Marie's brain bled from too much tiny information. The transcripts thin plastic sheets Pete had given her seemed to come from the hidden room for the most part. It probably had the best acoustics. There were only two speakers per conversation, likely Stefan and Max, but it was hard to tell without actually listening to the audio herself. The conversation was likely further stilted by Pete's translation. Not for the first or last time, she wished she had a more covert mutation like invisibility. Seeing perps work in action while undercover told her a lot but the ability to attach the bugged conversation to the faces would help so much more. It wouldn't have hurt for the unit to have some close-circuit cameras either but the budget couldn't stretch that far, not even for the older, bulkier models. In the fight between manpower and tech, manpower won by a slim margin. All for the best, Marie thought in general.
There was a lot of business talk: transferring money from the Genie to fronts and the best way to divide the money between those businesses. They also seemed to process some drug money at this location; the conversation occasionally referred to parcels needing to be hidden. But neither the home team nor Marie could figure out a pattern to the percentage of drug money coming through nor the days when they were processed. The Genie's money seemed to stay in its own chunk. MacTac highlighted a short dialogue about "arming up." Marie spared a thought to telling Lebeau about it. Some cops wouldn't bother but she had no intention of policing an outright gang war. Too many innocents got hurt in the crossfire. No, better to take them-- the Guild and Semyonov's syndicate-- through longer, but quieter means.
Marie yawned. God only knew what time it was. Between working her cover and going over notes, sleeping four hours straight was a luxury. The bags under her eyes made her look strung out and she snacked constantly like a dopehead which was a good thing for her cover at least. She was surprised she hadn't had any more power slip-ups.
Perhaps a nap was in order before she tried to be social downstairs. Her stomach grumbled but Marie just didn't have the energy to chew much less walk down two flights of stairs to the kitchen. She'd developed an appreciation for sleep these days. To think she wasted so much time until the past year staying up to watch movies or tacking an extra three miles to her usual five-mile run when she could have been wrapped up in her blankets at bed at home, sleeping. Marie cocooned herself in her skanky satin sheets and was out cold a thought later.
She woke up with Lebeau rubbing her feet which, after all of this, was the least of her worries. "Well?"
"Well, you can't ever say I don't deliver my best work 'cause, dayum, sha, I make good work," said Lebeau. He stood on the bed. Raising his hands, he began tapping the ceiling lightly. "The soundproofing in this place is ridiculous, know that? It's like they're hiding a slaughterhouse in every room. Fortunately, it's also good enough to muffle a hand-held laser cutter going from the roof to the top floor. Here we go."
His knuckles hit a more solid-sounding spot a foot away from the mirrored wall. He marked it with his fingernail then tapped a concentric pattern around it until he found another solid area which he also notched. Then he took a small device from his pocket that resembled a blunt screwdriver. Flicking a switch on the base, he pointed one end at the first spot he marked. A thin pink light shot out from the device. A scorched plastic smell hit Marie's nostrils as the spot on the ceiling darkened. Lebeau drew a curved line to the other spot then drew the circle to a close by pointing the laser back to the starting point. The circle he drew was two feet in diameter. Lebeau prodded at the edges of the circle until it swung from the rest of the ceiling from a hidden hinge on the other side. Drywall dust showered his hair and shirt.
"What's that?" Marie asked.
"A new door as Mistress Liz requested," said Lebeau. "I like to think of it as a VIP entrance for me and your hulking brute of a boyfriend."
Marie ignored the boyfriend statement in favour of staring up the hole. "You've got some big brass ones, Lebeau."
"Yes ma'am. Been lifting weights all night when everyone else is partying it up. Damn whippersnappers."
"How'd you get it to by-pass the alarms?"
Lebeau threw her an offended look. "Come on, sha. Have you met me?"
"It's a little dicier once you get out on the roof. You got your choice of sliding down a rain pipe I've reinforced to stick better to the wall, or hoping the dumpster on the side is closed. The dumpster's more street side; less likely they'll come out in full force to stop you. The rain pipe leads to the back yard so if you don't get scraped making a jump, you definitely will fighting off a bouncer or three."
Marie nodded but pursed her lips. "That's your clean getaway? Gotta admit, I expected something a little more buffed from the great Gambit."
