Bob Moore: God Complex has been done for about a month now and is sitting in the hands of my first beta reader. He’s already told me he doesn’t like the beginning so I guess I’m in for a bit of fun with this one. Sigh. Anyhow, here is another deleted scene from Bob Moore: Hostile Territory. In the early drafts, the order of events was different. These conversations happened at the very beginning, right after he got back from EnviroKop, and later just when Swell showed up for the first time. I’ve taken all the references to these people and put them in chronological order. The idea was to foreshadow Siddeon’s plan and explore how the supers recruit people. In the end, it just slowed down the plot with no real payoff so I cut it. Enjoy:
Alan laughed. My smile faded as an emotionless voice rang out.
“Visitor requesting access.”
Mind’s “company” voice was a robotic male baritone. Supers, including my ex-wife and ex-assistant, had already heard it so she had continued to use it whenever I had company in the office or attached apartment.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I muttered. “I haven’t even sat down yet!” I reached for the scotch.
“Do you want to have liquor on your breath when greeting a potential client?”
Mind’s female voice, when in stealth mode, always sounded like it was coming from inside my own head, my earpiece already back on its charging cradle in my bathroom. I knew that her stealth mode was accomplished by some sort of focused, sonic speaker do-dad, but it was still, after all these months, disconcerting.
I set the scotch back down and walked around my desk. I pressed a button on my intercom and the black and white image of a woman came into view. She was staring at what I knew to be a blank, metal plate on the wall. I had tacked up a sign that indicated that visitors should place their hand on the plate and speak clearly. I pressed a second button.
“…nyone there? I’m looking for Bob Moore?”
I hit the intercom switch, “Yep. What can I do for you?”
The woman looked unsteady, her eyes darting around. Her face was full, but not fat; her hair longish, but not too long; wavy, but not curly. “I think I need your help.”
It wasn’t often people “thought” they needed my help. I hadn’t been taking many cases lately, but my specialty was supers. I was one of the few who would investigate them. Sometimes, I worked for supers, but more often for tippys. While the police had a reputation for solidarity, supers took it to the extreme. Putting a tippy’s word against a super’s was likely to get you nowhere without some sort of proof. Proof I was particularly good at procuring.
I pressed a third button for Alan’s benefit. Mind controlled the door directly so I didn’t need to do anything. It took some getting used to: having essentially a disembodied voice controlling everything in my home, but I’d had months of practice. While I’d insisted that there be some overrides installed, including an override switch locking her completely out, I hadn’t bothered to even test them. In our months together, aside from her nagging and my threatening to “flip the switch”, Mind had been the best roommate I’d ever had.
I picked up my drink and sat on the corner of my desk while Alan continued working on the printouts. I glanced over at him. His close-cropped, almost shaved head was moist with concentration-generated sweat. He was reading the pages as they came off, looking for clues to the proof he’d required. I’d wanted to stay undercover a bit longer but the call to the Security office pretty much nixed that idea. I’d grabbed the Multikey and tried to leave. But I couldn’t help myself; I had to see what EnviroKop had in mind for me. The fact that they wanted me killed meant that Alan’s suspicions were likely correct: EnviroKop was a front for a super villain or a super villain group. Hopefully the pages would reveal who.
My front door, which led to the stairway to my office/apartment, slid open. Glancing at the frame warily, a woman stepped into my assistant’s office, currently empty. From the open door to my office, I motioned her in. She stepped in and her brown eyes bounced between Alan and me. Rather than make her guess, I put out my hand.
She shook it daintily, grimacing at my shirt. The woman was a good foot shorter than me and looked every bit the mother. She was a bit thick all around, but not unhealthily so. She was probably younger than me, but she exuded motherhood. This was a woman who had spent her formative years cutting pictures of wedding dresses out of bridal magazines. She’d planned everything down to the last detail. She was ready for marriage long before she met the man she’d eventually choose. She’d groomed him, trained him. Poor bastard; probably didn’t know what hit him. She had a purse over one shoulder and a small backpack over the other. When she pulled her hand back, the backpack slid down her arm. It was a cheap, plastic number with an image of the Bulwark on the front. A child’s backpack.
