I think my boss is a supervillain.
It’s not just the way she looks — though the constant parade of high heels, skin-tight outfits, silver hair, and tight red lips don’t help. No. It’s the way she keeps looking at me when I talk about superheroes.
“Bunch of skinflints,” she’d say. “Leave it to the law to deal with the villains. There’s no place for vigilantes in this world.”
Convenient, when you consider that the entire city’s law enforcement was turned on its head when the supervillain Cascade rolled into town last time. Cognitus was the only thing that stopped her, so why wouldn’t she want him out of the way?
I watch Cassie strut around the archives on her six-inch red heels. Does anyone but a supervillainess wear shoes like that? Do normal people have flawless silver-white hair at thirty-five? I’ve determined long ago that it’s not a wig by “accidentally” spilling cold coffee on it. It also seems to be natural, otherwise she’s just really good about dying her roots. And the name. Cassie? That’s not even subtle. Plus, she has that kind of mean streak that only villains have. You know, that subtle snark at everything you say, that little head tilt like you’re beneath them, or when you ask to use their stapler they hand it over with a look that says they’d rather be using it to staple your extremities to the wall.
Also, who uses words like “skinflints” but mob bosses and — you guessed it — supervillains?
I make a face and put a forkful of salad into my mouth almost spitefully. Nicki is eating and gesturing at me in the way she always does — like I’m some nutty child obsessed with Pokemon cards.
“Besides, does it matter if she used to be a supervillain? You know the protocol. Villains rehabilitated by Cognitus don’t have memories of who they used to be, so what’s the point of trying to find out?”
“I just really want to know,” I say. “Aren’t you curious? Don’t you want to know if we’re working under one of the most dangerous supervillains ever to hit the city?”
“Nope.” Nicki shakes her head. “You need to chill. We’ve been over this. Leave the heroes and villains alone to do their thing. Remember that time you ran into a burning building to take a picture of Blaze? She almost burned you to cinders because she didn’t see you!”
“Well, yes, but . . .”
“And that thing with Fall Guy. Didn’t you rush onto a crime scene to look at him and he tried to drop a car on you because he thought you had a gun?
“That was on me.”
“They’re all on you, Kadie. You must stop obsessing over superheroes. You’re going to get yourself killed. We work in a library. It’s not interesting, but can’t you find excitement some other way?”
I grumble and stir my salad.
“What are you going to do if you do find out that she’s Cascade? She’s not a hero, you know. The heroes are at least sorry when they almost kill you. Didn’t she gut someone in a restaurant parking lot?”
“He was stealing . . .”
“Change! From her car! Some poor valet took a handful of nickels! And let’s not forget the Hoover Dam incident. How many thousands of lives was that? Isn’t that how she got her name?”
“Well, that’s my point! If someone like that is our boss, don’t you want to know?”
“Nope. I would want to stay off their radar and do my work.” Nicki glances up at me and I catch the glint in her eyes. Despite her protests, I can always tell when she’s hiding a little excitement about my obsession.
“What?” I ask eagerly. “What? What do you know?”
Nicki dips her head conspiratorially and drops her voice as if afraid someone would hear. “You know that room in the back of the archives?”
I nod, suddenly excited.
“Well, I hear they keep some of the . . . you know . . . files in there. They can’t make those things electronic, you know. Might leak out. So it’s all on paper, and they store it in all sorts of unsuspecting places.”
“And you think . . .” I’m whispering, too.
“I mean, only Cassie has the keys, right? And I’ve been here three years. I have never heard of anyone else getting that key. She keeps it on her and never lets anyone else hold it. When she’s out — which is almost never — it just stays locked and no one goes in. If she’s Cascade, and she’s getting her memories back, wouldn’t she want to keep everyone from finding out who she is?”
“And what better way to do it than keeping the files to herself!” I gasp. “I have to see these files!”
“Leave me out of it,” Nicki says, going back to her lunch. Then, she pauses. “Well, most of it. I do want to know if you accidentally see something in there. Say, if a certain key in her office, where I type her memos in the afternoon, just happened to find its way to you . . .”
OK, I admit it. I’m a little obsessed with superheroes.
I don’t remember exactly when it started, but at some point in my semi-adulthood, in that awkward stage between being a teenager and a responsible, full-fledged adult, I stumbled onto this little hobby that quickly became something of a lifestyle.
I can’t help it. I’m tired of being a librarian. I feel like an old woman at twenty-eight. Everything the superheroes do were so different from my life. So big and grand and exciting while I whittled my life away one day at a time behind the library stacks.
Blaze is a favorite, and not just for me. She lights up the sky like a phoenix and flies into each battle like she has nothing to lose.
Silverado certainly has his style. I have several memorabilia silver bullets from his battles. Such flair.
Fall Guy is new on the scene, still a little unsure of himself, but to me that’s part of his charm. There are so few things like watching a hero find his footing and come into his own. Exciting times, always, when there’s a new hero in the works.
Now that is an interesting story.
I’ve always been interested in Cognitus. In fact, I may be a bit of a fanatic. I may have rushed him one too many times whenever he’s on a crime scene and there may be a teensy, weensy, temporary restraining order involved. I don’t know if it’s his chiseled features, dash of honey blond hair, or just that he’s so different from the others. Most superheroes are of the bag-and-tag variety: catch the bad guy, ship’em off to jail. But Cognitus is unique. His style, as far as I understand it, centers around rehabilitation. No one knows exactly how many criminals and villains he’s rehabilitated. That information is locked away and not even printed on his limited edition collectible cards. All the public knows is, he’s effective, and he gets results.
The power of Cognitus involves memory.
When a criminal is caught, he tinkers with their memory and reintroduces them to society. I hear he also manipulates the memory of those within a certain area, enough for the criminal’s face to be forgotten, just enough so that they can have a real chance at becoming a productive member of society without being hindered by their infamous past.
