In A Song (part 10 of 12)

Thursday/Friday: 12:02am: Clocktower

Panic. It was panic Barbara felt coursing through her veins. Not the ordinary fear or the adrenaline rush that came when Helena took a chance she herself wouldn’t have taken, but pure, pharmaceutical-grade panic.

A quick glance at the monitor to her left showed Helena’s telemetry readings weren’t far off baseline, and a glance at the monitor above showed not only that the GPS in the comms set was still operational but also that her physical position hadn’t changed enough to trigger an adjustment in her mapped location.

Barbara tapped a few keys, shifting her main display over to a map showing both public and private surveillance cameras. Finding none that would give her a usable picture of the jewelry store, she drummed her fingers on the table, fear and frustration needing some sort of outlet.

She glanced at the clock. Five minutes since the comms channel had gone dead leaving her with nothing but static. Barbara pulled up the latest version of the meta tracking database, tapped out a quick query to run against it and recent releases from Arkham and from the state prisons as she tried to think who would have drawn a surprised response from the normally unflappable Helena.

Thursday/Friday, 12:05am: Rooftop in the shopping district

“A proposition?”

Jess nodded fighting back a smile at the suspicious tone. It rang in her ears as just the one she would have taken had their positions been reversed.

“We work together to take King down,” Jess replied crossing her arms and mirroring Helena’s stance. The smile she got in reply was luminous and impressed upon her yet again why Barbara found the younger woman attractive. “He’s a bad man, Helena. It goes far, far beyond the gambling.” Jess swallowed the acid that crawled up her throat. Finding out about King’s new business ventures had burned a hole through what little trust and respect lay between them.

Helena tilted her head and considered the two people standing in front of her. ” How do I know this isn’t all bullshit? The crime wave…that’s been you, right?”

“Yes, but then, the New Gotham police aren’t exactly known for their ability to multitask.” Jess’ sideways grin reminded Helena way too much of a certain redhead for comfort. “It’s a standard part of the op, diversion so King can run his business while the authorities he hasn’t been able to grease are busy elsewhere.” Jess slid a glance at Nicky. “Would you show her?”

Helena tensed as Nicky stepped toward her.

His smile was kind as he held out one midnight-blue hand. “It shouldn’t hurt…much.”

After flicking a glance at Jess, doing the mental calculations and realizing that with Jess’ speed they could have been separated by all four levels of the building and she still wouldn’t have guaranteed security, Helena reached out and took Nicky’s hand.

Images burst into Helena’s mind. She closed her eyes against the incongruity between what her physical eyes saw and what her brain perceived. She perched high up on the wall near the ceiling of the Bond Bread Warehouse loading dock. Marcus King conferred in unheard conversation with a couple of thugs Helena recognized as black bag types, the kind who would take any job no matter how nasty, from New Gotham’s underworld. The nausea rose in her throat as the image flipped to another room, this one darker, and to the bank of video monitors seen from high above. Kids being escorted into rooms equipped with beds and the kind of toys they shouldn’t be exposed to for at least a decade. Helena held on just long enough to see that, at least at that point, nothing was done to either of the kids before she let go of Nicky’s hand.

Helena’s skin crawled under her leathers and she barely resisted the urge to shake herself. The way the goon had caressed the little girl’s cheek was all Helena needed to know. “Alright, let’s do this. Now, tonight.”

Jess shook her head. “For maximum benefit you’ll want to hit him during opening night, and on just the right schedule.”

“Bullshit. You’re just trying to cover your ass.” Helena cocked an eyebrow. “Maybe I don’t need you at all to take King down.”

“Not entirely untrue. It’s not my ass I’m worried about.” The reply came with a quick flick of the eyes toward Nicky. Jess resisted the urge to grin as the woman in front of her absorbed the vulnerability that she’d just been shown filing it away, Jess was sure, to use as leverage later just as she herself would have done. “You need exact information, which we,” Jess inclined her head more obviously toward Nicky who had backed away and sought out the rooftop’s deepest shadow out of habit, “can give you more of.”

“Thanks, but I like working alone.” Helena poured on the sarcasm and bravado. Some feeling pricked at the back of her neck. Jess’ grin was as confident as it was feral. “Don’t be stupid, Hel,” she thought as she felt her pulse rate kick up a notch.

“You’ve got at least one partner…”

“Blonde, young, telekinetic,” Nicky said, his voice just loud enough to be heard over the sounds of sirens in the distance.

Jess toed the remainder of the crushed comms set with her boot. “Probably two. Someone’s been diverting all those calls and strategically assigning patrol cars while you’ve been thumping the bad guys.” She noted the slight shift in Helena’s stance and the fact that she gave off no hint of anger. Jess eased her own stance open a little. “The time frame isn’t long, a couple of days.”

“That’s a couple of days too many for that little girl,” Helena growled.

