[[This is the beginning of Part 2 -- it has no delicious creaminess]]

     One thing I've learned in my time in the Godless wastes of the
Northeast. No matter what had happened to Boston, there were certain
constants. In the Fall, for example, the students returned to the plethora
of colleges, no matter how dangerous the Exclusionary Zone or unfortunate
the walled in neighborhoods. Students walked along the Charles River, and
one or two were foolish enough to touch it, triggering a series of horrible
chemical reactions that consumed them utterly. Harvard Yard in nearby
Cambridge echoed with new laughter and jaded commentary. And the Boston
natives had no craps to give about any of it.
     The Boston native is a jaded sort, with a crusty exterior formed of
equal parts Narragansett beer and thick accent, capped off with a Red Sox
cap and contained in a stained Pats jersey of some sort. They coped with
the street gangs and potential alien invasions with the same casual
disregard New Yorkers dealt with urine smell or Maine natives dealt with
moose. It was just there, and Jesus -- don't make a thing out of it,
     And, of course, you dealt with *all* of life's little troubles simply
and easily, in the depths of a dive bar.
     This particular dive bar was a perfect representative of the type. The
sign said "Old Sully's Irish Depths of Bukowski's Tavern Lounge and Tap on
the Tam." Some said it was what happened when dive bars collapsed into a
kind of dive singularity. Me? I figured it was defensive. Most tourists
couldn't make their way through the name to figure out how to ask
directions, tell a cabbie where to go, or plug it into their GPS. Locals
didn't have to ask for directions -- they knew where it was, and they just
called it the Taptam, all rapid-fire, bending the vowels into arrangements
no linguist could work out. To hear it, you'd swear they said 'Tuppum' --
as in "hey, I'm goin' down Tuppum to have six beers and take a Wicked leak
before the Sox beat the God Damn Yankees!" The average college kid might
think he knew what you were talkin' about, but trust me, he didn't.
     The girl walkin' into the Taptam on this fine night in question didn't
fit the mold. She wore mostly light blues, with a cute short dark pixie cut
and slightly brown skin -- there was Asian and Abanaki in her background,
but it went by way'a Norway and took a slide through the Mediterranean on a
genetic bender before waking up in Mumbai next to a Californian mate. She
wore a black dress with a white sweater over it, tight enough to show she
was slender, not tight enough to advertise. Not that the average Taptam
patron would need the extra advertisement. If she wasn't who she was I'd
step in -- shoo 'em off. I'm not a native but they've come to accept me,
and by accept me I mean I buy a few rounds for the room a month -- freak
stops bein' freaky when you get people enough cheap beer, and all told it
costs less than rent on an office. Plus they like my secretary.
     I'd worry about my secretary, but I've known her a while. Some people
don't need protecting from human sharks in sports caps -- nature has them
covered. But I'm bein' rude. You don't care about these things. You wanna
know about the dame. The skirt. The walkin' cash register who was gonna see
I got the cash to buy next month's rounds.
     She knew where I was, a'course. She knew where everyone in the room
was -- that's one of her little quirks. If it exists in space, she can feel
it if it's near her. But she knew there was a polite way to look for me,
and onna her nicer qualities is her grasp of ettiquette.
     The bartender glanced up and down, contempt in his bearing. "Yeah?"
     "Double scotch, neat," she said. "Leave the bottle and don't worry
about brand names." She dropped three twenties on the table.
     "We don't have sixty dollar scotch here, lady," the barkeep said.
     "Then I guess I tip well."
     "No one tips that well without wanting something."
     "You know what I want. I wouldn't be knocking on his office door if I
didn't." The 'he' the skirt was referring to? Was me. But you knew that.
     "Maybe he's busy."
     "Maybe you can get me my liquor and we'll find out together."
     "Hey Bill!" one of the natives said, walking up too close to the girl
on the left. "Get me a beer wouldja? Hey girl -- I think you got the wrong
dress code for the room."
     "Did I?" she asked. "I hate to be out of style." She smiled, very
     "Well, we can probably help you there -- better just getcha outta
these yuppie clothes--" his hand slid to her posterior, which admittedly
was pretty cute, if you're into endoskeletoned mammals, anyhow.
