I zoom in with the binocular setting on my goggles to get a better look at Margo’s condo.
I’m suited up, crouching behind an air conditioner unit on the roof of a Midtown apartment building, looking out across the 50 yard chasm that 4th Avenue carves out between my building and the target condo. Margo lives on the twelfth floor of the sixteen story Proctor Arms building in a condo with a view of the Bay. She has stylish potted grasses and bonsai on her balcony. A windchime delicately rattles. I can see somebody inside, shadows moving on the Venetian blinds.
Okay, showtime. I pull out the voice changing spray I got from My Guy. It looks and works just like an asthma inhaler. “Hello hello hello,” I say in my normal voice. I take a deep hit of the inhaler… hold it… then exhale. “Hello hello hello,” I say in a deeper, richer voice. I sound like Robert Goulet!
I pull out the switchblade Nokia that Silver Striker gave to me. It’s loaded with options, including a special emergency hotline to Striker Mountain in case I get jumped by The Malefactors. You know you’ve hit the big time when you have a hook-up with Striker Mountain. Who knows, they may even make me a Strike Force affiliate. I’m not saying I’d do it, I’m just saying. I dial Margo’s number.
“Hello?” She answers.
“Margo Thompson?” says Robert Goulet.
“Ms. Thompson, this is The Velvet Marauder,” I say. Man, that sounds really stupid. “A mutual friend of ours said you might need my help.”
“Hello?” I say.
Her voice is hard, suspicious. “Yeah, okay, who is this? Is this Brett?”
“No, no, seriously. This is The Velvet Marauder.” Man, I sound cool.
“Who gave you my number?”
“Connor Mackenzie,” I say, which is true, really.
“Hello?” I say.
“Okay,” she says slowly, processing this. “So what do we do, how does this work?”
“It’s not a good idea to talk about this on a phone. Hang on a minute.”
I put her on hold and dash for the edge of the building I’m on. Leaping high over 4th Ave I snap open my glider wings. The salty night air catches me, and I sail silently towards Margo’s balcony. I flare just as I come in, rearing back and landing lightly on the railing. I have got to give that move a name.
“Are you still there?” I say quietly into the phone.
“Yes,” Margo says.
“Okay. I don’t want you to freak out, all right? Because I know this is weird, but I really am The Velvet Marauder and I’m a good guy and I’m not here to hurt you or anything like that. I don’t want you to freak out. Okay?”
“Yes,” Margo says, sounding a little freaked out.
I hop down on to her balcony and approach the sliding glass door. I can see her shadow on the blinds, right on the other side of the door.
“I’m outside right now. On your patio.”
“My balcony?” she says.
“Your balcony, whatever.”
“Wait,” she says. “You’re outside right now?”
“Don’t freak out, please. Just open the blinds a little.”
Her shadow grows larger on the blinds. The slats of wood turn slowly, and she gradually comes into view. So do I. Her eye widen with fear and she screams, jumping back.
“Shit! Quiet!” I make shushing noises and wave my arms. She screams again.
I hold my hands up and back away from the glass door. Margo’s wearing jeans shorts and an oversize white button up shirt. Her hair is up and her face is freshly scrubbed. She’s holding a toothbrush and a cell phone in her shaking hands.
I can’t blame her, it would be pretty freaky seeing me on your back doorstep. I have your standard black nightstalker armor made of a lightweight ply of Kevlar, ballistic nylon, and nomex. I have a matching black cowl with high-tech goggles, and I wear a dark blue/purple coachman’s coat of faux-velvet fireproof material over the whole thing. I like to think of the look as “dark and dashing.” Again, not gay. I might look freaky to Margo, but I must admit that my motif isn’t totally original in the hero world and that there are a lot of guys out there with that whole nightstalker look, like Major Domo, and Night Hunter and even the Teutonic Knight with his lame new armor. However, nobody has the velvet, baby. Nobody but the Velvet Marauder.
Margo stops screaming. “What do you want?” she says,
“I just want to talk to you about the thing,” I say, feeling defensive. “Jesus, you contacted me?”
“I’m sorry,” she says. “Sorry, you’re right. It’s just, you know, freaky. Do you have some sort of ID or something?”
“I’m sorry, that’s stupid,” she says.
The phone rings. She gestures for me to wait, and picks it up.
“Yeah… Yeah, hi. I’m sorry, Judy, I was watching The Shining… I know!... Yeah… No, it was the scene with the little girls in the hall… right… Right, and he’s riding his little bike…”
I tap softly at the window and point at an invisible watch, indicating I want her to hurry up. She grimaces, mouths, “one second.”
“Yeah, well… no, I’m sorry… I should just turn it off… Okay… Okay, let’s do that. Sorry, good night!”
Margo hangs up the phone and walks over to the door. She lifts up the blinds and, taking a deep breath, slides open the door.
“Sorry,” she says quietly. “My upstairs neighbor. Umm, do you want to come in, or…?”
“Not necessary,” I say, rather brusquely.
“Oh. Oh, right. Of course not.”
“You have information for me about Bradbury, Clarke, and Quentin? Mackenzie says you suspect them of some sort of illegal activities.”
“Right,” she says. “I have some notes…”
“Meet me tomorrow night at eleven-thirty at the parking garage next to the Metro. Ninth floor,” I say, grinning wryly. She just looks at me. I move on. “Bring your notes, and make sure you’re not followed. Tell no one, not even Mackenzie.”
“Got it,” she nods.
I look over her shoulder into her place.
“Nice pad,” I say.
She turns around and looks back inside. “You think so? I just moved in six months ago…”
While her back is turned, I backflip off her balcony and into the night. I pop the wings about five stories above 4th Ave and swoop off into the night.
I have always wanted to do that vanishing thing.