I motioned to my one guest chair. She tried to pull it back, found it bolted to the floor, and instead moved around the arm and sat, her legs crossed demurely. I sat back on the corner of the desk and put on as comforting a smile as I could. The woman’s eyes darted side to side like she wanted to be just about any place other than here.
“What can I do for you Miss…”
“Mrs.” she stressed the title, “Michael. Yes, um…” she faltered.
I smiled again, trying to reassure her, “Mrs. Michael. Can I get you something to drink? Wine? Beer?”
She grimaced, “No, no thank you.” Her eyes ran to my belly, my leg, and then back to her purse, now on her lap.
“It’s the middle of the day, Bob.”
“No, I’m fine. I’m just not sure if you can help me.” She glanced again at my leg, the shiny metal finish reflecting her gaze back at her, albeit distorted by the muscle contour.
I sipped my scotch, Mind tsking in my ear. “Let me be the judge of that,”
I took another sip, glancing toward the corner of the room I often addressed when talking with Mind when we were alone.
I looked back down at Mrs. Michael and patted my metal leg, “Don’t worry about this. An old war wound.”
She stole a last glance at it, unsure. Again she looked at her purse, licking her lips. “It’s just…I don’t know what to do. It’s my husband.”
“He’s a super?”
“I don’t think so.”
This stopped me for a second. “What?”
Mrs. Michael took a deep breath, “Okay. This is the thing. He went in for some testing. He had some ideas about something…sciency…” she waved her hand. “He thought he might be on to something. So he went in to get tested by the Super State. You know, for super genius.”
I knew. It was better than the lottery. If Mr. Michael could prove to the Super State he was a super genius, he could support his family without doing much more than playing around with tools in his garage. The Super State had plenty of money and could afford a few leeches to make sure they got all of the real super geniuses.
I happened to know they had a very good screening process. Gale had explained it to me once. It was unlikely that a tippy could fake his way in.
“I’m guessing he didn’t pass.”
Again she waved her hand, a dismissive gesture that I’m sure drove Mr. Michael crazy, “Of course not. I told him he wouldn’t. But he wouldn’t listen.” She paused and took another deep breath, “And here is where it gets weird. He came home one day and said he’d had a job offer. Something from a research lab. I couldn’t believe it,” she shook her head. “You know what he does for living, Mr. Moore?” She didn’t wait for me to respond. “Writer. And not some sort of technical writer either. He writes for a magazine about gardening equipment. Shovels. That’s his specialty. Loves the things. Can talk you ear off about them.” She sighed.
“And he comes home from the hardware store a month ago saying he’d been approached by a research lab. That they’d gotten the results of his test and that they’d like to interview him. He was thrilled. The next day he put on his best suit and left right after breakfast. I kissed him on the cheek, Mr. Moore. Wished him luck. I didn’t want to see his dreams crushed, but I didn’t see how I could stop him. I went to the store to get lamb. His favorite. I figured he’d need some comforting.
“But when I got home, there was a handwritten message on the counter.” She pulled it out of the child’s backpack and handed it to me. “He’d packed a few sets of clothes and his traveling tool box.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“Don’t get me started on his tools, Mr. Moore. He’s got more than he could ever use.”
I glanced down at the note:
Sorry to tell you this way, but I have great news. I was hired! But I have to start immediately and I’ll be working on-site. I’m not sure what the protocol is for personal calls, so I’m not sure when I’ll be able to talk to you next. Don’t worry. After this, all our worries are over.
Mrs. Michael looked at the purse on her lap, “Financial.” She shook her head, “We’re fine. We really are. But it was never enough for Paul. He wanted more. To provide more. Being a writer doesn’t pay much, Mr. Moore. Specializing in shovels doesn’t help.”