     The dame's expression never changed. The creep's hand closed in on
target. You had to be paying attention to notice the little bitty flares'a
purple that it hit, and the same ones on his own butt--
     The creep shouted, stumbling off to the side. "Hey -- what's the
fuckin' idea?" he shouted, which got a chorus of laughs from the rest of
the room. "I'm serious -- which a'you fine gentlemen grabbed my butt." He
didn't call them 'fine gentlemen,' of course -- but if I'm tellin' this
story I choose to not use homophobic insults. Call it a personal quirk'a
     The bartender half-smiled, setting down a bottle of Johnny Red. Better
than he'd normally put down. Cutty Sark was more his speed. But everyone
liked a good creep thrashing.
     The lady ignored the argument between the creep and his peer review
community, picking up the bottle and saluting the bartender, taking a sip
from the glass. From experience I knew that the liquid never even touched
her tongue, but instead fell right back into the bottle. That's why she
wanted it neat. The bartender grinned, nodding towards my table in the
corner. One obstacle down -- one to go.
     The girl walked over. I hadn't seen her since Clinton's reelect, when
she'd been a cute girl who was easily shaken. She'd grown into a dish among
dishes -- her smile would break your heart and her blue eyes would soothe
the pain. She'd learned how to work a dress and stockings since last we
met, too. I found myself hoping she hadn't grown up too much, but then
'disappointed' was my middle name, right after 'The.'
     My secretary bristled. She was a knockout -- platinum blond, in a red
dress out of style for decades but never unwelcome by the male of the
species. Her fishnets covered the legs that were artfully crossed. Her bust
stayed inside the dress as a favor to the bustline, 'cause there was no
chance the fabric would hold her in place otherwise. "Somethin' I can do
for you?" she asked, in a voice that sounded like it should be snapping gum
if someone were dumb enough to give her gum, which I was not.
     "I'm here to see your boss," she said, smiling slightly.
     "He ain't seein' anyone. He's in meetings all day." Which was exactly
what I taught her to say years back -- of course, that was when I had an
office with a door that closed, as opposed to literally sitting in the
corner of the room at the same table. But honestly, I was so glad she'd
remembered the script I wasn't about to correct her.
     "I brought him a drink, and I have a job for him." She smiled more,
politely not noticing the nine feet of orange armored, trenchcoat swathed
Dasypus Sapiens at the table.
     "And why does that matter to me?" My secretary looked dubious. It's
either a credit to her acting or an indictment of her sapience that I
wasn't sure it was an act at this point.
     "Because your drink is empty and you need a refill."
     "My drink ain't empty?"
     My secretary turned to look, just in time for all the liquid to vanish
in purple light. She didn't really pay the light show any mind. "Oh *poo,*"
she said.
     A twenty flickered into existence in another purple glimmer next to
the glass. "It's okay," the dame said. "You've got enough for another."
     "Aw -- but I'm s'posed to sit here and screen the boss's calls!"
     "I could do that for you."
     "Could you? *Gee!* Thanks, miss! You're a straight shooter!" She
scooped up the Hamilton and got up, walking to the bar with a sway that
would make a man faint if he didn't know her history -- and maybe even if
he did.
     The dame slid into the chair my secretary had left. "Hello,
Dillo-Man," she said, setting the glass and bottle down where I could reach
them. "It's been a long time."
     "A real long time, Transit," I said. Dillo-Man was what my friends
called me. The brunette was one of those friends. She was also a hero. A
long time before, I'd helped her learn a few things about her own past. I
got paid well for that -- but times were tough these days.
     Not as tough as me, though. I'm the God Damned Armadillo.

                                * * * * * *

     "And I'm on ten minutes," Cairi said, walking over to where Scholarman
was scrutinizing the energy drinks. "We could do this after work, too," she
said. She was smiling, but a bit nervous. She'd had the nerve to take the
Store24 job in the base of the Rogers Institute precisely because even
people who knew the circumstances of her descent from Heaven wouldn't
easily recognize her.
