Bold words like that sound great, but they turn out not to be all that helpful at actually getting things done. Here’s what I do manage to do: I successfully make it out of the hospital and into Brian’s car without getting struck by lightning. Like I said, it’s amazing what passes for progress for me these days. All things considered, though, I’m willing to call that a pretty great start. And not having to wait for the bus is a pretty great bonus, so basically everything’s off to an excellent start.
Unfortunately, that’s as far as it goes. On the way back, Brian asks me, “So what’s the, you know, game plan?”, and I stare at the windshield wipers and try desperately to think of one. Nothing comes to mind, so I just start thinking out loud.
“All right, what do I know? I’ve got electrical powers, and lightning hates me. Um. Well. That’s — sort of it, really.”
I kind of wish I’d kept the thought process internal. This worked out so much better when I had superintelligence. I can remember making the charts in my head, one point leading effortlessly to the next, but all I’m getting now is a bunch of question marks. How do I find the guy doing this? What do I do once I find him? Why is he doing this?
I’m veering from introspection into a pity party, so I put the brakes on that train of thought and try again. “Okay, so maybe I can use that to lure him out or something. I could get hit by lightning again, and play dead until he came to investigate, maybe.”
“There’ll probably be a lot of people coming to investigate. Even if he does come, how will you know which one is him?” asks Brian.
“Yeah, okay. Maybe I could just take the lightning strike instead, take like a bunch of them and shrug them off, and then wait for him to come find out what’s wrong with his lightning.”
“How will he know you’re doing this? I doubt he can, like, see through the lightning.”
“Fine, I’ll just keep taking lightning strikes until a camera crew comes to film me, and then I’ll challenge him to a duel,” I say, grinning.
“Come, Wizard of Weather! Face your nemesis, the Electrode!” says Brian.
I make a face. “The Electrode, really?”
“What do you want to be called?”
“Nothing! I’m not keeping this power, anyway. But I mean, like, The Volt would be cool. Or Amperage or Live Wire.”
“Livewire’s a kind of Mountain Dew, man. I think you should be The Conductor.”
“Man, you are banned from names,” I tell Brian.
“Whatever, Code Red.”
We banter all the way back to the house, and when I get out of his car, I’m smiling despite the rain that’s threatening to disintegrate the hospital shirt. Inside, while I peel out of my soaked clothes and go in search of dry ones, I realize that I haven’t had a friend to just goof around with in a while now, maybe even a couple of years. I hadn’t even realized that I’d been missing it, but it feels good.
Over the course of the next week, my good mood slowly evaporates, beaten down by the relentless rain. I have to stand out in it every night on my way to work, huddling under the bus shelter while the rain discovers new ways to defeat my bundling and run down under my clothes and inside of my cast. The cast is the worst, since the trails from the rivulets of rain itch for an hour after they’ve dried, an unreachable nuisance. And Edgar has taken to glaring at me on his way out of the museum each night, as if he blames me for the rain. Admittedly, he’s sort of right on that score, but since there’s absolutely no way he could know that, I’m not willing to count that as a reasonable reaction.
And so when next Sunday arrives, I’m sitting gloomily on the floor of my house, charging up beer caps and making them stick together. I’ve learned how to leave the charge attached to them, so when the phone rings and I demagnetize my hands to pick it up, the sculpture I’m building still holds together.
That’s the one good thing that’s happened this week: it turns out that you’ve really got to go to town on a phone with a magnet to do serious damage to it, so once I charged my battery back up, my phone was fine again. I don’t recognize the number on the display, but it’s an in-town area code and I’m not doing anything, so I pick it up.
“Mr. Everton? This is Sam Peterson.”
My stomach lurches, for absolutely no good reason. Apparently I’m just always going to feel guilty talking to this guy. “Officer Peterson! What can I do for you?”
“I wanted to give you a courtesy call to let you know that I’m pulling the patrolmen off of your case.” He doesn’t sound happy about it.
“What’s going on?”
“Nothing, Mr. Everton, which is the issue. With the two similar attacks in rapid succession, I was able to justify sending an officer by in hopes of catching a third attempt, but with nothing happening for weeks, it’s just not feasible. As it is, everyone’s overworked with this storm. We’ve got half of the force out directing traffic, rescuing flooded motorists, and dealing with the problems that come along with all of the blackouts we’ve been having.”
An idea occurs to me. “Hey, where are the blackouts?”
A pause. “Where trees are down on power lines, mainly. That’s a strange question.”
“Yeah, I was just wondering if they were centered in one main area or anything,” I say, artlessly.
“I can’t imagine why they would be.”
“No, I mean, probably not. I was just thinking. It’s probably dumb. I’m sorry.”
I exchange pleasantries with Officer Peterson and hang up, my mind racing. I rush to the computer and load up the power company’s website, where I find exactly what I was hoping to see: a map of the outages in the area. Grinning with excitement, I start scanning the outages, looking for a pattern and a central location that they stem from.
Half an hour later, all I’ve got for my troubles is a screenshot drawn over with a hundred intersecting red lines in Paint, all of which stubbornly refuse to make any sort of coherent picture or point to any area. It looks like Peterson was right; they’re just spread randomly throughout the city. I heave a frustrated sigh and glare at the computer, which sits there impassively.
My phone beeps, and I haul it out to see the message. It’s another weather alert, which have been coming in fairly regularly. This one, like many before it, warns of increased chances of flooding due to the excessive rainfall.
“Yeah,” I tell my phone, “I just about figured that. Until the storm moves, there’s probably going to be–“
The answer hits me, blindingly obvious. I pull the web browser back up and load up the weather radar map for the city, and sure enough, there it is. The storm that’s been camped over the city hasn’t just been sitting still. It’s been rotating, turning in a slow spin. And right in the center of it, I’m willing to bet, is the guy I’m looking for.