremely valuable assets hiding in your backseat, and you may leave with your family. No further harm will come to you.”
I want to be sick. He can’t be asking me for this. “How do I know you won’t just kill us anyway?”
“My organization has a certain reputation to uphold. In this matter, my word is ironclad.” He stands there with his hands in his pockets and waits for my answer.
I can walk away free and clear with everyone I love, right here, right now, and all it will cost me is two strangers on my conscience. Or I can sentence my family to highly probable death, and the mom and girl will end up in Mora’s hands anyway. I can’t make this call. I’m not qualified. I signed up to be a getaway driver and maybe some dumb muscle.
But mom is unconscious, and Dad is blind with pain down there on the concrete. There is no one else to make this decision for me.
I could rely on what Dad told me. He said to get home safe, to get Mom home safe, and to let the grownups worry about the ethics of it all. I could take Mora’s offer, and I’d only be doing what my parents told me to do.
But there is also what they’ve shown me. My fingers tighten around the car keys.
“Molon labe, motherfucker.”
I jump into the Cadillac. She roars to life, I throw her in gear, and I do my damnedest to run that rat bastard over. The two thugs are clearly not getting paid enough to play chicken with a sport sedan, and they scatter. But Mora has two brain cells to rub together, and he runs for Dad. He knows the safest place to stand is right over him, feet planted on either side of him.
“Shit!” I slam the brakes, throwing me and Mom forward into our seatbelts.
She jostles awake, fuzzy and squinting. “Jonny, what are you…”
Three feet from the front bumper, Mora pulls a pearl-handled Colt 1911 from his suit jacket and unhurriedly lines up a shot.
“Jonny!” Mom yells, dragging me down. She covers as much of me as she can with her shoulders and upper body.
But somebody else yells too. It’s really more of a roar. Dad surges up from the concrete and drags Mora down like a wolf bringing down a particularly feisty deer. The gun fires, and the little girl screams. I flinch hard, and then I hear the gun skitter under the car.
“Oliver,” Mom whispers.
We throw ourselves out of the car. Down on the concrete, Dad’s still fighting, but it’s all he can do to keep Mora from strangling him. In my peripheral vision, I see the big guy and the wiry guy are getting brave again, and where the hell did they get a crowbar and a length of pipe?
Mom runs over and kicks Mora in the head. He rolls off of Dad with a really satisfying, “Nnngggh.”
I guess that means Ren and Stimpy are up to me.
I rush Stimpy, slide in under the swinging crowbar so close I can hear it whistle past my skull, and I do terrible things to his solar plexus. He stumbles away gasping. But he’s slowed me down more than I realized, and Ren is on me fast. I barely get my arm up in time to redirect the pipe’s momentum, and I feel the force of the blow in my bones. My left arm goes numb from wrist to elbow.
But now I’ve swept the pipe out of the way, I’ve got a clear shot at his face. I hear the crunch when his jaw breaks.
Then I hear the scream.
She’s on the ground fighting to catch her breath a couple yards from the car, and Mora is crouched by the front bumper. He’s reaching under the chassis for his gun.
I get two steps toward them before a wall of pain slams into my ribcage. I hit the ground hard. Stimpy stands over me with the crowbar raised for another blow.
I roll onto my back, defy eleven years of MMA training and tournament rules, and kick him in the most unsportsmanlike place imaginable. The crowbar narrowly misses my head when it falls from his hands and clatters onto the concrete. Stimpy crumples.
I roll onto my hands and knees, which hurts, oh my god it hurts, but I have to get up. Mora is inches away from a gun and he’s going to shoot my parents and Dad’s going to be so pissed if I let the psycho mobster hurt Mom. I force my body upright, and I try to run for them, I really do. But every one of my muscles curses me out, questions my manhood, drops the mike, and walks offstage.
I hit my knees. I retch up bile, and pain flares in my injured ribs with every clench of my gut.
Mora raises the Colt.
Like something out of a horror movie, blood seems to leap from his knee. The crack of a rifle echoes across the debris-strewn parking lot. Mora hits dirt, and Mom scrambles over and snatches the gun from his hands. She even has the presence of mind to search him for any other weapons while she’s at it.
“Sorry I’m late getting back to the party,” Dig says in my ear with a little crackle of static.
Mom sweeps the Colt’s muzzle three hundred and sixty degrees, looking for Ren and Stimpy. But they evidently decided not to stick around for more fun with sniper rifles. There is only a big, hooded figure appearing out of the smoke, silhouette made strange by the outline of the M24 slung across his back. Mom lowers the Colt immediately.
I let myself sag onto the hot concrete, and I somehow manage not to faceplant in the puddle of frothy vomit.
“Hell of an entrance,” Dad pants to Dig.
“Big damn hero,” Mom agrees, crawling over to Dad. She sets the gun aside to help him sit up, and he reaches for her face with both hands.
“Everybody ok?” Dig says, breaking into a jog toward us.
“Jon?” both my parents say anxiously.
“I’m ok. Just don’t ask me to move in the near… ever.”
Dig goes to check on the nice ladies in the backseat. There is some muttering in Arabic, and then the little girl’s voice carries from the window, “Everybody’s ok.”