I managed not to laugh at the obvious joke. I cleared my throat, “So, what you want me to do is…”
She locked her hazel eyes with mine, “Find him, Mr. Moore. Bring him home.”
I glanced back down at the note. “Mrs. Michael, I have to say, I’ve seen quite a few cases like this lately…”
“He wouldn’t leave me like this, Mr. Moore. He just wouldn’t,” her jaw was quivering.
I swallowed, “And you are sure this is his handwriting?”
She nodded, blinking back tears.
At some point Alan must have started paying attention as he asked for the paper. He studied it for a moment and then handed it back. “I don’t see any signs of forgery. Nothing obvious at least. I’ve got a guy that could tell you for sure. He’d need a reference sample though…”
Mrs. Michael interrupted, “Aren’t you that reporter? Dirk Dirtwater?”
I smiled at the mention of Alan’s public name. “Your pretty mug gives you away again, Dirk.”
Alan put on his public smile and nodded to Mrs. Michael, “Sure am, ma’am. Sorry to hear about your husband. You say he’s been gone a month?”
She nodded. “He called once. Quickly. Just to reassure me that everything was okay. It was three days after he left. Told me to check the bank account. There was a deposit for $25,000. That’s half his yearly salary.”
I cocked my head, “That fits, Mrs. Michael. He left you a note telling you where he’d be, called you and dropped a wad of cash in your account.” I took a breath, “You really should just go home and wait.”
Her eyes again filled with water, “Please, Mr. Moore. That’s what the police and the supers said. But we used to talk to each other every day. Every day. Even when he was out of town at a convention or tradeshow. There is no way he’d be out of contact this long.” She looked away, “There is no way…”
I sighed, thinking. I’d looked into cases like this. Spouses or parents with missing people. Always with the same story. Dissappeared suddenly, usually a note, sometimes money. I’d looked into a few of them, but they’d mostly turned back up before I could get very far on it. I supposed I could set Mind on it. See what she could do. Mrs. Michael was studying my face. She’d been in that chair before, watching someone decide whether or not she was full of shit. I decided to try one last tact.
“I don’t work cheap.”
I barely got the last word out before Mrs. Michael had her arms wrapped around me, tears now flowing freely. I scowled. She hadn’t even listened when I quoted double my standard, tippy, hourly fee (which was about twenty times less than the super fee). She’d simply agreed and pushed the small backpack full of papers into my arms, and didn’t stop thanking me as she exited, probably afraid if she stayed too long, I’d reconsider.
The backpack was full of any information she could dig up about her husband. Pictures, history, background, friends and family: the works. I made sure to write down the time and date that Paul had called and where he had been on his last day. She didn’t know the name of the research lab that had hired him, which was probably why the police and supers hadn’t bothered to even look into her case. With so little information, you’d need tremendous resources to get anywhere.
Luckily, I had just such resources, not that I’d need them.
The moment the last page printed, Alan was on his feet and ready to go. This case had been his baby…well, other than his actual baby…for the last three months. I suppose that, in some way, justified how I had led him into it. I gave him a fifty-fifty chance of showing up at the meeting tonight.
“Honestly, Bob, you freak people out when you walk around in shorts.”
“Huh?” I finished pouring myself another few fingers of scotch and turned to face Alan, papers under his arm, standing in my office doorway.
“That poor woman…I thought she was going to bolt. Why didn’t you let Tinkerer finish them?”
Mind’s voice lowered, “I’m guessing you are expecting me to try to dig up what I can about the missing Paul Michael?”
“Well, I was going to do it myself but, since you offered…”
“Stuff it, Bob. Flip through the pages.”
I did as requested, pausing slightly to make sure she got a clear picture while checking the back of each page for additional information. Mind would use the hidden cameras placed all over the room to gather all the information in seconds. In a few minutes, she was done.
“Okay. Well, there isn’t much there,” she commented.
“There never is. Do you think this is like the others?”