"More buffed? This is fucking sparkling, sha. Not my fault you and the Hulk over there ain't agile enough to parkour."
"Are you even allowed to parkour at your age? Don't they take away your cred once you need a walker?"
Lebeau narrowed his eyes at her, both playful and serious. "I get finer with age."
"I left that one wide open."
"You surely did."
"So from in here, you can jump down. How do you get in from outside presuming the dumpster isn't in the perfect place? And by you I mean Pete."
"Any which way you can. Look, it's gotta blend in. I can't be making too many changes or they'll guess something's up. Ol' Max, he don't seem to dip in the company bong, if y'know what I mean. He's clear minded enough to spot major adjustments. If your Pete can't figure something like this out, maybe he ain't the right guy to do this op."
"I'm sure Pete can figure it out fine," Marie said through clenched teeth. She opened her mouth to question him some more but Logan's senses caught someone slowing down at her door. She shooed Lebeau away. Time to put that exit to good use. He lifted himself up and closed the trapdoor just as the doorknob turned.
Tank, one of the bouncers, stuck his head in. "Dress up and come with me. Mr. Semyonov wants you."
"Sure thing, hon. Give a girl a second to put on some pants."
"What do you care if someone looks at you?"
"You ain't paying, are you? Give me five fucking minutes."
Tank rolled his eyes but closed the door. Marie grabbed the only pair of jeans Mistress Liz owned and topped it with a dress shirt left by one of her customers. So much for processing evidence from that particular douchenozzle. Thankfully, she hadn't gotten around to putting on make-up so she didn't have to scrub anything off to look marginally innocent. Giving the ceiling hatch one last peek-- sealed and invisible-- Marie exited her room.
Semyonov's bodyguard led her straight from the Genie to the car to the music room. The old man sat on one of the chairs pressed up against the wall. "Close the door," he told the bodyguard. To Marie, he said, "Play me something."
Marie took her place on the piano bench. Holding her breath, she concentrated on keeping Liz's disguise on while sieving out Pete's piano-playing memories. Good thing she wore a long-sleeved shirt and had her back to Semyonov.
"You are not an excellent player," said the old man.
"Sorry. I couldn't continue my lessons."
Marie shrugged. He could glean why. And if he couldn't, his mind was slipping more than Lebeau knew.
"My Aleksandra was an exemplary player. But you knew that already."
"I wish I could be as good."
"You need passion. You play but keep yourself separate from the instrument. You play it but are not one with it."
"Mikhail played with passion. Not much skill but he felt music to his core." Semyonov pressed a fist to his belly. "There is artistry in our blood. Passion. But always tempered with this." He tapped his forehead. "Always think on your passions, not let them rule it, yes?"
"That sounds smart." She swayed a little more with the music but too much drama disrupted her connection to Pete's memories. Despite his ramblings, Semyonov wasn't as senile as Max thought-- as Max hoped. He always had at least one guard in the room with them and another outside. She was never left alone with him. His fixation with the past was centred on this room anyway; she doubted she'd be able to influence him as much with her little lost lamb performance if he wasn't surrounded by memories of Aleksandra. She needed a way around this little hiccup. Maybe Max was the way to go--
The outside bodyguard entered to whisper something in Semyonov's ear. The old man's eyes narrowed.
"Handle it," he said in Russian. Marie thanked her lucky stars that she was in Pete's head at the moment and thus able to translate.
"It might be better if you were away from the windows for now," the bodyguard suggested in the same language.
"Very well. Someone stay with her. This better not take long." He stood. Marie followed. "Sit," he said.
Woof, Marie replied mentally.
"I will be a moment," Semyonov continued. "John will be outside to ensure your safety, my dear."
Marie smiled beatifically. "Whatever you say, dyadya,"
She waited until the door closed before darting to the windows. Latched from the inside, seven feet from the floor, easy enough to convince the rusted lock open with Magneto's powers. She ran the risk of being caught without her Liz disguise but it couldn't be helped. Two bar hinges-- one at the top of the window, and one at the bottom-- kept them from opening wider than a foot. Marie magnetically unscrewed the hinges. A quick run through Lebeau's memories drew her attention to laser sensors running across the ledge. Opening the windows could sound an alert. She scanned the music room. There had to be at least one mirror in this--
A mirrored picture frame on the mantle glinted. Excellent. Marie accessed Pete's organic-metal strength to snap the frame into four pieces. Now she had to rely on her own excellent billiards skills. She drove one pointed glass shard into the bottom sill, angled down to the right. Then she rode the magnetic fields to reach the top of the window where the laser sensor originated. She had to position the next mirror just right before driving it in...
