"I'm afraid we're running about fifty minutes late," said the nurse. "One of the doctors is out with flu. Would you like to reschedule?"
"That's okay," said Jessica Jones, "I've already had to reschedule once, and I'm not in any hurry today."
"If you'd like to take a seat in the waiting room, someone will be in for you as soon as possible."
Jessica went through to the pastel-painted waiting room, rummaged through the papers and magazines, and pulled out a copy of the New York Times. There was only one free seat, next to a blonde, about four months pregnant, who was working on a crossword puzzle in the Daily Bugle.
"Mind the seat," said the blonde, "that one's a little shaky."
"Thanks, I'll be careful." Jessica sat cautiously, leafed through the paper, realised that it was two days old, thought about putting it back, and decided it was too much trouble. Someone had already filled the crossword, so she started on the Sudoku puzzle, but had trouble concentrating. Eventually she turned to the blonde and said "This is my first time at this clinic, I'm feeling a little nervous."
"They're pretty good, I wouldn't worry too much. Expecting any complications?"
"I got beat up a little a few days ago; the doctor told me the baby's okay, but I need to see a specialist obstetrician because of my condition."
"Same here, apart from the beating up part," said the blonde. "I've just moved here from LA, there aren't any specialist clinics there I trust."
"Say one thing for New York, you can find anything here. Boy or a girl?"
Jennifer stared at the blonde and said "Cubs?"
"I was camping out in Cuyamanco Rancho State Park on the night of the full moon, thought I was well away from civilisation. Next morning I woke up in the wolf enclosure at San Diego zoo, by the time I realised I was pregnant it was too late for an abortion. Won't be able to tell exactly what they are until they're born, then I might have to make some hard decisions."
"Sorry, should have said. I'm a werewolf. How about you?"
Jessica edged away a little, then realised what she was doing and made an effort to relax. "Enhanced human. My boyfriend is too, so we have to be careful. I have a feeling the kid's going to be a girl, but I don't know for sure yet. I haven't quite decided if I want to know."
"Would I know your name if I saw it in the papers?"
"My boyfriend, maybe, he's Luke Cage. I'm Jessica Jones."
"Nina Ash. I think I heard of your boyfriend – Heroes for Hire, right?"
"That's the one."
"You're not a superhero?"
"I tried it a couple of times," said Jessica, "but I wasn't much good at it, kept getting beaten up, so I retired and got a private eye's license."
"I used to have a boyfriend who was in that business," said Nina, "but he got himself killed fighting a demon invasion."
"I think I heard about that. About two years ago in LA? The Avengers and SHIELD handled it?"
"That's the one. Angel was trying to bring down an evil law firm, but he got in over his head."
"Angel from the X-Men?"
Nina looked blank. "No, my boyfriend Angel; the one who used to be a detective."
"Sorry." Jessica searched her memory for a minute, and added "Don't think I ever had any contact with him."
"No reason why you should. They specialised in supernatural cases, and didn't do any business outside LA as far as I know."
The receptionist came in and said "Janice Brown?" One of the waiting women got up.
Nina said "I think I'm next."
"At this rate you've still got a few minutes."
"I guess." Nina was obviously thinking about something. Eventually she said "About how much does it cost to hire a detective these days?"
"Depends on the case," said Jessica. "The minimum's a couple of hundred a day plus expenses, but a lot depends on what's involved. Bodyguarding costs a lot more."
"It's really just a feeling I've got," said Nina. "I think someone might be stalking me."
"That can be a tough one," said Jessica, "unless you have an idea who it is?"
"Not really. Angel made a lot of enemies in LA. That's one of the reasons why I moved to New York, I'm worried it might be someone trying to settle an old score. "
"Maybe you could come round to my office this afternoon, we can talk about it properly there. Tell me more about the circumstances." Jessica gave Nina a business card.
A nurse came in and said "Nina Ash, please."
"Okay," said Nina. "I'll try to get over around three." She picked up her bag and followed the nurse out.
Jennifer completed one sudoku puzzle and started on the next. About five minutes later the receptionist came in and said "Nina Ash?"
Jessica looked up and said "She went off with one of the nurses a few minutes ago."
"Thanks. I guess someone got their wires crossed." The receptionist went out again. Jessica tried to get back to the puzzle, but had an uneasy feeling. After a couple of minutes she went to the lobby and said "Did you find her?"
"Are you sure she left with a nurse?" asked the receptionist.
"It's just… we can't locate her, and nobody seems to having picked her up from reception."
"I noticed you have some security cameras around the place. Can you play back the last few minutes?"
The receptionist hesitated. Jessica pulled out her billfold and showed her investigator's license. "There might not be anything to worry about, but I've got a bad feeling about this. If I can't find out what's happened to her I'm going to have to call the police."
The receptionist clicked through a couple of menus on her computer, and swivelled the monitor around so that Jessica could see it. There were six small windows, each showing a view of the corridors and waiting room. "I can't show you inside any of the doctors' offices."
"Okay. Take it back about fifteen minutes then fast forward, say four times normal speed." Jessica watched as the receptionist came into the waiting room, left with Janice Brown, and went along the corridors to one of the offices. Nothing else happened for a couple of minutes, then a door near the waiting room opened and a familiar-looking nurse appeared. "Freeze it. Recognize her?"
"No. I've never seen her before."
"Where does that door lead?"
"The fire stairs. It should have sounded an alarm when it opened."
"Take it forward at normal speed."
The nurse, or whoever she was, went into the waiting room and led Nina out. In the corridor, as soon as she was out of sight of the door, she pressed something to Nina's arm, supported her as she staggered and almost fell, then dragged her out through the fire exit.
"Call the police."
Cradling her abdomen with one hand, Jessica ran for the fire stairs, noticing a discarded syringe just outside the door, listened, but couldn't hear anything. On a hunch she ran down to the floor below, and found the door wedged open with wires shorting out its alarm, and faint tracks in the dust, probably a wheelchair. They were at least five or six minutes ahead of her, just enough time to get out of the building if the kidnapper had been lucky with the elevators. She ran down the corridor, realising she was in another suite of offices, and waved her ID at a geeky-looking guy carrying files, shouting "Detective! Did someone come past here pushing a wheelchair?"
"Yeah, a couple of minutes ago. They went that way." He gestured vaguely in the direction of the elevators. "What's happening?"
She ran on, found a bored-looking receptionist near the elevators, and repeated the question, adding "Which elevator?"
"Three, I think." Elevator three was on the fifth storey, twenty floors below her, and headed down. Time to stop being subtle. She pounded a fist into the door, buckling it and giving her a handhold, and forced it open. Alarm bells started to ring, and the elevator stopped moving. She dropped down the shaft, avoiding greasy cables and machinery, remembered to slow before she hit, and landed on the roof of the car, a little harder than she'd intended. Metal dented under her feet. She was trying to figure out how to open the emergency hatch when the first bullet came through the roof.
"Shit!" Jessica dived to one side, realised she was flying into the path of the elevator coming up the next shaft, flew on to the third, and waited for it to pass. She could hear more shots… four, five, six. As soon as the other elevator was out of the way she pounded on the side of the car, and heard more shots. "Fuck, must be an automatic." No time to mess around, the ricochets might endanger Nina. She flew back to the roof, yanked off the trap door, tearing it off its hinges, and shouted "Freeze, asshole!" Below her the nurse stood by the wheelchair, raising her gun hesitantly, while four other passengers cowered in the corners. Nobody seemed to be hurt.