Light from the street lamp burnished the other woman’s hair a deep auburn as Jess shook her head. “King is careful with his…merchandise. He knows his clients want the best so that’s what he delivers. He keeps his adult stable in the same fashion.”

Something about the set of Jess’ mouth tickled a question at Helena’s consciousness. She pushed the curiosity away to concentrate on the matter at hand as Jess continued.

“The stakes are high. We can work together and do it easy, without lots of lost lives. You’ll get brownie points with your friend Detective Reese at NGPD for the collars or,” she paused long enough to let Helena’s mind start to work, “we can split up, waste time, resources, and possibly a very bad man gets away.” It took all of her experience at negotiations to muster the shrug in her voice and maintain the loose stance.

King’s ever expanding flesh-peddling business ran counter to everything they’d agreed to when Jessica had moved from indentured servant to partner more than five years beforehand. Jessica held the knowledge of King’s lie close, cradled it like a lost hiker with the last burning ember of campfire at the beginning of a long dark night.

Helena considered the woman in front of her through narrowed eyes. A threat to her family, even an implied one, triggered every kill instinct she had. Her hand still ached from where her fist had met brick instead of Jessica’s middle. “Fine.” The reply was a sharp retort against the roof’s hard surfaces. “But not here. Meet me on the roof at the bar after closing.”

Jess inclined her head in agreement. “You’re not there I move without you and I guarantee it will be messy.”

“It’s the smile,” Helena thought, “that twists even the most innocent word.” Helena’s return grin was toothy and completely feral. The way she covered turf it was more than enough time to get back to the clock tower and report, and to figure out what she was going to do about Barbara. “And if you’re not there I move without you and make sure that both of you go down with King.”

The graceful lines of Helena’s body as she ran for and leapt to the next roof seemed like art in motion to Jessica as she followed the brunette’s progress across the skyline until Helena was really too small to see in the night.

Thursday/Friday: 12:17am: Clocktower

Barbara checked on the telemetry readings. Still in normal ranges. She clamped down on a sudden urge to throw something: She hated this, hated being powerless. Barbara barely heard Dinah as she considered her options, her gaze flicking from the clock to the running database query to the telemetry and GPS readings in rapid succession. She jumped at Dinah’s light touch on her shoulder.

“I said, let me go look for her,” Dinah repeated, trying to ignore the feelings of dread she’d picked up from the redhead. She hadn’t needed the extra benefit of touch to see that something was wrong as she’d made her way from the kitchen to her room. Everything about Barbara’s posture screamed a base, animal fear. The brief physical contact had told her everything she couldn’t see.

“How did you…” Barbara trailed off as the GPS locator beeped indicating movement. “She’s moving,” Barbara said, tapping a few keys and transferring the GPS map to the larger monitor in front of her.

“Back here it looks like,” Dinah said, watching the small, red dot zig zag across the map, skipping blocks entirely and then stopping at a location that the GPS program labeled “The Ice Cream Station.” Dinah’s smile was gentle and intended to soothe. “You think the map people can get us a skyline map instead of a street map? Might be a little more useful.”

Barbara smiled back, grateful for the relative normalcy. “I’ll mention it to the R&D department at Wayne the next time I’m in for a meeting.” The locator dot was, indeed, headed right for the clock tower, and skipping streets in a way that was typical of Helena’s movements. Barbara tapped a few keys and a box confirming full security status popped up on the screen in front of her. She read the question in Dinah’s expression when she glanced at the teenager. “Despite the ice cream, it might not be Helena on the way here.” Barbara was surprised at the way Dinah’s expression darkened.

“If it’s not, someone’s going to have a lot of explaining to do.” Dinah shook her head as the sitcom reference triggered a flood of memories that led back to Gabby. She cleared her throat. “I’m sure it’s fine. No one ever follows her. Well, no one except me,” Dinah said with a grin, tucking a bit of hair behind her ear. They watched as the stationary indicator moved again, following the map for a bit then taking off in the zig zag pattern.

Ten minutes later the dialog box indicating Helena’s passcode had been accepted and the grinding of the elevator responding to a call sounded nearly simultaneously. Barbara turned away from the computer and slid her baton out of the storage compartment under the chair’s arm, snapping it open as the elevator ascended to the clocktower. The elevator door retracted.

“We have a major problem named Marcus King,” Helena said, striding across the room and up on to the Delphi’s platform. “And who wants coffee ice cream?”

Thursday/Friday, 12:22am: Rooftop in the shopping district

“You didn’t have to do this for me, you know,” Nicky said softly from the shadow in which he’d taken refuge as he’d watched his sister negotiate her devil’s deal with the dark haired fighter they’d been following around the city for weeks. He knew she’d heard him as her posture stiffened.

“I didn’t do it for you.” Jess continued to gaze out over the city, the sounds of sirens in the distance a result of her careful planning and orchestration at the behest of Marcus King.

