“What did you do?” Demitris yelled as he sprinted up to Jordan. She turned, face white and eyes wide. The gun dangled from her limp fingers so he reached out and took it.
“She killed her. She killed her,” Jordan chanted weakly. Her hands hung limply at her side, shaking as she stared out of the alley. Who was the woman? Where did she go?
Jordan turned and was startled to find her friend standing beside her. She frowned. “What? What happened?”
Demitris cleared his throat, “Uh, Jordan, how about you tell me? I wasn’t here. I got here just in time to find you standing over a bleeding body, and then you shot at someone else. Did you kill this woman?” He pointed down at Kenz, who was not moving.
“No! I didn’t. Help her, Demitris, help her!” Jordan fell to her knees and reached for Ms. Bradbury’s wrist. “I didn’t shoot her. I was with you when we heard the shot. You remember. I couldn’t have shot her. I wouldn’t.”
Jordan fumbled with Kenz’s arm, searching for a pulse while her own heart pounded so hard she thought it would jump right out of her chest. “I can’t find a pulse, I can’t find a pulse. Is she dead?”
I was on high alert as I tried to look casual strolling down the sidewalk. Just another day in the city. Sun shining. Spring on the way. A beautiful day for a walk and perhaps a bit of book shopping. No one seemed to notice. I was invisible, just a nondescript man out for a stroll. Thoughts were roiling in my head as I wondered what Kenz had found out. She said she was heading for The Second Story, but had not reported since her original message. I checked my phone again. Nothing. Not a word.
I was about to turn into the alley when a shape darted out. I jumped out of the way and landed in the shrubbery next to the building on my right and caught a glimpse of long blonde hair and a young face as a woman swept by. I didn’t get more than a glance, but could have sworn that I had seen her before. The woman was clad in black with gold trim. I froze. Enforcement Division! Was she the only one in the alley? I was about to push myself out of the bushes when tires screeched on the street. I stayed put, watching.
Thirty feet down the block, a long black SUV skidded to the curb and a half dozen men began to pile out. Some bore recent wounds, but all had severe, angry expressions. Another SUV joined the first and the crowd doubled, then tripled as yet another vehicle arrived. The blonde who nearly ran over me was soon surrounded, but the newcomers were listening to her, taking her orders. They began to fan out along the sidewalk, heading for The Second Story.
Once their attention was diverted, I clambered out of the shrubs and sprinted to the alley. Demitris and Jordan from The Second Story were kneeling on the ground. What? What were they doing out here? I froze. They were staring down at a body. A body wearing the uniform of a Librarian. I dashed forward and fell to my knees beside them. Kenz! A cry escaped my lips as I recognized my wife lying in the alley, blood pooling under her and seeping out to stain the dirty gray asphalt.
Demitris knelt in silence, stunned while Jordan threw herself at me, “Mr. Smith, she’s dead. She’s dead. Some woman shot her. I just met her and now someone killed her.” Neither knew that Kenz and I were married. We seldom entered the shop together and never talked about each other. We were also always in disguise. Safer that way.
I pushed the girl away more roughly than I intended and felt along the side of Kenz’s neck. My hand was shaking and tears were already starting as I whispered, “No, no, no.” I had no medical training. I couldn’t tell if I felt anything or now and my heart sank as I bowed my head. There was only a small hole in the back of my wife’s cloak and almost no blood. I was afraid to move her, afraid of what I might find if I turned her over. But I had to. I had to know. I frowned at the pool of blood that gradually grew, flowing out from under her. Wait. If she was still bleeding, then her heart was still beating. That meant she was still alive. Didn't it?
Jordan put a hand on my shoulder, "Sir, let me help. I studied first aid,” she said firmly. I nodded and helped her roll my wife’s body over. Kenz groaned and I almost shouted for joy to find she was alive. Her shoulder was a mess, though, and I froze, uncertain. Jordan didn’t hesitate. “Sir, we have to stop the bleeding. I need cloth.”
The only thing I could see handy was Kenz’s cloak, so I grabbed the hem and yanked hard. It tore and I passed a large piece to the girl, then ripped more strips free. I was working blindly, not aware of what I was doing. A second or an eternity later, Demitris joined her and I rocked back on my heels, bloody hands clasped to keep them from shaking.