Jessica said "I'm pregnant, hormonal, and cranky right now." As she spoke she bent the trap door double. "I'm probably going to have to reschedule my obstetrician's appointment and spend the afternoon filling in insurance forms because of the damage I've done here, and that's making me feel really pissed." She doubled the hatch again. "Now, are you going to put down the gun and come quietly, or am I going to have to come down there and shove it up your ass?" The nurse hesitated, and Jessica threw the hatch at her head. It hit with a dull thud, and the nurse went down hard, a blonde wig falling off to reveal dark short-cropped hair. Jessica dropped down into the car, slowing before she hit the floor, and smiled apologetically at the other passengers. She felt Nina's wrist and found a slow steady pulse.
"What's this about?" a woman asked.
"Kidnapping, this bitch snatched her a few minutes ago." Jessica checked the nurse, realised she was breathing noisily, turned her onto her side in the recovery position, then patted her down for weapons, finding a holdout gun under her jacket in the small of her back. On a hunch she felt the nurse's throat, finding a prominent Adam's apple, and guessed that she was less female than she looked. And from the look of things wouldn't be waking any time soon.
By the time the Fire Department got everyone out one of the passengers was offering to represent the others if they wanted to sue, another was filming the scene on his cell-phone and probably planning to upload it to YouTube, and Nina was starting to stir.
"So let me get this straight," Luke Cage said as he drove towards Nina's apartment, "we're bodyguarding a werewolf?"
"Right now we're just talking to her. I don't have any other plans for the evening," said Jessica, her voice apologetic over the cell-phone, "apart from being seriously pissed if anyone else tries to hurt her."
"What about the asshole that tried to snatch her? Say anything useful?"
"He isn't talking… mainly because he isn't conscious yet. I may have been a little angry when I took him down."
"Go you! Police got any ID on him?"
"Joey Dane. Freelancer, rumoured to have made a couple of minor hits for the Kingpin back in the day. A few arrests for assault, the usual sort of loan shark stuff, but nothing that stuck."
"Anything I should know about him?"
"Apparently he can disguise himself as a woman. Not very well, he didn't shave his legs. No super-powers."
"Sounds like he's small fry. We need to find out who he's working for."
"I guess. Hey, Nina's cooking beef chasseur, it'll be ready in about three quarters of an hour, smells pretty good already."
"I'll be there."
"This is great," said Jessica. Luke nodded his agreement.
"I used to eat a lot less red meat," said Nina, serving potatoes and peas, "but that doesn't work so well if you're a werewolf. The less meat you eat as a human, the more you want it when you're wolfed out, and the more dangerous you are to everyone around you. Hamburgers and steaks get pretty monotonous if you eat them every day, so I've had to learn a few more recipes."
"How does that work exactly?" asked Luke, "The werewolf thing, I mean."
"About the way it does in the movies. I change on the nights around the full moon, once I've changed I run on instinct. I really don't have much self-control, or memory of what I've done."
"How do you handle it?"
"Lock myself up if I can, or camp out somewhere really isolated and spend the night chasing rabbits. But that doesn't work so well sometimes," she patted her belly, "I got this way because I underestimated how far a wolf can run in a night. My studio is in an old warehouse a couple of blocks from here, there's a store-room that works pretty well as a cell."
"We'll have to check the studio," said Jessica. "Make sure you don't get any surprise visitors."
"What sort of work do you do?" asked Luke. "Sculpture? Oils?"
"I'm mostly working with acrylics at the moment. I've got a couple of contracts for book covers, and some advertising work."
"Any other income? Trust funds, vast family fortunes, that sort of thing?"
"No. Why do you ask?"
"I was wondering why someone would want to kidnap you," said Luke. "Guess we can rule out money."
"There could be all sorts of reasons," said Nina. "Angel made a lot of enemies; there could still be someone around looking for revenge. And there are plenty of people that want to kill werewolves for one reason or another."
"What sort of reasons?" asked Jessica.
"There's a… well, a black market in werewolf teeth and pelts. And pretty much every other part of a werewolf too." There was disgust in her voice.
"What about revenge?" asked Luke, "Ever hurt anyone?"
"God, I hope not… Not as far as I know. Apart from disembowelling Angel, that is. But he was a soft toy at the time so it doesn't really count."
Luke and Jessica gaped at her.
"It was some sort of spell. Demons transformed him into a walking, talking soft toy. I ripped him up a little, but they just had to stuff him again and sew him back together, once the spell wore off he was as good as new."
"I'll bet that's one Doctor Strange never tried," said Jessica. "Which reminds me, Strange is probably the best guy in New York for supernatural problems. Would you mind if I talked to him?"
"I don't know much about him," said Nina.
"He's weird," said Luke, "but he's one of the good guys."
"But before that," said Jessica, "I need to figure out exactly how they knew when you'd be at the clinic, and the right moment to snatch you. They're supposed to have top-notch security - hell, most of the women in the Avengers go there. It's funded by Stark Industries and Fantastic Four Inc., how could something like that happen?"
"How much is this going to cost?" Nina asked nervously. "I'm trying to save a little for… well, for whatever happens."
"It depends," said Jessica. "By now the press is on to this - don't know if they have your name yet, but it's probably only a matter of time. I do some work for The Pulse, that's the Bugle's superhero supplement. They've already called me twice wanting more details. If they can get a story out of this I'm pretty sure they'll cover most of the expenses."
"If it gets out that I'm a werewolf… most of my family don't know."
"The best way to prevent that is to make the story about something else. The clinic seems the best bet - or maybe organised crime if it turns out that you weren't the only target. I can't guarantee that nothing will come out, but it seems our best shot."
She hesitated, but eventually said "Okay."
"NO!" shouted J. Jonah Jameson, "The Bugle will NOT pay for you to protect one of your super-friends without you telling me why!"
"She's a client, not a friend, and I only met her yesterday. You know I have to maintain client confidentiality." Jessica didn't bother to remind him that he was a former client. "I'm not protecting a secret identity, if that's what you were wondering. She's nobody you would have heard of, just a frightened pregnant woman."
"I have to agree with Jessica," said Ben Urich, "I think the real story here, if there is one, is security at the clinic."
"I looked up their company records on line," said Kat Farrell, looking at her notebook. "Forty percent is owned by Stark Industries, thirty-five by Fantastic Four Inc., ten by Warren Worthington. The rest of the shares are owned by the doctors who set the place up. It's not a publicly traded stock so not all of information is on line, but they look to have assets of around fifty million dollars. That ought to pay for a fair amount of security."
"The Friends of Humanity tried to trash the place a couple of years ago," said Urich. "She-Hulk happened to be there for a check-up at the time, so that didn't get very far. They also had some trouble with the pro-life crowd, but since there's a big overlap between them and the Friends that never really came to much, those guys like the idea of supers having abortions."
"Is there a story in that?" asked Jameson. "Are they conducting unnecessary abortions? Was your friend after an abortion when she was snatched?"
"She's not my friend, she's a client," Jessica repeated, guessing that Jameson was starting to get interested, "and she wasn't after an abortion, it was a prenatal health check. I can ask around, but I've heard nothing to suggest that they're doing anything unethical. It's an obstetrics and gynaecology centre, I guess they must have to do things occasionally if a pregnancy goes wrong, but I've never heard of anyone going there with the intention of getting an abortion."