“It fits the pattern.”
“Well, I told her we’d look into it.” I sipped my scotch. “See what you can find out.”
* * *
“I figured you could try to trace the phone call. Maybe see if any cameras picked up that first meeting.”
“I know, Bob,” Mind’s voice was terse, annoyed. I was always impressed with how human she sounded.
* * *
“A Mr. and Mrs. Michael?”
I almost jumped out of my chair.
“See, I let him do some things.” Mind was in stealth mode again. Without the aid of super hearing of some sort, no one would be able to hear her but me. I was worried about Leon’s new, larger ears, but he hadn’t shown any sign of recognition when we’d tested it earlier.
I crossed the room in four big steps and pulled my door open. In front of Leon’s desk were Mrs. Michael and, I presumed, her husband. Mrs. Michael was clutching her purse and looking somehow both elated and embarrassed. She didn’t meet my eyes.
Mr. Michael didn’t have the same problem. His gaze was steady and level, seeking me out the minute I opened the door. When someone tells you her husband specializes in shovels, you get a mental image. A picture of someone like a lumberjack or a construction worker. A constructionjack, I suppose. All flannel, falling off jeans, yellow hardhats and carrying metal lunchboxes. At least, that’s what I’d pictured. If I’d spent more time with the information Mrs. Michael had dropped off, maybe I would have had a more accurate image.
Mr. Michael was tall, thin and pasty. Much more of a “writer” than a “constructionjack”. His eyes on me never wavered and his expression was guarded.
“Mr. Moore.” Mr. Michael didn’t offer his hand. “I’m sorry my wife wasted your time.” He said it without malice, though Mrs. Michael turned and studied his face. He met her eyes and smiled. She exhaled and turned back to me.
I chuckled, “Not much time, really. She was only here this afternoon. What? Like two hours ago?”
“Timely entrance on my part, don’t you think? If I’d come home just a few hours earlier, we wouldn’t owe you any money.”
I put a hand up, “Really, I don’t think that is necessary.”
“No, Mr. Moore, I insist.” He reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a bulging, white envelope. His extended it toward me.
“There is either $500, $1000, or $2000 in there. Unless he’s paying you in ones.”
My eyes tightened. I took the envelope and thumbed through the bills. Fifties. I whistled.
I pushed the envelope back, “This is far too much. I don’t even charge supers this much.” That wasn’t exactly true. When I’d taken on Doc Arts’ case a while back, I’d tried to get him to use someone else by charging even more. He’d accepted my price, much to my chagrin, and I was still living off the proceeds. He…well, he wasn’t. I shifted my weight to my other leg, trying to chase away the memory of his face, his expression frozen in the terror of his untimely death..
“No, Mr. Moore, we insist.”
I looked at Mrs. Michael. She looked away. One thing was clear: she didn’t agree. But she’d already made her objections and been overruled. My eyes tightened. Maybe I’d misjudged her. Perhaps she wasn’t the strong personality that railroaded her boyfriend into marriage. Or maybe, once married, she was content to play the part of the dutiful wife.
Or maybe something had changed.
“Okay…” I drew the word out. “But, if you don’t mind me asking, where were you all this time? Your wife was obviously concerned.”
Mr. Michael’s mouth grew hard. “Yes. I thought the phone call and the money would convince her, but… Well, you know the rest of the story. Mr. Moore, I can’t tell you much about where I was, but I wasn’t kidnapped as my wife believed.”
“And rightfully so, I’d say. One phone call? I chunk of change in the bank? Sure, even I thought you were probably okay, but surely you can see her side?”
Mrs. Michael’s eyes started to fill with water as I spoke. Had she said these same things?
“No, no, you’re right. I was just…” he trailed off, running a hand with blackened fingertips through his hair.
