Chronicles of a Caped Crusader: Of Beauty and Brawn - Part Five
Veronica kept the blaster trained on Chloe. Chloe growled, knowing she couldn't risk attacking her. If she were suited up as Morphica, she could probably take a hit from a blaster at maximum, but as just Chloe, there was no way.
"No volunteers? That's too bad. I'll have to pick then. Okay, you're gonna come with me," Veronica said to Chloe. "And, if no one makes any sudden moves, everyone will be fine."
Chloe gritted her teeth and took a step forward.
"I'll go," Kristy called.
"Ooh, what a good Mummy. Come along, then," Veronica said mockingly.
Chloe looked over her shoulder at Kristy. Kristy looked surprised, but more calm than Chloe would have expected.
"No, don't! Let her take me," Chloe insisted.
"Shut up. Mummy is coming with me, and that's final," Veronica snapped.
She started walking towards Veronica, giving Chloe's shoulder a comforting squeeze as she passed her. When she reached her, Veronica grabbed her arm roughly and trained the blaster on her.
"You're making a huge mistake," Kristy said, actually smirking.
"Oh, yeah?" Veronica challenged, squeezing her arm so hard her claws dug into the flesh.
"Yeah, and you're going to see that in about ten seconds," Kristy said, nodding confidently.
"Shut up or you'll regret it," she said, pointing the blaster at Chloe again and starting to back up.
Chloe looked at Blackwing, but he stood stock-still, not daring to risk that Veronica would hurt either of them. Chloe clenched her fists so tight it hurt. She hated being helpless, but she especially hated that it was Veronica that she was helpless against.
As Veronica took another step towards the doors, blaster fire rang out. Chloe screamed, sure that since she hadn't been hit, Veronica must have shot Kristy. However, it was nothing of the sort. Veronica's blaster was gone; the Mutant Acara was staring dumbfounded at her own empty hand. They all turned to look at where the disarming shot had come from.
A Grey Lupe in a crisp business suit stood there, holding the blaster. "I don't think you thought this through very thoroughly, did you?"
"I can still hurt her if you try--"
Veronica's words were cut off by Kristy jamming her elbow into her ribs. Veronica let go as she started to double over. Kristy spun a roundhouse kick to her head and Veronica went down. She followed it with a downward punch. Veronica had recovered from her surprise enough by that point to roll out of the way and kick Kristy's arm, throwing her off balance. She somersaulted into the crowd, grabbing another bystander and tossing him into Blackwing.
She took off running, the crowd diving out of her path, Kristy on her heels and Chloe not far behind. Veronica reached the wall and jumped, crashing through a window a few feet off the ground.
Buzz tossed the blaster, and Kristy spun around, leaping into the air and caught it, and landed facing the broken window. She hauled herself up into the broken window and leaned out. She fired off a few shots and then growled.
"It's too dark, I missed her! She's gone," she shouted in frustration. "That close, we were that close! Borovan!"
Kristy lowered herself down and gave a rueful grin, as if suddenly aware of something embarrassing.
"Well, it's not quite the sensational news story it could have been, but my article will certainly be more interesting for all this. Not too often you get held hostage at the Beauty Contest. Much better than originally planned, right?" Kristy shrugged as she said it.
"Ever the optimist," Buzz replied catching up with them by the window and taking his blaster back.
Kristy hugged Chloe tight. "Wow, honey, what a night, huh? You were amazing the way you took down that guy in two seconds."
Chloe chuckled breathlessly, "I'm not the amazing one. Where did you learn to do all that?"
Kristy pointed at Buzz with her thumb. Chloe looked quizzically at Buzz, who shook his head.
"He made me take self defense classes," Kristy explained. "You know how I always manage to wind up in 'unusual' situations? Well, after the thing with Vira and Balthazar..." Kristy broke off with an awkward laugh. "Honestly, I was horribly bad at them, I think I spent half the classes on the floor because I tripped over my own feet. I didn't think I'd learned anything. I'm as surprised as you are."