"If The Pulse covers this," said Kat, "we could include an article about the medical side of things. The downside of being a super-mom."
"Didn't Cosmopolitan cover that a couple of months ago?" Jessica had read the article with morbid interest.
"Doesn't matter," said Jameson, "we'll give it a different slant, find some celebrity mothers who are willing to talk to us."
"You want to go for it?" asked Urich.
"See what you can come up with," said Jameson, "but it had better be good."
"I didn't think he'd go for it," said Urich, once they were out of Jameson's office, "he can be a cheap bastard. How do you want to handle things?"
"I can ask around in the community," said Jessica, "there are a couple of leads I want to follow up, nothing really concrete yet."
"I'm probably best for the police and any mob connections."
"And that leaves me to visit the clinic," said Kat, "and ask some questions about their security."
"What about the girl?" asked Urich.
"Luke's on it for now," said Jessica, getting her things together. "I'd better be moving."
"Anything else we should know?"
"Don't be surprised if this one gets weird."
"Do you want to make that a little less vague?" asked Kat.
"I'll talk to you later." Jessica headed for the elevator. A few minutes later she was en route to Greenwich Village.
You didn't find Stephen Strange's house unless he wanted it found, or you were a powerful enough magician to get through its outer shields. You didn't get inside unless Strange really wanted you there. When the taxi dropped Jessica at a convenient corner she looked up and realised she was right outside his front door... which opened as she was about to knock. A few minutes later she was in his study, explaining the circumstances.
"I see," said Stephen Strange. "What makes you think I can help?"
"She's a goddamned werewolf, and her boyfriend was some sort of supernatural detective. Who else would I go to?"
"Hmmm…" Strange steepled his fingers, seemingly lost in thought then said "As it happens, I do know a little. Her friend Angelus came close to precipitating a war between the lesser demonic realms, fought on the streets of Los Angeles. It was cleverly done but foolhardy, and Angelus and most of his associates died in the battle."
"Angelus? She said Angel."
"He used both names. Angel when he had his soul, Angelus on the occasions he… mislaid it."
"How do you lose a soul?"
"He was a vampire, I'd imagine that keeping it was the hard part. Didn't she tell you?"
"These are murky waters, Miss Jones, but I can't immediately think of any reason for Miss Ash to be in danger from demonic sources. The destruction of the Black Thorn and their front organisation in this dimension left a power vacuum. You might imagine it as equivalent to the eradication of one of New York's lesser crime families, with every other faction scheming to take their place. Access to Earth and human souls is one of the prizes, of course, but for now, at least, they are far more concerned with their internal struggle."
"Could revenge be a motive?"
"It's a possibility, I suppose, but those who would be most inclined to seek revenge are dead, their factions in disarray. And Miss Ash would not be an obvious target in any event."
"Is there any way you can find out?"
"I can certainly make enquiries."
"Is there anyone else that might target werewolves?"
"Bounty hunters, wizards and hedge-witches, and anyone else who regards them as a threat or an opportunity… I'm afraid that they are potent magical creatures, and many are greedy for their powers. But most hunters would target a werewolf in its animal form, not human. The first night of the full moon is still three days away."
"Okay. So maybe they don't know she's a werewolf."
"If what you described is correct, they most certainly do. Werewolves have considerable resistance to drugs, and it carries over to their human form. To take her so quickly they must have used several times the normal human dose of tranquiliser."
"Crap. Any ideas?"
"Find out more about the conception of Miss Ash's cubs; question her, see if you can learn anything more."
"Want to give me a hint as to why?"
"For all its fur and teeth, a werewolf is still essentially a transformed human, not a wolf. Miss Ash may believe that they were sired by a wolf, but it is far more likely that the father is human, or another werewolf."
This is an Angel / Marvel crossover, set two years after the end of Angel Season 5 (and ignoring the comics), and shortly after the end of the first story arc in The Pulse. For more on Jessica Jones see her Wikipedia entry, and various Marvel comics, most notably Alias (nothing to do with the TV show) and The Pulse. See part I for disclaimers and acknowledgements.
Ben Urich swallowed a mouthful of cannelloni and said "Joey Dane, huh? Small fry, I would have thought."
"He was a leg-breaker for the Kingpin," said Sergeant Duane Collins, tucking into his spaghetti. "Suspect for a couple of homicides, but nothing we could prove. Word on the street was the second hit was only supposed to be a bad beating, but Joey got a little over-enthusiastic and the Kingpin had to write off a couple of hundred grand. Everyone thought that the Kingpin would have him whacked for that, and Joey dropped out of sight for a while, but that was around the time the Kingpin had to bail out in a hurry and I guess Joey got overlooked in the excitement. Now that we know he can cross-dress we're looking at him for some liquor store robberies last year, the perp was described as an ugly woman, that's starting to look pretty solid."
"So who's he working for now? Or is he free-lancing?"
"Good question. Wish I could answer it. He wasn't alone, that's for sure."
Ben's ears pricked up. "You're positive?"
"Joey wouldn't know how to get past the alarms. That was good work, professional work."
"Is he talking?"
"Not so far. As soon as he came round he asked for a phone call, his lawyer was at the precinct house twenty minutes later; the bail hearing's this afternoon."
"Think he'll get it?"
"Hope not. You finished with that garlic bread?"
"I guess." Ben passed the plate. "What about the victim? What can you tell me?"
"How much do you already know?"
Ben thought about bluffing, decided against it. "She's pregnant, that's about it."
"Got a name?"
"I guess you haven't. Why don't you ask Jessica Jones? I heard she was working for the Bugle."
"She's… well, she's being close-lipped on this one. Seems to think we'd be endangering the woman."
Collins sipped his coffee. "She may have a point. There has to be a reason why they tried to take her at the clinic, rather than at home or on in the street. Maybe they didn't know where she lives."
"Do you know that for a fact?"
"You've got to remember, kidnapping is a federal offence; the FBI is already all over this. They're giving us the mushroom treatment, keeping us in the dark."
"Can you give me anything at all?"
Quirk casually jotted a few words onto a paper napkin, folded it, and covered it with a beefy hand and lowered his voice. "This didn't come from me, right?"
"The Special Agents in charge aren't from the local office; I've never heard of them before, and they have more of a military look than your typical FBI guy. My guess is some sort of Homeland Security task force. I think they flew in from Washington some time yesterday evening."
"So this is part of something bigger, an ongoing investigation?"
"Your guess is as good as mine. Look, I've got to get back to the precinct house. If I hear anything more I'll let you know. Don't forget those tickets for the Mets."
"I'll have them on your desk tomorrow."
"Thanks!" Collins collected his hat and left Ben with the bill and a folded napkin. Ben glanced around, making sure that nobody seemed to be paying attention, then opened the napkin. There were two names; Riley Finn and Graham Miller. Neither meant anything to Ben. Not yet.
Kat Farrell parked her Vespa scooter in the garage below the clinic and started to walk towards the elevators. On the way she passed three almost identical black sedans, and noticed that they all had extra aerials and complicated-looking radios under the dash. Probably police, FBI, or SHIELD. Her money was on the FBI.