I noticed, for the first time, the dark circles under his eyes. I held out my arm, “Perhaps you’d like to sit down?” Mr. Michael started to object, but his wife was already on the move. Reluctantly, he followed her into my office. I grabbed a free chair from the wall near the door and shut the door behind us. I set the chair down and Mrs. Michael took it. Mr. Michael sat in the “guest” chair, the one that was “super-proof”. That pretty much meant it was heavy, practically indestructible, and bolted to the floor. It wasn’t all that comfortable, either. “Would you like a drink? I have,” I glanced over at the liquor shelf behind my desk, “well, many things. What’s your poison?”
Mr. Michael held up a hand, “No, Mr. Moore, we really can’t…”
“Do you have any champagne?”
I frowned, thinking. Champagne?
“In the refrigerator. Gale sent it over when you got out of the hospital.”
“I do.” I muttered under my breath, “Apparently.” I pressed the intercom button, ” Leon, champagne. There should be glasses in the kitchen. One of the top shelves.”
I leaned back in my chair, “You were saying, Mr. Michael. About where you were?”
“I was saying that I couldn’t say much about it, Mr. Moore. Confidentiality agreements and all.”
“But you were working with your hands,” it was a statement, “and it didn’t have a thing to do with shovels. In fact, if I had to guess, you were working with soldering. Probably something electronic?”
Mr. Michael glanced at his fingers and then put his hands firmly on his lap where I couldn’t see them. “Yes. I was working with soldering. I can’t comment on the rest.”
“But you worked long hours. Very long. Maybe up to twenty a day? For quite some time I’d guess.”
“His heart rate is spiking. He’s like the others.”
I glared at the “Mind corner”, willing her to shut up. I hadn’t needed her before and she knew I hated it when she butted in.
“See, I think I know just what was going on.”
“You do?” His lips barely moved. Mr. Michael’s face was a stone mask, but his eyes were quivering. Heart rate or no, I knew I had this guy. Mrs. Michael was staring at me like I was her favorite priest telling her the secret to getting into heaven.
“This ‘lab’ or whatever it was, they found you. Somehow. I haven’t worked that out yet. But they did. They knew what your dream was and they helped you realize it. You see, Mr. Michael, a man doesn’t leave his family the way you did unless they have a damn good reason. And they gave you that. The realization of your dream. You built your machine; created your invention. They have it now, part of the agreement, but you got a settlement. Not citizenship in the Super State, but that doesn’t really matter, does it? It was always about the money. Or that’s what you told yourself.” I paused, thinking of the change in the woman sitting before me, “But it wasn’t, was it? It wasn’t about the money. A man doesn’t work as hard as you worked, leave everything behind the way you did, for money. No, this was pride. Pure and simple.”
Mr. Michael’s face was red, “Now see here…”
Leon came in with three champagne flutes and an open bottle. He set the glasses down and started to pour. Mrs. Michael stole a few uncertain looks his way. His nails had continued to recede, as had his hair. He still had a short covering of fur, but from a distance, it looked more like a sunburn. Up close like this, it was clear what it was.
After Leon had left, Mr. Michael leaned in, “Now see here,” he hissed.
I raised a patronizing hand, “No offense intended, Mr. Michael. Pride is as good a reason as any, I suppose. The thing is, I bet it felt great. Working on your dream like that. Being validated from an outside source. I bet you hated going to bed, wished it wouldn’t end.”
“It’s not working. He’s not biting. Try putting him off balance.”
I, again, scowled at the Mind corner as Mr. Michael turned away. Mrs. Michael’s eyes studying the back of his head.
I picked up my glass and held it high, “To your return, Mr. Michael. I, for one, am glad you’re back.”
His façade broke, his eyebrows arching, “Really? Why?”
“Well,” I smiled, “it isn’t because of the money, if that is what you’re thinking. I’m glad for Mrs. Michael.” I turned to her, her face flushing under the sudden attention. She grabbed her glass and sat back, “You realize you’re a pretty lucky lady, right?” Her eyes widened, like a deer caught in headlights. I didn’t wait for her to respond. “Most guys go out and have an affair, buy an expensive car or something equally stupid. Your husband went out and made sure you’d never have to worry about money again. Sure,” I nodded toward him, “he was an insensitive dolt for doing it the way he did, but it all worked out.”