“Smith!” another voice called out. I raised my head as Kristen Hill burst out the back door of The Second Story. She was not in her ED uniform. She slid to a halt next to Demitris and Jordan, phone in her hand. “I need assistance ASAP. Airlift.” Her voice was urgent, but at the same time calm. Concern filled her eyes, but she was in control. She looked at me. “Help will be here soon. Our people. Kenz should be okay.” She paused. “I hope. I hope we got here in time.”
I could sense feet approaching but did not look up. Looky-Loos from the street most likely. Curiosity. I only had attention for Kenz and the three working to save her.
A door banged open. I glanced up as three large men in ED uniforms burst out of The Second Story, weapons drawn. They were led by a slender blonde woman. Wait. I had just seen her. She was the one sprinting from the alley when I arrived. I remembered the hair and the boots she was wearing. I started to rise, but one of the men struck me on the side of the head with his pistol. The world swam and I almost threw up from the pain.
The blonde confronted Kristen, “So, here you are at last, Hill. We’ve been tracking your movements lately. My, my, you have been a busy woman.”
The blonde smirked and pointed her weapon as several more ED personnel poured out of the book shop and surrounded us. Jordan squeaked. Demitris looked sick, his eyes darting as if looking for a way out. We were cut off.
Kristen didn’t stop working on Kenz, didn’t even look up. “Kayla Reese. I might have known that you were the rat.”
“Shut up, Hill. You’ll get a chance to talk soon. Very soon,” snarled the blonde. She looked at Jordan. “Thank you for the tip on the boots. I like them a lot. I glanced down and saw that the ED woman was wearing the same boots as Jordan. Reese went on, “For the tip on her, you will get a big enough reward to afford a lot more like these.” She pointed at Kenz.
Demitris roared, “No! She’s no rat! She wouldn’t.” The young man surged to his feet and lunged at Reese. She calmly sidestepped and one of her men fired point blank into his chest. He fell like a sack of rocks and lay still.
Jordan was a white as a sheet, eyes wide. “I didn’t. I didn’t…”
Reese laughed, “Of course not, fool. You only said that you had a Librarian 1st class snooping around. I figured the rest out for myself.” She knelt and yanked at what was left of Kenz’s cloak, searching for hidden pockets as two of her henchmen jerked Kristen to her feet and two more stood over me, weapons aimed at my head. “I’ll soon have proof she has been smuggling books. The proverbial smoking gun, if you will.”
The blonde ED woman frantically searched through Kenz’s cloak but found nothing. No hidden pockets, no banned books. She started toward me, but suddenly fell with a cry of pain. A rock hit the ground and rolled away leaving a gash on Reese’s forehead. Another followed, and in seconds a rain of missiles filled the sky. Most missed, but not all. In seconds all the ED people were on the ground and the alley was swarming with dark shapes. I gaped stupidly as I threw myself on top on Kenz and covered her body as well as I could. Strange, but no rocks fell near us.
A flood of strange characters inundated the narrow space. Superheroes, villains, comic book characters. More. Dozens. No, hundreds. They swarmed in and quickly had all the ED people securely bound and disarmed. My head was still reeling from being struck, but I was aware enough to know that we had just been saved by a gang of cosplaying teens. I laughed until tears rolled down my face.
Kristen came over to check on my wound after making Kenz comfortable. “Smith, I think she will be okay. She’s alive.”
A hover car appeared overhead and began to descend. Tears of relief flowed as two of our rescuers strode over. The short one stopped in front of me, hands on hips as the crowd began to melt away a few at a time. Ironically, she had on a Hobbit costume. She handed me a card then stepped back and crossed her arms, “Don’t stop your work, Mr. Smith. There are more of us that you can know. We are going to change this world. Just wait and see.” Hobbit spun on her heel and strode out of the alley with Treetop at her side
As they loaded Kenz into the hover car, I looked down at the card Brin had pressed into my hand. It bore a simple stylized drawing of a wave crashing onto a rocky shore. I frowned, then broke into a grin as I realized that for months I had been seeing the drawing spray painted on buildings, chalked on sidewalks, and appearing many other places. Two words were superimposed over the wave. Water Brothers.
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