A bored-looking policewoman was watching arrivals at the clinic. Kat ignored her and went to the receptionist. "Kat Farrell, Daily Bugle. Were you here yesterday?"
"So, the woman who was kidnapped…" Kat clicked her fingers and leafed through her notebook. "Got it here somewhere…."
"Nina?" the receptionist asked helpfully.
"That was it… what was her last name now?" Kat pretended to be searching for the name again.
"Nice try," said an amused female voice behind her, "but I think that's enough information for now."
"Sorry, Ms. Raiden," said the receptionist.
Kat turned and saw an attractive frizzy-haired brunette wearing leather trousers and a midriff-revealing leather top; "And you are?"
"I'm the new security manager. And you're leaving, I think."
Kat made a note and asked, "What happened to the old security manager?"
"What do you think happened yesterday?"
"That isn't going to play well with our readers."
"And I should care because..?"
"If you give us a good story, we can give you good publicity."
"I really don't think so." The brunette gestured to the policewoman. "You're trespassing on private property and disturbing the patients, I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
Kat looked around the lobby, noticed a distinct lack of patients, and raised her eyebrows. "I don't see anyone looking very upset." The policewoman gripped her arm firmly.
"They would be if they knew you were here. Better get on your way."
"All right," said Kat, making a last note. "How many O's in 'uncooperative'?"
"Six." Ms. Raiden nodded to the policewoman, who walked Kat to the elevator, gently pushed her in, and reached in to press the button for the lobby before the door closed.
Once she was back on the street Kat stopped her scooter and called the Bugle's research department. "See what you can find out about a woman with the surname 'Raiden,' don't know how it's spelled, my guess is 'RAYDEN' or 'RAIDEN'. About five foot eight, late twenties or early thirties, I'd say originally from the west coast but I don't know for sure. She's the new security manager at the clinic, I don't know if that's her usual line of work. Check the files for Stark Industries and Fantastic Four Inc, there might be some connection there."
"Okay," said Ben Urich, when they met in a downtown Starbucks two hours later, "what have we got?"
"The victim's name is Nina Ash," said Kat Farrell.
Jessica glared at her. "How the hell did you get that?"
"Easy. The receptionist slipped and said her name was Nina, after that I just checked the sign-in book in the building's main lobby. Only one Nina signed in for the clinic yesterday, it might not have been the right one but you've just confirmed that it was her. I don't have an address yet, but I can probably find it easily enough."
"Fuck!" said Jessica. "Pretty pointless denying it, I guess. Can we agree to keep it quiet, at least for now?"
"She's not a celebrity so far as I know," said Urich, "so there's no real reason to name her. Not yet, anyway. Unless she's a well-known mask, of course."
"She isn't. No secret identity, no costume, just a frightened pregnant woman. And she really doesn't have anyone looking out for her interests, apart from me, so I'd take it as a favour if you left her alone."
"For now we will. Anything else, Kat?"
Kat looked ready to argue, but said "Stark Industries have hired a heavy hitter to take over security at the clinic. Gwen Raiden. She's a Los Angeles consultant with VERY exclusive clientele. She's been seen with Stark a couple of times but always in a business context, looks like she's the one woman in LA he isn't sleeping with, apart from Pepper Potts."
Kat flicked through her notes, and said "If she is she's pretty deep in the closet. More to the point, she's an expert on alarms and security systems, and there are rumours that she's worked both sides of the tracks. Industrial espionage at the least, and she was suspect in a couple of jewel heists but never charged. For the last five years she's been listed as one of the contributors to CMPAC."
"CMPAC?" asked Ben.
"California Metahuman Political Action Committee. They lobby for metahuman and mutant rights. My guess, she's some sort of mutant."
Jessica bristled. "That's like saying I must be a mutant because I used to hang with the Avengers, and they occasionally work with the X-men."
"Touchy! Okay, I know mutants and metahumans aren't the same thing, but the difference can be pretty blurry."
"Knock it off, ladies," said Ben. "Do you actually know anything about her, Jessica?"
"Never heard of… wait a minute… come to think of it, I have seen her advertising, in PI Magazine and Soldier of Fortune. She must be earning a hell of a lot more than me; my advertising budget barely pays to get a box around my name in the Yellow Pages."
"And nothing. There are around fifty thousand private investigators in the USA, double or triple that for the whole security industry, do you think I know every detail of every one of them?"
"Is there anyone you could ask?"
"I'll talk to my contacts." Starting, she thought, with Nina Ash.
"How about you two?" asked Kat, "found anything?"
"The kidnapping wasn't randomly targeted," said Jessica, "but the motive is as murky as all hell. There's no money, no family connections. Beyond that is stuff I can't really talk about."
"Talk to your client," said Urich, "her name's bound to come out from someone else sooner or later, and they won't be interested in keeping her out of the limelight. If you both work with us we can minimise the damage. We're working in the dark here; we have no idea why you need us to keep things quiet."
Jessica remembered that Nina hadn't made much of a secret of being a werewolf, but at that point Nina hadn't known she had links to the press. "Okay, I think she'll cooperate if you agree to keep her exposure minimised. But there are things that will probably have to stay out of the paper. And that means we don't let Jonah Jameson get a smell of them."
"This has to be one hell of a secret," said Kat. "Oh my god, is Spider Man the father? Or Tony Stark?"
"No to both," said Jessica. Taking a chance, she added "The father is unknown. She's a rape victim." It was close enough to the truth for the moment.
"Shit. Okay, low key it is. How about you, Ben? Got anything?"
"We've got federal interest. A couple of agents from out of town have taken over the FBI investigation. We don't know much about them, when I Googled their names the only hits on both come from California a few years ago. If it's the same guys, they were both TA's at UC Sunnydale a couple of years before the Subterraneans took the town out."
"The Lava Men denied they had anything to do with that," said Kat, "so did the Mole People."
"Whatever," said Ben, "we have a couple of agents who seem to have come out of nowhere, apart from a possible prior appearance in Sunnydale, the former murder capital of the USA on a per-capita basis. I'm beginning to smell a California connection here."
"You may be right," said Jessica. "Nina's from Los Angeles, and I've heard about things happening there that may be connected. I can't tell you more without her permission."
"I think you'd better get it."
Jessica got out her cell phone, moved a few feet away from the table, and dialled Luke Cage.
"It's Jessica," said Luke. "She needs to talk to you." He handed his phone to Nina.
"Hi, Jessica?" said Nina, and listened for a moment. "But… oh, I guess… but… well… okay, better bring them over, if you're sure they can be trusted."
"They're reporters," said the phone, "of course they can't be trusted. You decide how much you want to tell them. But they found out most of who you are in a few hours, we need to give them enough to keep them happy and helpful."
"Okay. We're at my studio, Luke's been checking it out. The address is 555…"
They talked for a few moments longer, then Nina gave the phone back to Luke, saying "they're only a few blocks away, ought to be here soon."
About five minutes later the goods lift that served the studio began to rattle. Luke moved close to the gates, and gestured for Nina to stay back. Eventually the gates opened, and Luke said "Who the hell are you?"
"Agent Finn." "Agent Miller." Both men produced FBI badges.
Luke checked them, and said "I guess you'd better come in."
"Luke Cage, right?" said Finn. "I'm a big fan."
"That's good to know," said Luke.
"Now then, Miss Ash?"
Nina stepped forward. "Yes?"