Mrs. Michael swallowed a mouthful of champagne, her eyes wide. “Um…” she finally managed, “thank you?”
“And you,” I turned back to her husband, “I can practically tell you every thought you had when they came at you with their offer because I’ve been in the same predicament. Do the ‘right’ thing that seems wrong or miss the opportunity forever? It’s a tough situation.” Mr. Michael looked relieved, “I can’t say I’d have done the same thing. But that’s me. I’m more of a family man. You? Well, you are lucky though. Not every woman would have waited around for you. Money or no. You could have come back to divorce papers.”
I raised my glass again, this time Mr. Michael followed suit, his eyes wary. “To pride. And it all working out in the end.”
“You’ve got another visitor.”
I scowled at the Mind corner.
* * *
I turned back to the Michaels. “So, Mr. Michael, now that I’ve told you what I know about you…well, most of it, what can you tell me?”
Mr. Michael managed a small, uncertain smile, “Like I said, not much. But you are right. They did give me a ‘now or never’ deadline.” He turned to his wife, “I’m sorry, hon. I…”
He wasn’t really sorry and they both knew it. She reached a hand up and touched his cheek, “It’s okay,” she shushed him. “You’re back now.”
He turned back to me, “So, I went. I just couldn’t help it. And when the job was done…” he paused. “Well, I got my severance package. And now, like you said, we don’t have to worry. We won’t be rich, but we won’t have to worry. And that’s a good thing, right?” He turned back to his wife, “Right?”
“Of course,” she responded.
I nodded, leaning back, enjoying the spectacle of Swell struggling in the beam. His face was so red, I thought he might explode.
“Well, like I said, congrats and all.” I placed the envelope on the table and pushed it toward them, “But really, this isn’t necessary.”
Mr. Michael extended his palm, “No, Mr. Moore, I insist. You were the only one that believed her. For that alone…” he drifted off, looking down as her hand found his.
“Well,” I drained my glass, “feel free to pour more. I have to step out for a moment for a quick meeting with another client. I’ll be right back.”
I nodded cordially to the Michaels and left the door open.
* * *
Mrs. Michael smiled at me, “Thanks, Mr. Moore. We’ve got to go.”
Mr. Michael’s smile wasn’t as genuine, but he still offered it. “Yeah, thanks.”
I nodded. “Let me walk you out.” I turned to Leon, “You, with me. Bring your coat.”
* * *
The main door to the parking garage sealed with a hiss, blocking off the stairs we’d just descended from my office/apartment. Mr. and Mrs. Michael’s chatter had cut off and Leon had walked into the back of Mr. Michael, nearly knocking him over. They had frozen at the sight of Swell, hovering an inch or so off the ground, held firm by the invisible field. He managed to get a few muffled cries for help through his frozen lips, but they were mostly unintelligible.
I stepped forward between the bespiked Swell and the couple, motioning the Michaels to their car, a well-used minivan, “Don’t worry about him. He’s just having a bad day.”
Mr. Michael walked past me quickly, his eyes avoiding the immobilized super. I stopped Mrs. Michael.
“Your husband. Does he seem different to you?”
Mrs. Michael’s eyes widened quickly before she looked away, “What kind of question is that?”
“The kind that I think I know the answer to.”
Mrs. Michael looked back at me, her eyes unsure, “He’s been gone a long time…”
“Are you coming?” Mr. Michael had the car started.
“I have to go.”
I grabbed her arm, “If you change your mind, there are others.”
She nodded quickly and practically ran to her car.
I watched her go. I’d had two of these cases return to me with the spouses complaining that the returned partner was different. Inexplicably different. Two wasn’t enough though. With this sort of event, people changed. Trust was destroyed. It wasn’t enough for a pattern. But I had a hunch.
* * *