"To quote an old cliché, grace under pressure," Buzz said, lifting Kristy's arm.
There was a bruise developing, as well as bloody cuts from Veronica's claws and a gash from the broken glass in the window. He pulled off his tie.
"Buzz, they're not that bad, don't ruin your--" Kristy hissed in pain as he finished wrapping the tie around the worst of the cuts and pulled it tight. "Shouldn't have wasted my breath."
"That'll do for now, but as soon as they clear up this craziness and let us out, we're going to the hospital to get that fixed up," Buzz said.
"Yes, sir," Kristy said with a mock salute.
"Don't be flippant with me, Kimmy," Buzz said as he took Kristy by the other arm. He turned to Chloe, saying, "Go hang out with your friends, Chloe. I need to talk with your mom."
"Wait, wait! I didn't tell her there was a sting going down here tonight. She didn't know. I should have said something. That was dangerous in retrospect, and I'm sorry. Don't be mad at her," Chloe said.
Buzz shook his head and smiled slightly as he patted her on the shoulder. "It's okay, kid. I'm not about to yell at your mom this time. But, you need to move along, because I need to tell her something slightly confidential. You'd tattle to your bosses if you overheard, and we don't out our sources. Now, go."
Kristy snickered. "Turnabout is fair play, Miss I don't talk about work with my journalist mom."
Chloe went over to stand by Blackwing as Buzz and Kristy turned their backs to them and started talking, heads close together. Blackwing had a perplexed frown on his lips as he watched them. Chloe looked at him inquiringly.
"Are you sure your mother is a journalist?" Blackwing asked.
"Oh, yeah, positive. I see her write the articles that are published. Why would you even ask that?" she asked.
"Because, those two are good. The kind of good you see from partners who've seen action in the field. She knew he was here and trusted him explicitly to handle the blaster, and then she took it from there perfectly. I know they are working on the story about Iniquitous, so her boss showing up here tonight isn't at all odd. That level of coordination is, though," Blackwing pointed out. "Maybe you should wonder what your mother does on the side."
"That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. The woman can't walk down stairs without tripping. I know, I live with her! Every now and then, I have seen her manage some impressive feats of coordination, but usually under intense stress. No one would be foolish enough to put her in dangerous situation and hope she'd hold it together!" Chloe cried, incredulous at the suggestion.
Blackwing just shrugged. "Well, some people perform well under pressure. Maybe she did just get caught up in the moment and her self-defense training came out."
Chloe frowned, still unable to believe what Blackwing had suggested. Try as she might, she still couldn't imagine that Kristy could be up to anything besides her journalist job and the occasional information ferrying job for the Meepits.
"Come on, let's wake up Lightning," Blackwing said.
"So, you got a tip off, or something?" Kristy asked as soon as Chloe was out of earshot.
"I got a tip the DoN had something going down there tonight. I also had a previous tip Iniquitous might be working some deal for stolen shipment of faerie weapons. I decided that it would be better safe than sorry. I only got the tip half an hour ago, or I would have warned you. I booked it down here the moment I realized you might be in trouble. Degrass and Veronica would naturally be upset once they realized that they had been seen together by a journalist, especially one who has a child working at Defenders HQ," Buzz told.
"A little warning would have been nice. I wouldn't have actually approached Degrass if I had known. Still, at least I've actually met Veronica now. That might come in handy. I can see by the lack of agents that this wasn't at all what the DoN were expecting. Chloe would never have agreed to a set up that allowed me to be here," Kristy said. Then she smirked at him. "Of course, she doesn't know that we're every bit as good as they are at uncovering dealings."
"We are much better," Buzz replied, shaking his head. "They really bungled things here tonight. I can't believe they came here in their normal species. There is a reason I never have you go into the field as a human, and it's not just so you have a quick fall back disguise. It was so close tonight. If they got Veronica, then they'd have Iniquitous. So close."
