If you looked at Brockton Bay as a patchwork of stellar and squalor, upper class and lower class with no middle ground, then downtown was one of the nice areas. The streets and sidewalks were wide, and that meant that even with skyscrapers in every other lot, there was a great deal of blue overhead.
Following my retreat from school grounds, I hadn’t been sure what to do. My dad worked an unreliable schedule, so I couldn’t spend the rest of the afternoon at home unless I wanted to risk having to explain what I was doing home on a school day. I didn’t want to hang around the general area of my school, so that had left me the options of the half-hour walk to downtown or a trip to the Boardwalk. Between my morning runs and the previous night’s escapades, I had seen enough of the Boardwalk, so I’d decided to head downtown.
I didn’t want to dwell on the subject of school or Emma, so I turned my focus to the recent message from Tattletale. She wanted to meet, presumably to repay the favor she felt she owed me. I considered the possibility that it was a trap, but I couldn’t imagine any angle where it would be. She just didn’t have any reason to go after me. The worst case scenario was that it wasn’t Tattletale, but that wasn’t the impression I’d had. What she said in the message seemed to flow with what I had seen of her last night. I would be careful, nonetheless.
It was perplexing. These guys were, in large part, virtual unknowns. From what I knew of Grue and Hellhound, they were both marginally successful B-list villains who had been barely scraping by. Now both were on a team that was pulling high profile heists and confounding even the likes of Armsmaster. The two of them seemed totally different in methodology and style, and if I was remembering right, both Grue and Hellhound had lived in different cities prior to teaming up and setting roots in Brockton Bay. That raised the question: who or what had drawn these four very different individuals together?
It was possible that Tattletale or Regent were the uniting factors, but I couldn’t really imagine it, having seen what I did of their group dynamic. Grue had poked fun at Regent rather than treat him like a leader, and while I couldn’t put my finger on it, the more I imagined Tattletale uniting that group of unconnected people with powers, the harder I found it to picture. In fact, when I thought about it, hadn’t Grue said they had fought for a considerable amount of time over how to deal with Lung? It didn’t really sound like they had any leadership worth speaking about.
It wasn’t hard to sympathize with Armsmaster. The whole scenario there was just bizarre, and it was made worse by the fact that there were practically no details as far as Tattletale or Regent went. Information, it seemed, was a major factor when dealing with capes.
The streets were busy with people on their lunch break. Businessmen and businesswomen were heading to restaurants and fast food places. My stomach growled as I passed a line of people waiting their turn at a street vendor. I checked my pockets and winced at the realization that I didn’t have enough for even a hot dog. My lunch had been in my backpack.
I stopped myself before I could finish that train of thought and put myself into a worse mood by dwelling on what had happened at school. Still, as I thought back to the circle of villains and Tattletale’s message, the amusing thought crossed my mind that I could ask them to repay the favor by buying me lunch. It wasn’t a serious thought, but the ridiculousness of the mental image – me eating a burger with a group of supervillains – put a dumb smirk on my face. I was pretty sure I looked like a moron to anyone on the street who happened to glance at me.
As I thought on it, though, the notion that I might actually consider taking Tattletale up on her offer of a meeting nagged at me. The more I thought on it, the scarier the idea got, and the more it seemed to make sense.
What if I did take them up on the offer? I could meet them, talk with them, see what they had to offer, and all the while, fish for information. If I got anything worth sharing, I could turn around and give it to Armsmaster so he could use it against them. Just going by what Armsmaster had said about these guys and the scarcity of information on them, it would be a pretty major coup for the good guys.
Okay, so they would likely see my ploy as a monumental betrayal if and when I pulled it off. I would be making enemies. That said, I suspected that when it came out that I was a hero and not a villain, they would count it as such regardless. Didn’t it make sense to leverage as much information as I could from them before they caught on, as far as their misconception went?
I turned around and headed in the direction of the public library. It was only a few blocks away.
The library was busy, which made sense, given the number of offices and businesses around, the number of people wanting some quiet during their lunch hour, and people doing research or casual browsing they couldn’t do at their workplaces. I would have included Brockton Bay’s biggest and fanciest high school, the nearby Arcadia High, in that generalization, but I doubted many students were spending their lunch breaks at the library.