This leaves the question though, of exactly how many former bad-doers are among us in this fair city. It’s a question often debated, and everyone seems to have an opinion on it. But the fact is, Cognitus gets results. No trouble has ever been reported from the criminals he’s rehabilitated, or at least none that anyone knows of.
Of course, most of them are small fries. Purse snatchers, car thieves, and one or two may have run some jewel heists in their time. But Cascade changed that.
Young, beautiful, charismatic, and deadly, Cascade didn’t just kidnap a senator or two. She held entire cities hostage and came and went out of maximum security prisons as she pleased. Her most famous encounter was with Blaze, whom she doused.
With the Hoover Dam.
The city ran out of options before those in power began to consider to letting Cognitus have his turn. She’s too dangerous, they said. Leaving her free to stroll the city was just too risky. They argued, they fought. Meanwhile, Cascade blew up the city square and took a selfie with the mayor biting the blackened curb behind her.
And so Cascade was rehabilitated. Or so they say. There has been a general tension in the city the last two years since she vanished. No one remembers what she looks like, except a vague description. There’s rumors that they put her through some cosmetic changes also. No one knows. But couldn’t she be here? A woman with silver white hair, killer heels, and a worsening dislike of superheroes, biding her time until she can make her return?
I admit I have an ulterior motive. If I can root out Cascade and prove that she’s regained her memory, maybe they’ll lift that restraining order and I can finally get close enough to Cognitus finally complete my superhero scrapbook. But first things first — I need to see what’s in that room.
The library benefit dinner is in full swing and everyone who’s anyone in the city is here. I see the comptroller, the police captain, and the mayor, who flinched when I tried to offer him a refill on his drink, but he’s been a little gun-shy since the curb-biting incident. I can’t name many more of them, but that doesn’t matter. Only one thing matters tonight — Cassie’s speech.
Cassie is due to speak about the historical significance of the city’s oldest and biggest library. I wrote the initial draft of the speech, though she deemed it “a downright incompetent hodgepodge of nonsense.” Right now, she’s going out of her way to ignore me while hobnobbing with the city’s elites. I eye her lavender evening dress and seven-inch peach-colored heels with a hint of envy. I could never pull that off. However, tonight I’m happy to see how much she’s dolled up because in her vanity, she’s unable to carry the large ring of keys.
I slip away from the bustle of the party, which isn’t hard to do given no one gives me a second glance anyway. Outside the event room, in the deserted hallway leading to the stacks, Nicki is hanging out, looking deliberately nonchalant as I pass her. She reaches out and hands me a stick of gum. I take it without looking, feeling so cool, like a spy on a mission. I don’t look at her or the gum as I unwrap it. The key is inside, tucked behind the pink gummy stick and I slip it into my pocket with one hand and pop the gum into my mouth with the other.
I could totally be a superhero.
Or a sidekick.
Imagine if I were a spy for Cognitus, or Blaze, or even Fall Guy.
I may not be able to pull off stilettos but I bet I can still find a great costume.
“What are you doing?”
I spin around. My back hits the door with an awkward thud. The key nearly falls from my fingers but I manage to keep my grasp on it.
Cassie narrows her silver eyes. I swallow hard.
“Nothing,” I say. “Just . . . milling about.”
She looks at me, at my hand hiding behind my back, at the door. “You’re not supposed to be over here,” she says.
I straighten and try to look confident. “Don’t worry about it,” I say. “Don’t you have a speech to give? You don’t want to be late. That would be . . . awful.”
She looks at the door again. Is that a hint of fear in her eyes? Is she worried I’m going to expose her? Suddenly, I wonder if I should be afraid. If she’s a supervillain and her memories are restored, could she kill me right here and now? She takes a step toward me, daggers in her eyes. I take a moment to decide if I should flee or beg for mercy.
But then she leaves.
She turns and leaves, hurrying off as her heels click against the floor. Must be late for her speech. I let out a breath of relief. No time to waste. I quickly push the key into the lock and turn it. I’ve come this far. I can’t back out now. I just need a glimpse. One piece of evidence. Just one . . .
The back room is completely bare. Four empty walls, a single writing desk and a single chair. No windows. Surprise and disappointment both take a moment to process, and in that moment, they step in and lock the door behind them. Rough hands push me into the chair and turn me around to face them. Handcuffs click around my wrists as the police captain bends over me.
“We figured you would find yourself back here eventually,” he says. “So, we’ve had pertinent items removed ahead of time.”
“We have evidence of your attempt to coerce Ms. Nicki Sanchez for access into this room, as well as your threat to Ms. Cassandra Lee when she tried to confront you. I think another rehabilitation is in order.”
I blink again. My mind is blank. I’m so confused. “I just wanted an autograph,” I blurt out.
“Playing innocent won’t get you off this one.” He motions to one of the men behind him. “Send for Cognitus.”
My heart skips. “Cognitus? Here?”
He arches a brow. “Pleading won’t work now. We will be going for full wipe this time.” He shakes his head. “Cognitus is much too optimistic a man. He believed you could be reformed, that you would never remember. He didn’t think all the security around you was necessary. Even thought allowing you to attend this function would be all right. The mayor may not remember your face, but I can bet you he never got the taste of that curb out of his mouth.” The corner of his lip curved slightly. “After this round, you’ll be lucky to be able to wipe your own drool.”
But I’m not listening. My mind is racing. Cognitus is coming. I can finally see him up close and tell him what I big fan I am. I smile as they take me out of the room, through the lobby filled with policemen and reporters calling “Cascade! Cascade! Look this way!”
“Do you think he’ll give me an autograph?” I ask the policeman pushing me into the back of the armored van.