I’m conveniently eye level with Mora, who has curled around his shattered, bloody knee. He’s making furious, agonized noises. The caduceus on his necklace has slipped to the side, and the chain pulls tight across his neck. I imagine garroting him with it.
Dig stands over Mora and looks him thoughtfully up and down. Slowly, deliberately, he lets his foot hover above the man’s fubar knee. Looks him right in the eyes.
Mora glares back pure hatred. “Kill me then.”
“I don’t have to. From what I hear, your superiors don’t tolerate mistakes. And you?” He looks around at the flaming Port Authority, down at the puddle of blood beneath Mora’s leg, and finally he raises a meaningful eyebrow in Mom’s direction. “You made a mistake.”
“Yes, they’ll come for me,” Mora says, and when he bares his teeth in a smile, they’ve been washed pink with blood. “But they will come for you too. The Black Hand will know your face now.” He cranes his head toward my parents. “They’ll know your name, Arrow. And Mrs. Queen, don’t forget: they’ll know where your children sleep.”
“Yeah, you go tell them all about us.” Dig touches the sole of his boot to Mora’s knee, just barely. “Tell them everything you know. And tell them this too: fuck with this family again, and you are going to wish we’d killed you.”
He leaves Mora bleeding on the concrete, and he comes to crouch next to me.
“Jon,” he says, laying his hand on the back of my head, which I guess is the only place he knows for sure I’m not injured. “That was some job you did, kiddo.”
“You too. Right through his knee? I liked that. A+, with bonus points for poetic justice.”
“You think you can make it to the car?”
“Dig? Breathing hurts. I don’t think I can make it upright.”
“Sounds like some cracked ribs,” he says sympathetically. “I’m sorry, man, I know how that feels.” He’s surprisingly gentle, getting me to my feet and hauling me to the Caddy. I know a hundred and seventy two pounds of nearly dead weight cannot be easy on his bad back, and it doesn’t feel particularly good to me either. But we manage to get me in the backseat without any screaming or crying. I let my head thunk against the window.
Then I have to close my eyes, because on the other side of the glass my parents are kind of making out a little bit.
It’s nice with my eyes closed. Peaceful. I maybe pass out for a little while.
When I wake again, orderly headlights and taillights streak by the windows and stars flash between the trees on either side of the highway. Dig drapes one hand over the wheel, knees spread comfortably. Beside him, the little girl is riding shotgun on the woman’s lap. I really should ask their names at some point.
Dad is draped across me and Mom, calves across my knees, head in Mom’s lap. She’s bent over and whispering to him softly. They don’t even realize I’m awake.
"Thanks for coming to get me."
"I notice that, even though half our family members are professional badasses, you brought our reckless teenager as backup."
Dad hums a laugh. "No complaining about rescues you don't like."
"I'm serious. He could have been killed tonight. A lot."
There’s a long pause. "The professional badasses are home defending the people who can't defend themselves," Dad says in all seriousness. "And I brought Jonathan because I believed he'd make the right call when it counted."
I hold my breath, listening.
"Of course," Mom says softly. "It's just..."
“I know. Me too,” Dad whispers, and Mom makes a little noise of agreement.
I don’t know what it is they both know, but it seems to be okay. Everything is going to be okay.
Dig smiles into the rearview, and tips his head to me. His eyes flicker from the road to the mirror, watching over the backseat like he did when I was little.
I fall asleep, and I don't wake ‘til we’re home.
Six months later...
“If you ever want to get a hit in," Dad says, letting me out of the headlock, "you’ve got to stop telegraphing your next punch like a public service announcement."
I square up again. “Give me some more constructive criticism, Dad. You’ve got a real gift for it.”
I slip his next hold, and we dance around each other.
“Let’s wrap this up,” I say on a feint. “I have community service in an hour, and I’m still a goddamn pedestrian.”
“One thing before you go,” he says, looking over my shoulder.
I’m half-convinced that it’s a fake-out to bring my guard down, but then I hear a voice behind me.
“Dude, what are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be beating up lowlifes in the Bowery?"
McGinnis stands at the base of the stairs, arms folded like he's been silently critiquing my form for the past ten minutes. "I'm in Starling for two and a half seconds. Got a question for you."
Dad busies himself with a towel and a bottle of water, and he lets us have the floor.
“I’m trying to start something,” McGinnis says, and I've never seen his eyes shine with purpose this way. "An association of... watchmen, I guess you could call us. I think we should work together, share information, support each other.”
“A vigilante club?”
I glance at Dad, whose expression betrays nothing.
"I think you could help," McGinnis says.
I don’t pretend to understand my father. He’s a mess of contradictions, which only gets messier when you find out he used to dress up in green leather and shoot people full of arrows. But Dig always said he was one of the good guys.
And I am definitely his son, God help us all.
McGinnis holds out his hand. “What do you say?”
“I’m a legacy, right?” I say, casting a smirk at Dad. “Can’t turn that bid down.”
McGinnis rolls his eyes. “Give me a serious fucking answer, Queen.”
I’m my mother’s son, too. And I can't pass up the chance to become more than what I am.
“I’m in,” I say, taking his hand. “I am all in.”