The thing you gotta realize about the Dame is that her neck wasn’t just for show. I don’t know how she did it, but she was actually pushing my fingers apart with it. Made it hard to strangle her.
“I see that you’re an extraordinarily hard man to kill, Mr. Argent.” Argent. Sure. Let her think that. “I thought as much, actually. It’s why I hired that detective to track you down. Have you had the pleasure of his acquaintance, by the way?” She was grinning. Maybe I don’t much say in what she thinks, after all.
She flexed her neck, and she was free. Took me a second to put my fingers back together, and that gave her just long enough to punch me in the face. I even felt it.
She bent down to pick up a tommy gun from one of her mooks.
Modesty Woman, hell of a gal that she is, interrupted with a flying kick to the Dame’s face. Bounced right off. Pushed the gun away in the process, though.
“You may have noticed that I’m not actually southern gentry," the Dame said.
She swung at me again, but I helped her out and made a hole ahead of time. Her fist went right in, and I trapped it somewhere near my spleen.
“The thought had crossed my mind. What’d you say your name was, again?”
“Lordy, where are my manners,” she said as she braced one foot against my chest. “Allow me to h’introduce myself. Stelya Rubles, at your service.” She broke free.
“And what exactly made you think Project Pluto was a good idea?”
“The Germans are understandably annoyed with how the last war ended. They hired me to make sure America was too weak to be in any way involved with the next one.”
“Next one?” I dodged a punch.
“You’ll see,” she said. “Project Pluto is designed to devalue gold and collapse the economy of any country still on the gold standard.”
I caught her fist again. This time, I wrapped myself around her whole arm and started coating her with myself. “One problem. How do you get paid? Sounds to me like you’re doing this for free and still haven’t figured it out.”
“You’ll have to do better than that, Argent,” she said. “I’ll profit from the deal, or I wouldn’t have taken it.”
Around that time, I started hearing some swearing from the doorway. Some kid in a business suit was walking toward me. Seemed like the room was getting a little warmer. The Dame slipped out of my hold while I was distracted.
“Argent? You’re alive? You faked your own death and didn’t even tell me?”
The Dame gave me a big smile. “Oh dear, how could you mistreat your sidekick like that? You heartless fiend.” She sat down on a desk and let one of her shoes dangle off her toe, grinning like a kid at a baseball game.
“How could you do that? Do you have any idea what I’ve been going through?”
I stopped paying attention. It went on like that for a while.
I don’t think that was the right decision, because the lights started to flicker.
“Teddy, you don’t understand,” Modest Woman said. She put a hand on his shoulder. I heard a crack, and she pulled away. This guy seems like the sort of detail she should have told me about.
“And YOU!” he said to the Dame. “You told me you were FBI. You told me you were STOPPING a crazy plan to make gold useless.”
She wasn’t phased. “I may misspoke on a detail or two.”
Sparks started bouncing off my skin. Like a fork in a….
Microwave. This kid was Argent’s side-kick. The same kid who shorted out a whole town before Argent took him in and tutored him on how to control his powers. Which, I might add, he wasn’t doing now.
The sparks got worse.
“You were lying to me to keep me out of the way. Keeping me from avenging my best friend WHO WASN’T EVEN DEAD AND DIDN’T TELL ME!”
“Teddy!” Modest Woman shouted. She could see it to, and she was getting desparate.
“Shut up! You’re as bad as them! You were always jealous of me, because I had the power to be a real hero, not some second-stringer who wasn’t ever really part of the team.”
A light bulb shattered over my head. Even the Dame was getting worried. She got up and made a run for it, but Microwave let loose a blast that took her to the ground. He started charging up for another, and the Dame wasn’t moving.
The clock on the wall had stopped.
Microwave put both arms in the air and screamed, and I was lighting up like a stick of magnesium. But on the inside I was fine. Faraday cage. The Dame and Modest Woman wouldn’t be so lucky. Couldn’t save ‘em both. Not that I wanted to.
I dove for Modest Woman, and turn myself into a bubble around her. Just like a godam superhero. Lost track of what happened after that, but by the time I caught up with things, the whole room was on fire, Microwave was unconscious, and the Dame….well, the Dame was still wearing her red dress. Her bones were, at least.
* * *
After things calmed down, it only took me half an hour with a soldering iron to fix the suit and get my skin back. About time. Of course, I had to do it in Argent’s cave because I don’t make enough cash for that sort of equipment. Shame the cave will go to rot. Argent had a lot of good stuff down here.
I left the suit in its display case where I found it. I’m done with this crap. Time to get back to my “coffee” shop.
“I’m sorry I threatened to kill you.”
I turned around and found Modest Woman watching me. “Hell,” I said, “I would have done the same. How’s the kid doing?”
“He’ll recover, but I think he may have burnt out in more ways than one.”
“Good. Sounds like he couldn’t handle those powers to begin with.”
She put her hand on the case. “Argent was a good mentor, and helped a lot of us deal with out powers. I guess I was just shocked to found out that his were artificial. It didn’t’ seem right that someone else could just take what I thought was unique to him.”
“Yeah, well, tell the news that you did all the work with that Pluto job. Unless there’s a reward, in which case I’ll personally tell them that you weren’t even there.”
She didn’t say anything for a minute, and I made my way to the exit. Then I heard her say, “You know, it’s funny.”
“I thought that when I saw you take the suit off, got a good look at your face, that I’d know who you were. But you didn’t even need the mask. You’re just some regular mack. What’s your name, anyway?”
I doffed my hat at her, buttoned my coat, and pulled a flask from my pocket. “Mack’ll do just fine.”