"We need to ask you a few questions about the circumstances surrounding your pregnancy and the recent kidnapping attempt."
"Such as?" asked Luke.
"We have reason to believe that Miss Ash wasn't the only victim. Miss Ash, can we talk privately?"
"That's okay," said Nina, "Mister Cage knows what happened to me."
"You might want to re-think that," said Finn. "Depending on the outcome of this conversation, you may be facing criminal charges."
"What the hell?" said Luke. "What charges?"
Night was falling as the taxi pulled up outside the converted warehouse. Ben Urich, Jessica, and Kat Farrel climbed out, and Ben paid the fare.
"Now remember," said Jessica, "we need to keep this low key. She's been through a horrible ordeal; please keep the questions to an absolute minimum." She looked around, spotted the only obvious entrance, and led the way towards it.
Overhead there was a loud crash, and glass showered down onto the sidewalk a few yards to their left. There was an echoing howl, and for a moment a furry head appeared at the broken window, four stories above, then seemed to be yanked back inside.
"If I didn't know better," said Kat, "I'd say that was a wolf."
"Hell of a big one," said Ben.
Jessica launched herself into the air and flew up to the window. Inside Luke had an arm-lock on a snarling form, half woman and half wolf, and was pushing her towards a heavy steel door. A stranger was opening the door, while another covered it with a huge pistol.
"Just what the fuck is going on here?" asked Jessica, carefully avoiding the shattered glass as she flew in.
"Hi honey," said Luke, "These assholes upset Nina, she needs to cool it for a while."
"Don't let her bite you," said one of the strangers, "Unless you want to join her in there at the full moon."
"Doubt she's got Adamatium teeth," said Luke, pushing Nina through the doorway while making sure she couldn't twist around to bite him, "and nothing much short of that's going to be a problem."
The guy at the door said "Famous last words" and pushed it shut. It shook as Nina crashed into it from the other side. "Hold it a second, I grabbed the key." Luke put his foot against the door while the stranger fumbled with the lock.
"I thought she could only change at the full moon," said Jessica.
"Stress sometimes triggers it," said the other stranger, "she ought to be okay in a couple of hours. By the way, I'm Agent Finn, he's Miller." Miller finally locked the door as it shook again.
"I'd better get back down there and tell Ben and Kat that we'll have to reschedule the meeting. What the hell do I say?"
"Reporters?" asked Finn.
"Tell them gang-bangers on PCP."
"That'll never work."
"You'd be surprised. Okay, if that doesn't work tell them there was a mutant attack, nothing to with your client but the FBI is on the scene and doesn't want anyone else disturbing the evidence."
"Great," said Jessica, "let's defame the mutants."
She flew back down to the waiting reporters.
"What the hell was that about?" asked Ben.
"Gang-bangers on PCP. The FBI is dealing with it."
"Sure it was," Kat said sarcastically.
"Works for me," said Urich.
Both women stared at him in surprise.
"What the hell are you talking about?" said Kat, "No way was that PCP."
"When you've been in this job a little longer," said Ben, "you'll learn to recognise a few things. Things that more or less automatically get a story spiked, like anything that bad-mouths Nick Fury or SHIELD. And one of them is someone in authority telling you that something just plain weird is gang-bangers on PCP and keeping a straight face."
"Look up the files on Sunnydale," said Ben, "then tell me I'm wrong."
"I'm sorry," said Jessica, "this is a little awkward, I know."
"When the feds have got their act together get back to us with the details they want us to have. Maybe there'll be something we can salvage."
"Okay," said Jessica.
"This sucks," said Kat.
"What does?" asked Ben. "Surely you aren't suggesting that the FBI would be less than completely honest with the public?"
"I'd better head back up," said Jessica, launching herself into the air again.
"You," said Kat, "are going to buy me a large drink, and tell me more about this shit."
"Works for me," said Ben.
"The problem is the father," said Finn. "We're pretty sure we've identified him, and he's a minor."
"So Nina was running in the forest," said Jessica, "and somehow stumbled across a kid and… and what? Raped him?"
"He's a werewolf too," said Miller, "He vanished from a farm near San Francisco two nights before the full moon, turned up locked in a shipping container at San Diego docks a week later. Forensics eventually found traces of a female werewolf in the container, and traces of Rohypnol and other drugs in his blood. He has no memory of the missing week."
"His cousin's a friend," said Finn, "but even if he wasn't we'd want to know who's behind it, and what the hell they were up to. First, though, we need to make sure that Miss Ash wasn't a willing participant."
Many apologies for the long delay on this, I hope that the rest will come a little faster.
“So Nina was running in the forest,” said Jessica, “and somehow stumbled across a kid and… and what? Raped him?”
“He’s a werewolf too,” said Miller, “He vanished from a farm near San Francisco two nights before the full moon, turned up locked in a shipping container at San Diego docks a week later. Forensics eventually found traces of a female werewolf in the container, and traces of Rohypnol and other drugs in his blood. He has no memory of the missing week.”
“His cousin’s a friend,” said Finn, “but even if he wasn’t we’d want to know who’s behind it, and what the hell they were up to. First, though, we need to make sure that Miss Ash wasn’t a part of this.”
Marcus L. Rowland
“I’m sorry,” said Finn. “We’ve either been travelling or getting caught up on the situation for most of the last two days, I think we’re both running on fumes. I wanted to get a quick reaction, catch her off-guard, but we shouldn’t have upset your client like that.”
Mallory Book, of Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway, rubbed her forehead and wished that Jennifer Walters had been on emergency call. The green bitch deserved this one... “Okay, let‘s get this quite clear. Miss Ash is not being charged with anything, but you need a DNA sample and think that she should have a lawyer present when she’s questioned.”
“Miss Ash isn’t a suspect at present,” said Riley Finn. “We’re pretty sure that she’s as much a victim as the father of her child... if it turns out that she was the other wolf. But we need to check if it was her, and if so find out exactly how she came to be there. If she was a willing participant there might be a statutory rape charge, but we have no reason to believe that at present.”
“So why didn’t you arrange that in the first place?” asked Mallory. “And why isn’t this being done at FBI headquarters?”
“We’re working on the assumption that there might be another attempt to kidnap Miss Ash,” said Finn, “so we need to keep the investigation moving. Anything Miss Ash remembers might be vitally important, but we need to know it right away. Miss Jones suggested that we call your company.”
“Okay,” said Mallory. “If that’s how it is... Let me talk to Miss Ash, Miss Jones, and Mister Cage; then we’ll see.”
“I wouldn’t trust them further than I can throw them,” said Jessica, “Word on the street is that they’re something to do with Homeland Security. With all the talk about a mutant registration act it wouldn’t surprise me if they were planning to register people like Nina too.”
“Wait a minute,” said Mallory, “let’s set some ground rules here. Miss Ash is my client, you’re not. Do you have legal representation?”
“Matt Murdock of Nelson & Murdock is my attorney.”
“Mine too,” said Luke.
“Why am I not surprised?” said Mallory. “Okay, that clarifies things a little with regard to lawyer-client privilege. I need to talk this over with Nina. I’m not your attorney, and if you’re present you could be compelled to testify on the contents of our discussion, so I need you to wait outside. If you have any powers that would let you overhear please don’t use them.”
“We’re still guarding Nina,” said Jessica.