The window swung open. No alarms. Rust and white paint flaked to the floor. Shimmying halfway out, Marie sat on the window sill. By her estimate, Semyonov's office was the next window over. It looked the same as this one, so probably same hinges and security devices. She could just use Magneto's powers again to fly over and manipulate any iron-based components of the laser sensor but that required having him in the forefront of her mind. She hated the feeling of his psyche. All that hate, twisted all around in cold logic. It felt like swimming in dry ice. Going full Magneto was a last-ditch plan.
A four-inch decorative ledge ran above all the windows on this floor. No luck having matching ledges below them to make climbing around easier but each window did have outcropping brick elements as a bottom detail. Sure three feet separated each window but Marie still had a few tricks in Sauron's bag. She drew further from his powers. Her skin darkened, her scales roughened, her nails thickened and elongated into claws.
Marie stood up on the sill and drove the claws of her right hand into the decorative ledge. Stretching to the left as far as possible, she did the same with her left hand, keeping the majority of her weight pressed against the windows. So far, so good. The claws helped her grip and her weight distribution, thanks to bits of Lebeau's memory, held her upright. But at some point, she would have to let go.
Please, let this work. Marie retracted the claws of her right hand only to shift her arm a few inches closer to midline, and grab onto the ledge again. Still okay. She let go the left, shifted, and grabbed, sliding her body along the building. Yes. I live
But the window to the office looked miles away and she had ten minutes max to do this. Time to nut up and go double-time. Let go, stretch across, dig in, balance. Over and over, keeping her weight on her chest as long as possible. For three heart-clenching stretches, Marie hung only by her claws and upper arm strength.
As soon as I get out of this op, I'm taking up rock-climbing.
She swung right in front of Semyonov's office. She lowered her right hand to grab the bricks lining one side of the window, gripped the wrought-iron sash with her left and let her feet slide down to the window ledge. So far, safe. A cursory glance inside confirmed her theory: this window had laser sensors, too, and a sliding lock that was painted over. She'd have to access Magneto's powers but at least not for long.
Off went the hinges. Disrupting the laser sensor took a bit longer but she only had to hold it for as long as it took her to slip into the office. She landed feet first behind a sway-backed chair. Semyonov's desk lay to her left, the computer humming in hibernation mode. Semyonov's bodyguards frisked almost as well as airport security but they still underestimated women. And women's underthings. Marie ducked under the table. Whipping the CPU's cover away magnetically, she dug into the padding pocket of her bra for the computer bug Pete gave her. After a few seconds of hunting, she attached the bugs to the harddrive wiring.
She headed for the window again but a sheaf of papers caught her attention. They barely stuck out of a manila file, sitting right in the middle of Semyonov's desk. The wall clock chimed the hour. Logan's hearing found four enforcers duking it out with half a dozen rival gangsters on the ground floor. Another three mafiya members were somewhere on the third floor, possibly including Semyonov. The number of punches and kicks on the ground floor had decreased; she might have five minutes tops to get back.
Marie flipped the folder open. Inside were real estate ads profiles, four of them in the Manhattan area. She committed the addresses to memory, hoped her memory retained the information, and whisked back out the window to the music room with plenty of time to look sweet and innocent again.
"Did you take care of things, dyadya?" she asked when Semyonov returned.
He nodded. "It is time for you to go now."
She couldn't wait.
Over the past three hours, Marie had watched Stacey circle her, like a cat contemplating an attack on a particularly fiendish mouse. Marie had no idea what the other woman wanted and even less patience to work it out right now. So she let Stacey circle. She had a riding crop and she knew how to use it as a weapon. She was really good at using it as a weapon.
Stacey finally cornered her when their customers happened to leave at the same time. She dragged Marie into her room and shut the door. Marie tightened her hold on her crop and steadied into a fighting stance.