     "My dear, if there's one thing a middle aged high school lit teacher
knows? It's that asking a twenty-something girl what time she gets off work
is creepy. I choose not to be creepy."
     "That's fair."
     "Besides, I rather assumed you had... other business after your shift.
Your social calendar is rather full, I assume."
     "I... don't know what you're talking about," Cairi said, her voice
making it clear she wasn't really trying to hide anything.
     "Of course not. Perish the thought. Did you know these 'Rockstar'
pomegranate energy drinks are made with vodka in Canada?"
     "That sounds... weirdly awesome and psychotically dangerous, all at
     "You know, that's true."
     "So... you know me. By name. And know I was...."
     "My student? Yes."
     "More and more people seem to know things I was told no one knows."
     "Yes, well -- I know everything." He tapped his forehead. "It's all in
my brain somewhere. Sometimes, a fact bubbles up, since I can't recall them
on command."
     Cairi cocked her head. "Do you... talk differently, now?"
     "It seems likely." He half-smiled.
     Cairi nodded. "So... you... look like Hell<tm>. Is that rude?"
     "Mm -- no. Rude is claiming I don't." He half-smiled. "I think I look
pretty good after a hundred and four stomach wounds, eighteen near death
experiences, the near obliteration of my psyche, my drugged captivity and
forced acceptance of the hospitality of American Authority during the War,
that time Bulletproof shot me through my... everything during the
Industrial Revolution, and a nearly 97% destruction of my body's precious
organs and bodily fluids during the conception of my eldest child. Oh, and
I'm raising three children on my own for four month stretches. I have three
immortal cats, a car with opinions, and I live in a city under perpetual
martial law. And on top of it all I teach Paranormals English and
Literature ranging from the Middle School to Post-Doctoral level depending
on the day and the student. Honestly, if I'm neither dead nor ectoplasmic
goo I figure I'm ahead of the game. Consistent personalities are for
amateurs." He looked around. "You know something? I worked in this
convenience store when I was in college."
     Cairi blinked. "You did?"
     "I did. This was before the mage-thing, understand. It had been taken
over by a shell corporation that Boston University owned -- they called it
'Campus Convenience.' I drove everyone I worked with nuts because I was
so... cheerful. Then I went to work for the Boston University Bookstore and
Mall." He cocked his head, looking at the pastry case in the middle aisle.
"Do they still have those terrible ham and cheese fried croissant things?
God I loved those...."
     "So. You know who I am."
     Scholarman turned to look at Cairi. "My former student, yes?
Fortunately I remember the interactions -- I presume because those were
     "That's not what I mean."
     "Oh? Oh!" He shrugged. "For no reason I feel I should mention that
under Provisio Nine of Bruce Rogers's will, no Rogers Industries or Rogers
Foundation employee or division will ever use the personal identities and
information in their care against former... employees... shall we say... of
the more active divisions."
     "Hellfire was never in the Adjusted League Unimpeachable."
     "And I'm an English Professor who's generally loathed by everyone who
takes his classes... except for that small group who loves them. I'm not
about to give trouble to someone from column B." He turned to look at
Cairi. "Why are you working here? You're intelligent. You're talented in so
many ways. You're compassionate and skilled. Why are you doing what I did
after I quit the Navy and had to have pocket money?"
     "You were in the *Navy?*"
     "We had an amicable and mutual decision that the Navy and I shouldn't
pursue that relationship. And you're trying to distract me from my
     "Is it working?"
     "Are you kidding? I'm *easily* distracted. I'm just glad I haven't
been shot yet."
     Cairi blinked. "Shot yet?"
     "You're a very pretty woman, Cairistiona. And I've learned that when I
meet a pretty woman, I get shot in the stomach."
     "You must meet them all the time. You work with superguys. Every
eighteen year old or older in any of your classes must be--"
     "That's different. I'm a *teacher* then. It doesn't count when you're
a teacher. You're not meeting them -- you're *oppressing* them. I presume
that's why I never took a bullet for meeting you, Samantha or Maria."