“You can do it from the other side of that door, there’s no other entrance to this room.”
“I guess,” said Luke. “Nina, if anything happens that you don’t like, yell and yell loud.”
“Trust me on that,” said Nina.
“If you want to do something to pass the time,” said Mallory, gesturing to a computer in the anteroom to her office, “see if you can find out anything more about our friends from the FBI.” She shooed them out and shut the door firmly.
“Any ideas?” asked Jessica, looking towards the outer office where Finn and Miller were presumably still waiting.
“You phone Strange,” said Luke, “I’ll check if there’s anything on the Avengers’ computers.”
Fifteen minutes later Mallory came out, followed by Nina, and said “Did you find anything?”
“Finn and Miller used to be members of something called the DRI,” said Luke, “seems to stand for Demon Research Initiative. Very hush-hush. They’ve been seconded to the FBI for a couple of years, handle a lot of weird shit cases, X-files stuff.”
“Anything else?” asked Mallory.
“I spoke to someone in that line of work, a friend of Doctor Strange,” said Jessica, wondering how much reliance she could place on the word of someone who called himself Blade and wouldn’t give any other name. “He says the DRI was dirty in the nineties, Finn blew the whistle on them; there was a big scandal and some sort of disaster that was hushed up. Finn quit then joined up again a year later when they’d restructured the organisation. Finn’s wife was also a DRI agent, they divorced three years ago, which is why he transferred to the FBI when they wanted some supernatural expertise. Miller went with him.”
“Can we trust them?”
“They both have good reputations. He said that most of the DRI were quote ‘incompetent assholes’ unquote. Finn and Miller are considered to be the best of them, hard but fair. There’s probably more, but nothing I can verify at this time of night.”
“That sounds about right,” said Nina. “Angel mentioned the Initiative a couple of times, said I should avoid them. I think he mentioned Finn too but I can’t remember the details. I don’t think he liked him, or knew he’d moved to the FBI.”
“Okay,” said Mallory, “I think we go out there and see what cards they want to put on the table. Let me do the talking, and you two want to remember that I am not your attorney. I speak for Nina, not you, and you don’t speak for Nina. Are we all clear on that?”
“I think so,” said Jessica. Luke nodded.
“If I ask any questions reply truthfully, but don’t volunteer any information. ‘Yes,’ ‘no’ and ‘I don’t know’ are good answers. Do not speculate or guess. If they ask you any questions be very careful, and if anything looks like it might be incriminating, get your own damned lawyer. Clear?”
“Crystal,” said Luke.
“Let’s do it before I lose my nerve,” said Nina.
Mallory put her hand to the door. “Showtime.”
“My client wishes to cooperate with your investigation,” said Mallory, “subject to the usual restrictions. You will only talk to her in my presence; if I am unable to be present you will wait until I arrive or have arranged for replacement counsel. You will not attempt to trick or coerce her, or deprive her of her rights. Is that clear?”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Finn.
“Absolutely clear,” said Miller.
“Now, what exactly do you want from my client?”
Finn and Miller questioned Nina for the next half-hour. At the end Finn leaned back in his chair and said “Okay, I think that’s enough. Your version of events is a little sketchy, but I’m guessing you were tranquillised for several hours which would explain that. You’ve given me enough that I’ll be able to verify some of your movements that day, and it ties in with what we already know. I think we can assume you weren’t involved voluntarily.”
“So what’s next?”
“Just a moment,” said Mallory, “I want to be sure that this is quite clear. My client is no longer a suspect?”
“I’ll want that in writing. Miss Ash, I think that if you make an official complaint about the way you were approached you would have a very good case for compensation. Do you wish me to make such a complaint?”
“No,” said Nina, “I want to know who did this and why, and I want the bastards brought to justice!” As she shouted the last words her face started to twist and look more bestial, and Luke put his hands on her shoulders, partly to comfort her and partly to hold her down if she went wolf again. She shuddered, and seemed to make an effort to calm herself. “So what do you want to do about finding them?”
“First thing,” said Miller, “we want DNA samples. We need to make sure that it was you in the shipping container; for all we know another werewolf was there, and your pregnancy is some sort of coincidence. Not likely, but we need to be sure.” He handed Nina a swab and spent a couple of minutes taking samples of her saliva, hair, and epithelials.
“Next,” said Finn, “we check if you’re bugged.”
“Bugged?” said Jessica.
“We believe that she might have been implanted with a tracking beacon. The other victim was.” He reached into his pocket and pulling out a small grey box, about the size of a pack of cigarettes. He pressed a stud and it began to buzz quietly. As he moved it within a foot or so of Nina it began to make a pinging noise at intervals of several seconds. “That’s confirmed, you’ve been tagged.”
“Tagged?” asked Nina, sounding frightened.
“Nanotech tracers,” said Miller, “powered by your body chemistry. They would have been injected while you were unconscious; they’re virtually untraceable at any distance unless you have the right receiver. They’ve probably been monitoring your vital signs and location since your abduction in California.”
“What… how can I get rid of them?” asked Nina.
“More to the point,” said Mallory, “who put them there?”
“We have no idea who did it,” said Finn, “but we’re working on it.”
“Wait a minute,” said Jessica, “if the nanotransmitters are untraceable, how did you know to look for them?”
“Dumb luck,” said Miller. “Two weeks ago a big RV was side-swiped by a truck beside the East River, rolled off the road and into the water. By the time it was dragged out everyone aboard was drowned; two drivers, and two technicians in the back. Nobody recognized the equipment in the trailer, and the plates and registration were faked; it was stolen six months ago. And there were no records of any of the people in the RV. That got the FBI and Homeland Security very interested, and eventually someone recognized the receiver.”
Finn took up the tale. “We both used to work for the organization that developed the transmitters, one of the reasons why they were never popular is that a receiver with enough range to be useful barely fitted in an RV; a semi would have been better. And the project was supposed to have been abandoned more than ten years ago, and all of the equipment should have been broken up and scrapped.”
Nina was slowly recovering, and said “So what made you think of me?”
“The technology was originally developed for tracking… well, supernatural creatures generally. And your name’s flagged because of your association with Angel, we knew you were a werewolf. When we heard about your kidnapping someone put two and two together, and we started digging. The timing of your pregnancy tied in with our abduction case, so we wondered if they were connected. We were in Nevada when we heard about it, so I got hold of the hand-held scanner and made a stop in California. It turned out that Jor…” He stopped in mid-word “…the kid we think is the father, he was bugged. So it seemed a possibility that you were too, especially since the RV was only a couple of blocks from your home.”
“Okay,” said Jessica. “I guess that makes sense. So how do we get rid of them?”
“There’s a chemical that breaks down the transmitters,” said Miller, “but it’s never been tested on anyone pregnant, let alone a werewolf, so I wouldn’t recommend it for the moment.”
“Nina’s body defences will probably destroy them down in a month or two,” said Finn, “always assuming that the transmitters that are in you now were injected when you were in California.”
“I haven’t had any other injections since then,” said Nina.
“The nanobots are tiny, you probably wouldn’t feel anything if someone brushed against you and used a spray hypodermic.”
“Great. So, what do they get from me? Did you say vital signs and location? Why would they want that?”
“Before you go on,” said Mallory, “maybe I should remind you that this is my office and the clock is still ticking. It’s nearly midnight and I’d like to get some sleep, and I’m guessing that you would like to finish this before my bill gets into four figures.”