"Are you legit?" Stacey demanded.
Marie hadn't expected this. "What are you talking about?"
"Gambit said you were scoping this place out for him. Is that true?"
Marie clenched the whip even tighter. "Gambit says a lot of things."
"Yeah, that's what I thought." Stacey backed away. "Whatever. It's all bullshit anyway. Who cares who's in charge, we're all still fucking tools to them. They don't give a shit as long as we rake in the cash, right?"
Well, that was unusually bitter, even for Stacey X. "What else did Gambit tell you?"
"Some bull about giving us power and keeping the kids out. Like, really? The younger they are, the more they bring in. No one'd really do that."
"Kid? Which kid?"
Stacey sent her a sidelong glance. "Angel."
Marie's heart rate tripled. She thought she was the only one who'd guessed. Or cared. "The one with the dragonfly wings?"
"Yeah. Nineteen, my ass. She can't be any older than sixteen; probably more like fourteen without all that make-up. If you and Gambit were for real, you'd've seen that already, so, y'know, whatever."
"I did see," said Marie. "But I didn't tell anyone 'cause I didn't know who to trust with yet. Are you saying you'll help?"
Stacey chewed on her thumbnail. "I was thirteen when someone first tried to fuck the mutie out of me."
Nausea threatened Marie' tough-girl image. She tamped the urge to vomit down. Instead, she crossed her arms and leaned back on the door, waiting for Stacey to keep talking. The other woman had become quiet, seemingly concentrating on chewing on her nails.
"Can you get her out of here?" Stacey finally burst out.
"Can you help?" Marie asked in turn.
"I can't..." Stacey growled in frustration. "I don't know how."
"You don't have to come up with how. You just have to be part of the plan. I've been trying to figure out a way to smuggle her out, too, but it's damn hard to do it alone."
"Won't Gambit help?"
"It depends on the plan. Which we can't make unless we know how much help we can get." Marie crossed her fingers and hoped she wasn't making a promise she couldn't keep. Fuck Lebeau and his big mouth anyway. "So, are you in or are you out?"
Stacey stared at her, her forefinger back in her mouth, chewing away. Finally, she straightened and spat. "I'm in."
Another night, another visit from the outside world. Pete came by more often now thanks to the trap door but Marie dreaded them more. She wanted to have something better to tell him besides "We're working on it." Even the addresses from Semyonov's desk, exciting at the time, were another version of "We're working on it."
"The HQ's working on those addresses but they need to streamline the stake-outs. Which ones do you think are the most likely places?" he asked.
"I'm thinking the Marlboro one since it's waterfront property but Rothmans is closer to the clubs."
"I'll pass that on." Pete handed her a short information sheet. "I've marked an interesting section."
"You marked it?" Marie's eyebrow arched up. "Mighty presumptuous of you, considering this is still a police investigation, not an X-Men one."
"My sister's life is on the line. If I have to go to jail for reading your notes, then so be it. I need to know."
"If I thought anything was going to happen to Illyana, I'd let tell you. You know that, right?"
Pete didn't answer for a second. Something that might have been doubt niggled the back of Marie's head. "Of course I know it," said Pete. "I'm sorry. I wouldn't have kept it from you though, you know that, right?"
"Yeah, sure I do," Marie hurried to add. "And really, I'd like your input. Sometimes, I need a different point of view, something not so cop-like and more... more..."
"More artist by day, vigilante by night?" Pete's lips quirked up.
"Don't go swinging through the roofs yet, Batman. We need to get the whole picture."
"If I'm Batman, does that mean you're Robin?"
"I take it back. If anyone's Batman, it's me."
"I don't think Batman wore corsets."
"What do you think stopped all those bullets? All that whalebone, sugar. Besides, you've got the legs for booty shorts." She smacked his thighs, laughing at the pink that spread through his cheeks. Pete might have been dressing like a thug for this op, but he couldn't stop being Pete. "All right, what's this interesting part you're talking about?"
Pete pointed to a section marked with a red line on the margin. "Look at this conversation. One of the men, I think it's Max, asks about 'our little parcel.' In the next line, Stefan goes yeah, yeah, the little parcel's fine, it's not going anywhere. There's a pause. They're shuffling papers in the background. Here, now read the rest of the conversation."