     "But that's just it. You met me. So--"
     "Yes, but Cairistiona Richards is a new, delightful person to meet,
isn't she?" He chuckled. "We'll see. So. Why are you working here?"
     Cairi shrugged. "It's a job. And... the area's familiar. After
everything went down with the Mob, I ended up moving in, and I got used to
easy access to the Five Spot. Since I could eat again...."
     "So why not go all the way -- go to work upstairs?"
     Cairi looked at Scholarman for a long moment.
     "All right. Foolish question. I stand chastised. Still. Why here?"
     Cairi shrugged. "It's... a job. I don't need much. I only eat for
pleasure. I don't actually need sleep or shelter, so almost anything will
do. And... I like being around here."
     "And since no one upstairs would actually connect your current
appearance with... say... anyone of interest, Provisio Nine
     "Except you."
     "Yes, well. I'm rather unusual, and getting moreso every day."
     "I'll bet." She sighed. "You're on the Board, though. You're on all
the Boards."
     "You're on the Rogers Institute Executive Board, the Board of Trustees
for the Rogers Foundation, and the Board of Directors of Rogers Industries.
You're a part of..." she paused.
     "It's all right. I cast a rite of 'oh God is that cute twentysomething
being hit on by a middle aged troglodyte -- no, don't look at them!' a few
moments ago. No one will actually see or hear anything we do."
     "You're not hitting on me, though."
     "I should say not! But the rite doesn't know that and neither do they.
Speak freely, Cairistiona."
     "My friends call me Cairi."
     "And I am your teacher and I call you Cairistiona because that name is
awesome." He smiled a bit. "Ask your question."

                                * * * * * *

     Susan stepped through the open doors onto A-16, which itself was a
foyer for the full floor suite that Elizabeth, Alice, Kirby and Buddy all
lived on. Stepping out into the room gave her a bit of a memory rush --
from back before her nature was reconciled, when everything she saw was
through a child's wide eyes....
"Hi Aunt Susan!" Kirby said brightly, half-running to meet her at the
elevator. His sandy hair was better combed than Susan remembered from the
last time, and he was wearing a maroon sweater over slacks.
     Susan grinned. "Hello, Kirby," she said brightly, kneeling to give him
a long hug. She knew full well Kirby had hit the age when crushes form, but
saw little reason to worry about it. Besides, it was cute. By the time
Kirby was old enough to actually want to pursue a crush, he'd have plenty
of classmates ready to be objects of that crush -- and he'd see Susan as
the family member she was, not the pretty girl with the funny way of
looking at the world he didn't see very often.
     "I'm glad you're here," he said. "I'm getting tired of them not quite
having an argument. 'Specially when they're doing it psychically, because
then they think I won't notice their body language."
     "Are they arguing right now?" Susan felt a bit of nervousness creep
back in. The one thing she'd truly been worrying about was the trouble
between her and her sister -- she was hoping that this would smooth it over.
     "Nah. Two-stage banter. They think they're being clever."
     "They're not the only ones, squirt," Alice said, almost seeming to
teleport, she'd moved so fast. Susan didn't quite jump -- Alice was one of
the few beings on the planet who could sneak up on her. "Hey, sis -- oh, I
like the blouse."
     Susan stood back up. She was wearing a light green blouse and jeans,
with some accent jewelry. 'Formal casual.' She had been hoping she'd read
the mood right. Dressy enough to make it clear she considered this a
special occasion, but not full on 'I am a guest in your home, stranger,'
since she was family.
     She hoped.
     Alice's own clothes -- jeans and a scoopneck, with accent jewelry of
her own -- seemed to bear that out. The two certainly did look like
sisters, though Susan's skin was lighter and cooler. Alice looked
perpetually tanned with a slight olive undertone. They both took after
their biological mother in their face and hair.
     Neither one of them liked that very much, but what could you do? It
was genetics.
     "Thanks," she said. I got it at Filene's Basement. One of the perks of
living in Boston again."
     "God, I have to get down there. I haven't shopped in basically
     "You went shopping last week," Kirby said.