Nicky crossed to the roof’s edge, leaning against the brickwork beside his sister. He could feel the loneliness rippling off her in waves. He reached for her shoulder only to be brought up short.

“Don’t,” Jess said quietly, her tone a blend of threat and plea. When she finally met Nicky’s questioning gaze her grin was all predator. “I did it because Marcus King lied to me and no one gets away with doing that twice.”

Thursday/Friday, 12:48am: Clocktower

“She’s his fixer or something,” Helena said, scraping the last of the coffee ice cream with chocolate chips out of her mug.

“Wait, back up…Miss Kalen is working for some master criminal?” Dinah asked. “That would account for the general scariness.”

Barbara put aside her mug, the ice cream inside virtually untouched. She raised an eyebrow and stayed silent, waiting Helena out.

Helena clanked the spoon back into her mug and set both on the coffee table. “You don’t believe me?”

“I believe you. Double lives aren’t exactly a foreign concept,” Barbara said, her gaze still trained on Helena’s face. “What aren’t you telling me?”

“Nothing,” Helena said, nudging the mug to one side and stretching her legs out onto the coffee table with an air of studied casualness.

Barbara’s other eyebrow joined the first in aerial maneuvers. Helena’s frown came with the barest of indicators toward the the teenager settled at the other end of the couch. She held her breath and Barbara’s stare at the same time, her gut twisting with her suspicions about Barbara’s past.

“OK, hello? Just because I’m a touch telepath doesn’t mean I’m completely without observation skills of other kinds,” Dinah said, exasperation clear in her voice.

Barbara continued to stare at Helena, years of friendship adding up to a certain degree of skill at unspoken communication. Helena raised an eyebrow and shrugged. “She’s big time meta.” She watched the redhead’s face for her reaction.


Helena sat up putting her feet on the floor and leaning her elbows on her knees. “She’s scary fast, Barbara, and strong. The mics from the comms set,” Helena said with a snap of her fingers, “dust.” She frowned as Barbara backed away from the sitting area and moved over to the Delphi.

Barbara put on her glasses and set to work at the keyboard. With a sigh Helena got up from the couch and crossed over to the platform. “Fast, fast would account for all the sneaky at school,” Dinah said, floating her empty mug over to the coffee table as she joined the other two women.

“I’m accessing tax records to see if there’s a pattern between Jess’ movements and King’s gambling activity. I know Jess…”

“Do you?” Helena asked, crossing her arms over her chest and leaning back against the table.

Barbara cut a glance sideways, not missing Helena’s skeptical look, and then looked back at the monitor. “King’s operations tend to run for five to six months not including prep time. Jess would have had something to get her up and out during the day.”

“What makes you so sure?” Helena continued to watch Barbara work the Delphi, some part of her knowing that no matter what she found in the tax records the conversation about Jess Kalen was going to continue later in private.

“Jess was always a sun seeker. The first hint of spring and she was in short sleeves,” Barbara said, melancholy tingeing her voice.

Dinah shook her head. “I’m missing something here, aren’t I?”

“Like what?” Helena glanced up at the blonde.

“If she’s been working for King for a while and everything’s been fine, what does she need Helena for now?” Dinah asked.

Thursday/Friday, 1:06am: Bond Bread Warehouse

Jake Tupper spit out the half-chewed straw and pulled the mini-CD out of the computer’s drive. He shoved it onto a plastic envelope and that into his pocket as the door to the room opened. “Hey boss,” he said, grinning to cover the rush of adrenaline. King’s smile only unnerved him more.

“Are we all set up?” King asked, circling around behind the programmer and laying his big hand on the back of Tupper’s chair. His eyes flicked across the monitor array. “Bring up number six.”

Tupper punched a key on the board in front of him. The video feed from private room number six assumed center stage on the 32 inch “program” monitor in the middle of the array.

“They’re wired for sound?”

“It’s not quadraphonic but,” Tupper slid a fader upward and the sound of room tone filled the small control room. He pulled the fader back a bit as the door opened. Tupper swallowed hard as the woman reached around and undid the buckles on the back of her leather corset.

“Turn it off,” Marcus said.

Tupper sent black to the program monitor and tried not to glance at the smaller preview monitor where the shapely blonde continued to undress.

“Lola’s special talent involves electricity so I doubt she’d be to your liking,” King said, his expression indulgent. “You double checked everything?”

“I ran the tests twice. We’re green for everything,” Tupper replied as King glanced up and at the corners near the ceiling.

“And what about the insurance policy?” He frowned when Tupper shrugged.

“I’ve got a tail on her but that’s the best I could do under the circumstances. She’s a little…paranoid about home security. Given who she is and what she’s been through, I would be too.”

King shot a glance toward the small black and white monitor that revealed Lola doing nothing more interesting than her nails. The six other monitors in that corner showed empty rooms, each outfitted for the operator’s special talents and the client’s special perversion. “Make sure we know where she is and have an operative ready if the time comes.”

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