Marie looked up from her reading. "Stefan said her specifically? Not 'him' or 'it?'"
Pete shook his head. "He used 'she.' Russian's pretty specific about gendered nouns."
Marie kept reading.
Marie continued to read past the red-marked line but the conversation changed back to accounting. "This talk about a parcel is pretty vague. If they're talking about Illyana, why are they hiding her instead of using her here? We don't know who 'he' is, either. This might be two different cases-- one for the killer, one for the slave ring."
Pete's forehead wrinkled as he swallowed. He twisted his fingers around each other.
"You... from what you've observed, Max wants control of the mafiya."
"What if they have someone Semyonov cares for?"
"You think Semyonov cares about Illyana?"
"No!" Pete reddened. "This... this conversation doesn't have anything to do with Yana but it does point towards kidnapping and assault. Is that enough for a hard conviction?"
"Maybe. Present it to HQ and see what they think. My gut says the murdering bastard who has Illyana is tied to this place and if we come in too soon, we might never find her.
"Do you know who Rasputin was?" asked Pete.
"Lover of the Russian queen?" Marie answered. "Rah, rah."
"Despite the popularity of disco, no. He was a Russian Orthodox monk and a self-proclaimed mystic. They were popular in the early twentieth century, like gurus in the seventies or Apple computers in early 2K." Pete rubbed the bit of residue from his finger off a tablet he'd brought to sort through surveillance images. "The tsar and tsarina-- the king and queen of Russia-- had four girls and one son. That son, the heir to the throne, had haemophilia, which was pretty much a death sentence in those days. Rasputin managed to convince the tsar and tsarina that only he could cure the prince. The royal family basically bankrupted the country paying for Rasputin's lifestyle and his supposed remedies. It was one factor in the Russian Revolution which would eventually led to Communist USSR and the Cold War."
"Wow. So all those decades of grief because a dickhole took advantage of rich, desperate, and powerful people."
"I never thought of it that way."
"As decades of grief because one family loved their child so much. I'd destroy the world if it meant Yana would be safe."
The hairs on Marie's arms rose. She wanted to blame Pete's monologue on artistic temperament but there was a bright look to his eyes, a desperation she'd learned to recognize after six and a half years as a cop. She saw that look down the barrel of her gun when she knew she'd have to fire it and aim for the squishy parts. The last time she saw that expression on her own face was as a reflection in the window as the first train out of Westchester County pulled away, positive she had no place in the world after even Xavier's School kicked her out for using her powers on Logan.
Tonight was Gemini's big night. Angel's too but she didn't know it yet. Marie stared up at the covered escape hatch on her ceiling and crossed her fingers. Of all the stupid nights to have a full moon, it would be tonight. Cops, firefighters, and nurses became real superstitious, even the ones who'd never given half a thought to black cats or religion. They-- she, Marie mentally corrected herself with chagrin-- needed to exert some kind of control or pattern to the chaos of their everyday life.
Marie twisted her hair into a tight top knot. She wore the head -to-toe PVC tonight; she didn't need the added distraction of wondering who her skin might touch. Downstairs, one of the girls worked through a Top 40 playlist on a computer. No need for anything too edgy here. The workers just needed something to dance to, and the johns, something to fill in the awkward silence between their sweaty panting.
Marie descended, chin high, snapping her riding crop against her hand. She'd gotten skilful enough to make the whip snap without hurting herself. Two or three heads swivelled in her direction, interested, starting to smile. Marie crossed the dance floor without looking at the others. Instead, she took note of which girls were on the poles: Gemini, Greenbelt, and Stacey. Good. Everything according to plan. She made sure they all saw her as well. Once she crossed the floor, she walked the perimeter, showing herself off for every man there before picking out one of the regulars, Roy or Robby or something, who had Blitzen on his lap. He hadn't liked the D/s game, if she recalled correctly but when they crossed paths, he'd always been unusually polite for a john. Marie caressed his cheek with the tip of her riding crop. That was the signal.