     "At my speed, kiddo? Last week could be measured in geological time."
Alice looked Susan up and down again. "Um... c'mon -- the food's just about
ready to be set out. Lasagna."
     "Oh my... proper lasagna. I feel like... like... like Professor Burns
finding a stash of loose tea in his cupboard."
     Alice laughed. "I'd say something about hoping it lived up to praise
like that, but I cooked it so it does." She winked, walking into the dining
area. "Kirby set the table, and did a very good job of it, as you can see."
     "Oh my, he *is* clever, isn't he?"
     "You both know I'm not three years old anymore, right?"
     "Knowing it and believing it are two different things." Susan smiled a
bit. "I'm... almost surprised, though...."
     "At what?" Kirby asked. "I really am older than three."
     "Not that..." she looked at her place setting. "Nothing -- you did an
excellent job. I just... remember that Alice always used to use a napkin
ring with my place setting, and angled it on the plate so it looked like
the plate was smiling at me. It made me giggle. Even when times were bad,
it made me giggle."
     "Oh... I didn't know...."
     "Don't worry, Kirby," Alice said, softly. "Your Aunt Susan's an adult
now, and in a much better place. I don't need to look out for her or find
ways to make her smile when setting the table, any more."
     Susan looked at her sister, her heart suddenly full. "I... am. It's
true." She looked back at the plate, at once a bit proud and yet... sad.
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought
as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."
     Alice looked at Susan for a long moment. "Don't say that too loudly,"
she said, still speaking softly herself. "I have way too many Legos to make
that true, and I don't think either of us are really the Corinthians type."
She set a glass at Susan's place setting, then began pouring red wine into
Lil's glass.
     Susan looked at the glass Alice had given her -- it was a restaurant
water glass. Fancy, in its way.
     Full to the brim with chocolate milk.
     Susan felt tears in her eyes, and her smile grew. She looked at Alice,
who looked back. Alice looked somewhere between scared and hopeful.
     Very deliberately, eyes on Alice's eyes, Susan reached over and tapped
the brim of the glass twice with two fingers.
Alice's own smile crept back onto her face, and looked like she might have
tears there too.
     "Do I get to have chocolate milk with dinner?" Kirby asked, looking at
Alice hopefully.
     "Ask your Aunt Susan," Alice said. "She's the chocolate milk *expert.*"
     "I think maybe this time would be all right, Alice. If he's been good."
     "Oh, he's been good. I think."
     "I've been good!" Kirby said quickly, and the sisters laughed, almost
in unison.
     No... almost in harmony.
     "Alice!?" Elizabeth shouted from the kitchen. "Could you come here --
I think... I think I did something wrong with the salad!"
     Alice paused. "...how could she have... 'scuse, Susan." Alice blurred
into the kitchen. "Lil -- how did you... no, grab the flour! Water will
just spread the flames!"
     Susan smiled a bit more, gracefully taking her seat. She took a long
drink of chocolate milk, then set the glass down. Naturally, it was still
completely full.
     Kirby looked at the glass with wide eyes. "You have *got* to show me
how to do that."

                                * * * * * *

     I was sipping the Johnny, which is hard to do when your hand's a mass
of armored chitin and rugged claws. Transit Davis was sitting on the other
side of the table. She had a job for me, but I hadn't taken it yet. Sure,
work was scarce this far into the Exclusionary Zone, but you know the thing
about taking work from vigilantes? It followed you home way too often after
you got paid.
     "Bunny looks good," she was saying. "Almost too good."
     "How's that?" I asked, though I had a good idea. Bunny was my
secretary. Bunny Wabbyt, because her parents -- if that's the word -- had a
Hell of a sense of humor.
     "She hasn't changed in nine years. At all. Not one ounce out of place.
Her exterior topography is exact to six decimal places."
     "Well, yeah. She ain't strictly speaking real."
     Transit cocked her head. "Excuse me?"