“Good point,” said Luke. “Okay, let’s get out of here. Nina, I don’t think you should be at home by yourself, do you have somewhere you can stay?”
“You can use my spare room,” said Jessica, when it was obvious that Nina wasn’t coming up with an answer. “We can shove all the baby junk that’s in there into the closet, you’ll be OK.”
“Okay,” said Nina, “but just for tonight, you’ve already gone to too much trouble.”
“Say that again when you’ve seen my bill.”
“Ladies,” said Luke, “I’ll bring the car around; you wait inside until I say to come out.”
“We’ll follow you,” said Finn, “it might flush out anyone else who’s interested in your movements.”
“Works for me.”
The journey home was uneventful. As Luke was helping Jessica and Nina out of his car a black sedan pulled up, and Miller and Finn got out. “You weren’t followed, as far as we could tell,” said Finn.
“But..?” said Luke
“We’ve just heard. Joey Dane is dead.”
“The guy who tried to kidnap Nina?”
“How did it happen?” said Jessica. “I didn’t think I’d hit him that hard.”
“You didn’t. Someone didn’t want him talking. They got to him in hospital, smothered him with his own pillow.”
“What do you want us to do?”
“Just keep Nina safe and out of sight. Whoever did it must be running scared; I don’t want them to perceive either one of you as a threat.”
“We can do that,” said Luke. “And then we find the bastards and go medieval on their asses.”
“Crossbows or swords?” asked Finn.
“I’m more of a bludgeoning kind of guy.”
“I wonder if Buffy would lend us the troll hammer,” said Miller.
“Never mind,” said Finn, “We’ll get back to you as soon as we know more.”
“Let’s get inside,” said Jessica. “I have a feeling that tomorrow’s going to be a busy day.”
See previous parts for disclaimers etc.
“The best parenting advice I’ve has so far came from Sue Storm,” Jessica said over breakfast. “She said that you could be the best parent ever, and do all the right things, but that wasn’t necessarily going to stop your kids from dressing up like frogs and fighting crime, so you might as well be supportive whatever they do.”
“I’m more worried about stopping mine from chasing cars,” said Nina. “Even if Strange was right that they won’t be wolves full time, they’re going to be werewolves from day one. I’m probably going to have to home school them, and watch them to make sure that they never bite anyone.”
“That wouldn’t be good. Is it really that infectious?”
“It’s a bit like AIDS; it has to get into your blood stream, but I was told that that can include getting a little saliva into a cut or something. One time I was baby-sitting my niece and she skinned her knee, I was just about to kiss it better when I remembered. And I realised that she was way too old for that, and I probably wouldn’t have even thought of doing it if I hadn’t smelled the blood.”
“How old was she?”
“She was nine then, so it wasn’t a big deal for her, I passed it off as a joke, but I came so close… it’s one of the reasons I moved to New York.”
“Maybe there’s a werewolf community somewhere,” said Luke, helping himself to one of the croissants he’d brought to Jessica’s apartment. “Then at least they could play with other kids.”
“I’ve heard rumours that there’s something like that in Tibet, but I really don’t like the idea of living there. I’m a city girl, and I’ve never been good with languages.”
“Ask Wong, Strange’s servant. He’s from Tibet.”
“He is?” said Jessica.
“Yeah, he came over to the Avengers manor one time when they needed some information on the place. Don’t recall Wong mentioning werewolves though.”
Nina ate another strip of undercooked bacon in a few bites, then said “I think I need to see Strange. He obviously knows more about this than my doctor. How do I get an appointment?”
“I’ll call him when we’re finished,” said Luke.
“Self-control?” asked Nina.
“Some lycanthropes can use meditation and magic to resist the effect of the full moon, or retain their intelligence and will if they change form.”
“It sounds too good to be true,” said Jessica.
“Unfortunately the techniques are far from foolproof, and the longer the werewolf resists giving way to his or her animal nature, the more violent the eventual reaction.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” said Nina. “But where can I find out more about it?”
“You already know about the werewolf retreat in Tibet,” said Strange, “they are the true masters. Did Wong give you the details?”
“Yes, but I didn’t realise that they could resist the change, I thought that they just lived together to avoid hurting anyone else.”
“That too, but they are primarily a teaching order. There are several werewolf packs elsewhere, most notably in Poland and New Mexico, but the peculiar circumstances of your pregnancy might cause a few problems. Werewolves generally mate for life; a single mother would be at a considerable disadvantage in the pack hierarchy.”
“I never really thought about living in a pack. I’m more of a city girl.”
“I appreciate that, but things are much more controllable in an isolated area.”
“Okay.” It was obvious that Nina was far from convinced.
“Was there anything else you wanted to know?”
“Well, I know what the doctors say about my pregnancy, I was hoping you could take a look to make sure that they’ve got it right.”
“Very well. Mister Cage, if you can wait outside, Wong will get you some refreshments. Miss Jones, if you would be so kind as to act as chaperone…”
Several minutes passed with an odd mixture of standard diagnostic techniques and spell-casting. Eventually Strange said “As you know, you’re expecting twins. Both will be lycanthropes, as you thought. They appear to be in good health. Do you want to know their sexes?”
“The hospital said two boys.”
“And they are correct. So far as I can tell there will be no complications. Now, as to their infection…”
“I doubt that you’ll see many signs of it before they’re eating solid foods, but as I understand it they will want meat as soon as their teeth come in. Don’t try to delay things by prolonging the weaning period, it will lead to illness. Beyond that, I would strongly suggest that you obtain the advice and support of other lycanthropes, they’ll know far more about this that I do.”
“Okay,” said Nina, still unhappy at the thought of contact with other werewolves.
“Now, there is another matter…”
“There appear to be some foreign bodies in your bloodstream. Were you aware of this?”
“Sort of,” said Nina. Jessica explained about the nanobots.
“Reprehensible,” said Strange. “May I take a blood sample?”
He got a small syringe and took a tiny blood sample, mixed it with a little saline solution in a test tube, placed a drop on a slide, and deftly dropped on a cover slip, then put it onto a large leather-bound book and made an intricate gesture over it. A glowing image appeared in the air above the slide, pale straw-coloured fluid with disc-shaped cells, each about the size of a donut. In amongst them was something that looked like an octagonal crystal with an intricate tracery of lines inside it, a little larger than the cells. “This is what we’re looking for. Let me see now…” He rummaged in a drawer and found a crystal on a chain and a metal rod, held it over the slide, and tapped the crystal. In the expanded image the crystalline object crumbled to jagged shards. “Hmm…” The cells around it started to clump together. “No. Too much chance of blood clots.” He prepared another slide from the sample and tried again, this time with a crystalline rod. On the fourth attempt, rubbing the glass rod with a gold-embroidered cloth, the crystals in the blood changed colour without any other apparent effect. “That ought to do it. Let’s just fast-forward a little…” He gestured again, and suddenly all of the cells were moving rapidly. The crystal stayed there, doing nothing, and was quickly engulfed by a large amorphous cell and vanished.
“Is that it?” asked Nina.
“I think so,” said Strange. “I’ve made them a little more noticeable to your body’s defences; the lycanthropic immune system should take care of the rest.” He put the whole tube onto the book, repeated the spell, and said “let’s leave it for a little while to make sure that there are no side-effects. If all is in order I’ll apply the treatment to you. Meanwhile, shall we join Mister Cage?”