Gemini dove from her pole to Greenbelt's, her face twisted into a snarl. Unfortunately, Greenbelt wasn't in on the plan. Her surprise was genuine as was her sudden return attack. They fell off the small platform, pulling at each other's hair. The men hooted and clapped, perhaps thinking this was part of the entertainment. Even those who suspected a real fight probably didn't care. As security ran in, the rest of the girls on the main floor took sides. Only Stacey remained on her platform. She raised her fist and filled the room with low levels of pheromones. The amount was enough to distract the security guards and the remaining johns to the point where they didn't notice Marie slipping back upstairs.
She ran down the second floor hallway. The guard there, Tank, lowered his eyebrows at her but she pointed down the stairs and said, "They need you to break up a fight. It's pretty bad."
As soon as the top of his head disappeared, Marie headed for the fourth door on the left, the room Angel supposedly worked in. She tried the knob. Locked. She pulled her lockpicks out of her riding crop-- damn she loved that hidden compartment. A couple twists and a thirty seconds later, the door popped open.
Angel was on her hands and knees on a low mattress, hiding her sobs in her arms. Her john had her beautiful, delicate wings crunched up in his fists as he huffed and puffed and jiggled into her from behind. Marie was not looking forward to absorbing that asshole. She might as well get what little satisfaction from it as she could.
When he looked up, Marie bashed him at his right temple with the butt of her whip. The blow was hard enough to momentarily black him out. He fell backwards off the mattress, his pants and underwear tangling around his knees. Pathetic. He wouldn't stay out for long. She should have brought something with more heft like a crowbar. Marie pulled her left glove off and touched his skin.
Yeah, you little mutie bitch, give it up, give it to me, you fucking cu--
-- not a good fit for where this company is going forward. Security will escort you out just because of policy, you understand, not that we think you're the kind to do anythi--
-- don't get that alimony cheque in by this weekend, I'll sic a lawyer on you! Jesus, you can't even be depended on for something as simple as this. Divorcing you was the best idea I ever--
Marie pulled away, gagging. She boxed those memories away as quickly as possible. Hopefully, she'd never have to open them again. Stacey would be up here soon to give the guy some happy fun feelings. Marie concentrated on getting Angel upstairs.
"What're you doing?" asked Angel.
"Getting you out of here, sugar." Marie pushed the door open a slit and peered through. Tank was still downstairs. She grabbed Angel with her covered hand. "Come on."
"Wait. What do you mean get me--"
"Don't talk. Just follow me."
"But what about--"
"I said hush!"
She dragged Angel up the second set of stairs to her room. Thankfully, the girl was good at doing as she was told or was just in too much shock to speak any more. The ruckus continued downstairs. The yelling, most prominent of them coming from Gemini-- threatened to overshadow the sound system. All good so far. One more obstacle to overcome before she could get them both into relative safety. There was a guard on the third floor as well. Tonight, it was Basher. Marie had no idea if her powers worked on rock-like skin. She had two seconds to find out as they cleared the last step.
With the fight going on downstairs, Basher already had half an ear towards the stairs. He started at their arrival. "What's going on?"
Marie slung her arm over Angel's shoulder. "Just showing the girl a taste of the good life, sugar."
Basher's frown deepened as he walked towards them. "Not on working hours, girls. Get back in your rooms for the next--"
Marie grabbed Basher's arm. And waited. He stared down at his forearm then back at her. Marie waited a half second more for that breath-snatching, reverse-vacuum feeling and the information overload that came with her powers. Absolutely nothing. Uh-oh.
"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?" asked Basher.
"Just that maybe you should cut us a bit of slack, is all," said Marie. "We're not expecting anyone for a few minutes."
"Nuh-uh. Back." He pointed.
Somewhat desperately, Marie peered around Basher's bulk to find the door to her room. Thing was, Basher wasn't only big, he was wide. He should've taken the name The Wall instead because he looked like a walking, talking piece of a medieval castle wall. There would be no sliding around him, not while lugging Angel. She looked around. Nothing to use as a makeshift weapon.
Angel began to cough. They were big and wet, coming from deep in her diaphragm. Basher drew away, looking disgusted. "Bitch, are you sick? Don't get none of that near me."
Angel shook her head but kept coughing, one of her hands going to her chest. Now even Marie pulled away to get a good look at her. The girl always looked sick but Marie had chalked it up to drug use and late nights. Maybe if she worded things right, she could convince Stefan to bring Angel to a doctor.