     "Oh yeah -- found out her story back in ought-one, finally. She's the
heir to a publishing fortune, but the publishers in question were more into
the sophisticated edge of sex back around '61. You know the type. And they
wanted a perfect mascot for their publications -- one that could take the
word 'Bunny' and make it mean their magazines. So, because they were
idiots, they decided to raise a spirit of the netherworld up, commanding it
to take th'form of an archetype."
     "An... archetype?"
     "Yup." I took a pull off the Johnny. "The archetype of the woman they
wanted associated with their magazine, so men would buy it. In 1961. A
beautiful, easily tricked dumb blonde named Bunny Wabbyt." I laughed. "They
got it. Only she's real -- she doesn't age or change or grow, mind, because
she's an idea more than a person. 'Least 'till she met me and I started
treating her like family. Which doesn't exactly make her any smarter, but
you learn to work around that."
     "That's horrible."
     "Nah -- velour is horrible. This is just a tangible representation of
sexism deep in American culture. The perfect hot, dumb blonde from the era
of hard drinking ad men. So easily taken advantage of... 'cept she doesn't
understand any a'that and technically speaking? She's immune to alcohol,
rohypnol and not actually anatomically correct. I did a lotta worryin'
about her until I figured all that out."
     Transit slowly nodded. "Can I start over?"
     "Suit yourself."
     "Bunny's looking well."
     "Ain't she, though? What'ya need, Trans?"
     Transit looked around herself. I saw her fingers twitch, and saw some
sparkles here and there. The sound of the bar shifted to silence -- I
realized she'd created a standing gate, invisibly sending soundwaves from
the bar somewhere else... and the same for what we were saying. Our very
own cone of silence. "Things have been getting worse out there."
     "I know they have. Good thing we got that League there workin' it.
Fights like that ain't really my bag."
     "They're everyone's bag, Dillo-Man. And we need to stop it --
preferably before Rogers Industries launches their Lochaber Project--"
     "And arrests the League. I get that."
     "We have reason to believe there's a single supplier for all these
gangs that have cropped up. They've been getting in unusual components,
fabrics, weapons -- you name it."
     "Makes sense. A'course, that kinda setup? Hard to track down. Gangs
get good at covering their tracks in situations like this."
     "We know. But there's a brand new gang out there -- the Hellsfions."
     I arched an eyebrow, not that anyone would know since I don't have
eyebrows. "Dumb name."
     "All of their names sound dumb."
     "True enough. So."
     "So... the Hellsfions are new enough that they're still getting used
to covering their tracks, and they probably need to do a lot of trips to
their suppliers. Right now... a good detective could probably use them --
track them back to their source. Hunt them down, and find out who the
suppliers are and where they're holed up."
     "And then what? I'm not exactly a one man gang here."
     "No. We're not looking to get you into the fight. Just... information.
Who they are, where they are, and if possible... *why* they're doing this."
     "Why's always a bitch. The rest is easy. Twenty-five a day plus
     "I remember." She paused. "We're not as flush as we used to be,
     "And that's my problem, how?"
     "It's not."
     I smiled. I liked the kid -- I had before, and I did now. "I'll
remember that when I'm figurin' out my bill. Looks like Bunny managed to
get her refill. Better be on your way, kid."
     "So you'll take the case?"
     "I'll be in touch." I paused. "They say Trashman backs the League."
     "They say a lot of things. What do you say?"
     "That I knew Trashy longer'n any a'you."
     Transit arched an eyebrow, and then with a 'fwhump' she was gone and
the sounds of the bar were back.
     Bunny sat down across from me, artfully crossing her legs. "It's
always too much trouble getting a gimlet," she said, sipping. She looked
around. "Hey -- wasn't there some girl here?"
     "You see a girl?"
     "Then don't worry about it."
     "Oh. Okay!"
     There were days I envied Bunny. They were rare, but they happened. In
the meantime, I had a case, which meant I had work to do. "Drink up," I
said. "I gotta get goin'."
     "You do? Where're you going?"
     "A bar."
     Bunny blinked a couple times, looking around herself. "Okay," she
said, and drank her gin.

    [[This is the end of Part Two -- which is Piquant in its Arrogance]]

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