The Central Library looked almost more like a museum or art gallery than anything else, with tall ceilings, pillars and massive pieces of artwork hung to frame the hallways between the major sections of the building. I headed up to the second floor, where there were about twenty computers and a line of people waiting their turn to use them. I anticipated a fifteen or twenty minute wait, but as the clock approached one o’clock, people headed back to work and the line rapidly thinned out. A free computer came up within a few minutes of my joining the line. I let the person behind me go on ahead, waiting a bit longer so I could get a station with a little more privacy.
By the time I sat down, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to write. I found the message with the search function and clicked on the username ‘Tt’. A drop down menu appeared, and I chose ‘send private message’. It gave me the option of making an account, signing in with an already existing account, or sending the message as an anonymous guest. I chose the last option, then typed:
Bug here. Would like to meet, but want proof you are Tt. I’ll reciprocate if needed.
I didn’t send it right away, taking a moment to consider. Getting decent proof would prevent any potential problems like the message turning out to be a trap laid by, say, Bakuda. Leaving the burden of proof on Tattletale and leaving it up to her to decide if she wanted verification I was indeed ‘Bug’ meant I didn’t have to worry about coming up with exactly how one might prove their identity. I reread it twice over, then sent the message.
The reply came only two or three minutes later. It was fast enough that I couldn’t imagine Tattletale taking the time to check and double check every aspect of her message the way I had mine. Was that recklessness on her part, or just the benefit of experience?
I closed the tabs I had opened in the meantime and checked to see what she had written. It was a private message, from her to me, and it set my fight or flight instincts in high gear:
Proof? Last night you didn’t say anything until I asked your name. Big guy had a mess of nasty bites and you pepper sprayed him and I told my pal G that when he asked. Good enough?
G R and me will meet you at the same spot we crossed paths last night, k? Don’t have to get gussied up if you catch my drift. Rest of us will be in casual wear.
If we meet at 3 will that give you enough time to get there from library with everything you need? let me know
My heart pounded. She knew where I was, and she was letting me know. Why? More to the point, how? Had I unwittingly entered an online exchange with a savvy hacker? I knew my way around computers, my mom had made sure I had one since before I could read and write, but I would be lying if I said I could tell if I was being hacked or do anything about it.
I would have interpreted the casual mention of my location as a veiled threat if it didn’t run contrary to everything else in her messages to me. Besides – Tattletale was talking about meeting me in casual clothes. I took that to mean they wouldn’t be in costume. I couldn’t understand why, but at the same time, it was hard to imagine her threatening me with one breath just a sentence after she’d offered to meet me in a way that made her totally vulnerable.
Tattletale had unwittingly raised the stakes for my scheme. My primary goal was to gather information on them, and here I was getting a chance to see them with their masks off. It was too good to be true, which made me wonder what kind of safeguards they had in place to protect themselves.
I just had no idea what I would be getting into.
The screensaver came up while I stared at the monitor with thoughts racing through my head. The words ‘BROCKTON BAY CENTRAL LIBRARY’ scrolled across the screen in varying colors.
If I went, best case scenario, I could get enough information to turn them in. I’d get mucho cred from the good guys and respect from an international celebrity. If I’d judged Armsmaster right, I’d get even more brownie points if I gave him the info and let him – or helped him – make the bust. On the flip side of the coin, the worst case scenario was that it was a trap, or they’d figure out what I was doing. It would mean a fight, maybe a beating. There was an outside possibility I could get killed, but somehow that didn’t concern me as much as it maybe should have. Part of the reason for my lack of concern, I think, was that the possibility existed any time I went out in costume. That, and from my interactions with them last night, I didn’t get a ‘killer’ vibe from them.
On the topic of the status quo… if I didn’t go, what would happen? This particular window of opportunity would likely pass, as far as being able to get the dirt on Tattletale and her gang. That was okay, as I thought on it. It was a high risk, high reward venture anyways. Taking that path would mean turning down the meet, then killing time for the rest of the afternoon, trying to avoid dwelling on the fact that I had missed two straight afternoons of classes and might, maybe, miss more. It was depressing to think about.
Startled, I looked up. A middle aged woman in a red jacket stood just behind me. As I met her eyes she asked, “Are you done?” She gestured at the computer, where the screensaver was still scrolling.
Heady with the relief that she hadn’t been, irrationally enough, Tattletale, I smiled and told her, “Give me thirty seconds.”
See you at three.