Suddenly, Angel pursed her lips and spat right into Basher's face. Basher reflexively covered his face then started screaming. Marie didn't understand why until she smelled something burning. Tendrils of smoke escaped from between Basher's fingers. He kept on screaming, tripping over his own feet, trying to head for the nearest bathroom. Rather, the only bathroom on the first floor. The crash he made as he rolled down the stairs threatened to out-do the fight.
Marie gave Angel an appreciative look. "What was that?"
"Acid saliva," said Angel, a dash of shyness with a bit of pride as well. "I can only do it sometimes."
"Well, you sure made it count! Come on."
They ran to Marie's room where Remy was waiting. Angel gasped and reeled back.
"It's okay," said Marie. "He's here to help."
"But he's a customer," Angel said.
Marie narrowed her eyes at Remy. "I know. But he's still here to help."
Remy's smile held none of his usual smarm, much to Marie's surprise. She rarely saw that expression on him barring memories of his kids and-- she reddened at the realisation-- their movie appointments. "Hey, Angel, right? You got any other names?"
Angel shook her head. "I don't use a slave name."
"Right." To Marie, he said, "I know someone who wants a Magneto tee in their stocking this Christmas."
"I'll let Storm know," said Marie.
Angel's eyes widened even more. "Storm? The X-Man? Or, X-Woman. You know her?"
"I know someone who knows her," said Remy. Which wasn't a total lie. "Want to meet her?"
"For real?" Angel looked so excited her youthfulness was even more apparent, much to Marie's horror. Remy apparently thought so as well. Anger flashed through his face before he evened his temper out.
"Really for real," he said gently. "But first, I want to give you something." He made a gesture in the air. A knife appeared in one hand and a small calibre gun in the other. "Pick one."
"Gambit!" Marie protested.
"No, sha, this one's gone too long feeling helpless. She don't know me from Adam, nor you for that matter. She should have something to protect herself with. I suggest the gun; better range."
"She could always hock a loogie," Marie said. "Look, her having a weapon she doesn't know how to use could be even more dangerous than being unarmed."
"We can argue this back and forth but time's wasting. Now, Angel, knife or gun?" Remy held the weapons out.
Without hesitation, Angel picked the hand gun.
"Fine choice," said Remy. He headed for the escape hole.
Letting out a gruff sigh, Marie quickly ran over handgun basics. "This is a semi-automatic with a six-bullet magazine and a fifty-foot range. This is the safety on. This is the safety off. Keep it on unless you know you're going to use it. Cock this the first time you turn the safety off; after that, just keep pulling the trigger. When you run out of bullet, for the love of God, do not hold the nozzle to pistol-whip anyone unless you're wearing gloves because you're going to give yourself a burn."
"Pulls to the left," Remy added.
"That's the last thing she needs to worry about."
Meanwhile, Remy had scrambled on top of the dresser and pulled himself up through the escape hole. He popped his head back in and held his arms out. "Come up on, ma tí."
"I'll boost you up," said Marie.
"Are you coming?" Angel asked.
Marie shook her head. "I got other work to do before I leave. But I'll be right along sooner or later."
"What'll you tell the others? They'll wonder where I've gone."
"Let me worry about it. But now that you've brought it up." Marie delved into her mind for Logan's powers. "Think you could make a little bit more of that acid spit?"
"It's all right. I heal fast but it would do some good if you could leave some damage around here."
A light went on over Angel's head. "Gotcha." She started coughing and collecting spit into her cheeks.
Remy looked at them both in askance. "Do I want to know?"
"Probably. It's both amazing and disgusting and so right up your movie-watching alley," said Marie.
Angel stuck her tongue out and let loose a vast spray of acid. The bed spread, mirrors, floors-- everything it touched began to sizzle. Marie wrinkled her nose against the acrid smell.
"You're right," said Remy. "I ain't sure if I should clap or wipe my hand with some alcohol gel. Not that we got enough time to do either. Hurry on up."
Angel climbed easily on top of the dresser. Remy caught her by the wrists and, with Marie lifting from below, hauled her up the escape hatch. Marie slid the cover back in place. It settled, seamless. She let out another heaving breath, sinking onto the burn-speckled bed. One person saved. Two dozen more to go.