“What it sounds like,” said Ben Urich; “The old ‘gang-bangers on PCP’ story.”
“And your take on it?”
“Could have been a mutant, or something weird like bigfoot. All I know is that the FBI were on the case, and that was what they were saying.”
“So some agent tells you that, and you just accept it?”
“Remember Sunnydale? Remember how many reporters went missing there over the years? All with that explanation, and there’s definitely a Sunnydale connection to this story, agents who were based there a couple of years before the town collapsed.”
“And these agents told you it was gangs on PCP?”
“Actually,” said Kat, “Jessica Jones told us that, but there was some sort of fight going on in the warehouse she took us to, and I saw the FBI’s car parked outside.”
“So it didn’t come from the FBI directly? Why in the name of….” He turned to the intercom. “Get Parker in here!”
“I don’t think Jessica knew what it meant,” said Ben. “She seemed as surprised as Kat was.”
“And I should care because…?”
“It shows she wasn’t making it up.”
“Or that she’s a good liar!”
Peter Parker arrived a moment later “Yes, Mister Jameson?”
“Where the hell have you been?”
“I got here as fast as I could, Mr. Jameson.”
“Well, next time make it faster. Urich, give him the goddamned address. Parker, get over there and find out what’s been going on, get pictures, and don't let me see your face again until you do! Now, get out!”
“I’m not so sure we should,” said Luke, opening the car doors for Nina and Jessica, “it might be interesting to see who crawls out of the woodwork now you’ve stopped transmitting. Finn and Miller didn’t seem to be in any hurry to get rid of the nanobots, maybe they were using them to track you.”
“That’s a cheery thought.”
“The other thing we need to do is check your studio and apartment for bugs,” said Jessica. “I didn’t think of it yesterday. If they’re monitoring you with nanobots they may have other ways of watching you.”
Nina made a face. “I want my life back. Isn’t there any way we can find out who’s doing this?”
“That’s the whole idea. I’ll start to run a sweep as soon as we get inside. Don’t say anything about it or react to what I’m doing until I say it’s okay.”
“I’ll measure the window,” said Luke, “then go pick up some glass to fix it, the noise I make doing that should cover whatever you want to do.”
“Can you pick up some take-away too?” asked Jessica, “We spent most of the morning with Strange, I'm starting to feel hungry again.”
“Good idea,” said Nina. “Maybe some chilli?”
“Works for me, but make mine vegetarian this time.”
As they parked the car Jessica sighed and said “Might have known Jameson wouldn’t leave it alone.”
“What’s up?” said Luke.
“Peter Parker.” She pointed across the road, where Parker was using a long lens to take pictures of the broken window. “He’s a freelance photographer, does a lot of work for the Bugle.”
“Seen him around,” said Luke, “I’ll talk to him.” He got out of the car, crossed the road and started talking to Parker, and Jessica hustled Nina into the building while he was distracted, taking care to stay between Nina and the camera.
“Hey,” said Luke, “Peter Parker, right? You the one stalking my client?” He made a fist.
“Mister Cage?” Parker said nervously.
“You stalking my client?” Luke repeated.
“No – Jameson said there was some sort of fight here, the FBI were involved, he wanted pictures.”
“Not a fight, just a little misunderstanding involving my client. There’s really nothing to see here, why don’t you move along?”
“Nothing to see? With you here?”
“Did Jameson tell you what this is about?”
“The client is a pregnant woman. Someone tried to kidnap her; she was only rescued because Jessica happened to notice that something was going down. At this stage I can’t see any good reason for her picture to be in the Bugle, or any details that might make it easier for a kidnapper to get close again. Am I making myself clear?”
“Jessica Drew was involved?”
“I can neither confirm nor deny.” It wouldn’t worry him if Parker went off on a wild goose chase.
“Okay… I wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt. I’ll leave it for now.”
“Good. Want to erase the pictures you’ve taken?”
“All that they show is a broken window. I need to have something to show to Jameson.”
“Okay, but make sure that there’s nothing else. No faces.”
Luke clapped a hand onto Parker’s shoulder and squeezed until Parker winced, and said “Thanks, glad we could have this talk.” He waited while Parker put his camera back into its case, then went into the warehouse and took the lift up to Nina’s studio.
Outside Parker flexed his arm, and muttered; “Okay, no more pictures… but now I’m really curious. My spider-senses are tingling, sounds like a job for the amazing–”
“Are you all right, sonny?” A bag lady interrupted him, “you were monologueing a little loudly there.”
“Sorry, just rehearsing,” said Parker, hurrying off.
Behind him the bag lady started to rummage through a trash can, sifting through the garbage and discarding it again, most of her attention focused on the warehouse.
“Sure, I use it for paintings.” Nina rummaged through a stack of sheets and found one the right size, and Luke put it in place and pushed through some nails with an iron-hard finger.
“My Damage Control policy should cover proper repairs,” said Jessica, “but we’ll have to pay the first two hundred dollars.”
“Two hundred?” said Luke, “I have to cover the first thousand if I make a claim.”
“Maybe you make more claims? Break more expensive stuff?”
“I should be paying,” said Nina.
“Don’t tell Damage Control that,” said Jessica. She got a piece of paper on which she’d scribbled “Camera and mike in the store room, mike in here, phone is tapped, go along with what I say,” and showed it to them. Out loud she added “Don’t worry; it’ll be listed with our other expenses when I send you the bill. I’ll get them to check the place for bugs too, I don’t think that’s very expensive.”
“Do you think there are any?” Luke asked before Nina could react.
“It won’t hurt to check. And if they can find anything we might be able to trace it back to whoever planted it.”
“I guess,” said Nina, looking puzzled.
“We’ll go, I’ll fly back and watch the place,” wrote Jessica, “See if anyone comes to remove the bugs.”
They discussed the repairs for a few minutes then pretended to decide to go to Nina’s apartment and get food delivered there, rather than eating in.
“Won’t they have bugged my apartment too?” Nina asked when they were in the car and Jessica had quickly scanned it and found no bugs.
“Maybe,” said Jessica. “I was thinking it might be a good idea to hide Nina somewhere for a day or two while we sort this out.”
“Avengers Manor, maybe?”
“Not a good idea,” said Luke. “Sorry, Nina, I’m pretty sure they won’t want me bringing a werewolf through the defences. Maybe Sue Storm? They have plenty of spare rooms.”
“They own a big chunk of the clinic, it would be a conflict of interest. And Reed wouldn’t give Nina any peace, he’d be trying to figure out how werewolves work.”
“No,” said Nina. “I’m not going to do that. You’re forgetting, it’s nearly the full moon, I can’t stay with anyone who might get hurt. I don’t want to hide anyway, I want my life back.”
“Fuck, I was forgetting the moon,” said Jessica. “All right, let’s try to come up with another plan.”
Jessica’s phone rang, and she took the call. “Yeah?”
“Riley Finn here. Are you with Miss Ash?”
“Has she been anywhere near her studio?”
“We were just there twenty minutes ago. What’s this about?”
“Was Miss Ash on her own for any extended period while you were there?”
“No, she was with us the whole time. What the fuck’s going on?”
“You’d better come back,” said Finn, “The superintendent just found a body there. His throat’s been torn out.”