"Hey, they can't run forever, not with all organizations that want them taken down. If it isn't the DoN, it'll be Sloth or some other organization who felt they were getting to be too much trouble. Who knows, maybe our bosses will decide they are getting a little too close to achieving their ends, and we'll take them down? Just a matter of time, right?"
Buzz nodded. "Good job handling Chloe. You might want to be extra clumsy over the next day or two."
"Oh, I don't need to. I don't know what it is, but out of these situations, I'm every bit as dippy and klutzy as I ever was before them. It's like this switch I can only flick at the right time. Any other time I want it, it doesn't happen. Oh, well, at least I know I'm not completely incapable of taking care of my tough little girl."
"You're a handful and a pain in the neck, but no one can fault on your devotion to your children," Buzz said.
"Aw, Buzz, you going soft?"
"Not a chance, Kimmy. Lower your hopes a little," Buzz said with a laugh.
Kristy laughed too and they turned around, joining Chloe, Blackwing, and a dazed Lightning Lenny. Buzz shook Blackwing's hand and made small talk about the situation, sounding much more pleasant than Chloe was used to hearing. He was suddenly almost like a different person. He managed to talk Blackwing into releasing him and Kristy right then and coming to talk to them later at the hospital if they needed a statement.
Chloe could only watch as her mother walked away to get her arm treated, Buzz's arm protectively around her shoulders as he guided her through the crowd. Kristy's words from a the day before flashed through her mind, "He's a good guy."
She smiled reluctantly, maybe all her doubts and worries had been for nothing. He couldn't be the Buzz she had suspected him of being. That Buzz would never have tolerated her mother, let alone shown as much real concern for her as this Buzz had. Buzz Johnson, whatever else he was, was at least a good guy when it counted.
She turned back to Blackwing. "So, what do we do?"
"I'll tie up Degrass and the henchmen. You just sit with Lightning until Dr. Flexo gets here," Blackwing instructed.
He walked off and Chloe smiled at Lightning. "Get why I hate Beauty Contests now?"
"Let's never do this again," he agreed.
Chloe sat alone at the computer, as it was her turn to man it. It was quiet in the HQ; most of the Defenders were out on missions. Loraine walked into the control room and smiled at Chloe, handing her a cup of coffee. Chloe thanked her and took a sip.
"Are you okay?" Loraine asked.
"Huh, why?" Chloe asked.
"Well, the situation you were in last night isn't the usual fare," Loraine pointed out.
"Yeah, I'm okay. Actually I'm better than okay. It's kinda nice to know that my mom can actually take care of herself, and that her boss really looks out for his employees. I didn't really have a high opinion of him, but that seems to have been ignorance on my part. Also, she bluffs tough. You should have heard her threatening to take Degrass down through her contacts at the paper," Chloe laughed.
"She probably wasn't bluffing, Chloe. You'd be amazed what at a smear campaign can do to someone. A decent paper will have as good a network of informants as we do," Loraine said as she took a sip of her coffee.
"Want to talk about you?" Chloe asked.
"What is there to say, Chloe? Even if he is alive and living a perfectly morally upright life, I couldn't have him back. What would I do, show up on his doorstep and tell him I faked my death and caused him nearly twenty years of pain? He'd hate me and I would lose him again, only this time with twice the pain. I can't let him go, but to some extent, I do have to step back. If and when he surfaces again, I will know, but obsessing the way I did earlier in the week wasn't healthy. I'll be fine; I always am," Loraine said with a shrug.
Chloe nodded, looking down at the coffee. "But, still, if you knew he was out there somewhere, would you really never go see him and tell him the truth. Risk it just to see if he could forgive you?
"No, he wouldn't. Not the Buzz I knew. I did what I had to. I knew it was forever," Loraine replied.
Chloe looked up at the monitors, feeling sad and yet grateful that she had been able to put away the suspicions about Buzz Johnson. The Lupe she had seen treat her mother with so much concern could never be the Lupe Loraine had described.
Or so she thought.