Officer Peterson doesn’t leave my side for the next four hours, which is how long it takes me to get processed into the hospital, checked out, diagnosed and patched up. I’d like to believe that it’s because he’s sincerely concerned for my well-being, but it seems a lot more likely that he’s not letting me out of his sight until he can get the story out of me.
To his credit, he waits calmly the entire time, and never once pressures me to start talking before I’m ready. Not that I would with all of the hospital staff and patients buzzing around, anyway. I’ve just about come to terms with telling Peterson what’s going on, which is basically just confirming the weirdness he already suspects. I’m still not ready to shout to the world at large that I’m a total freakshow.
The grand tally of injuries is fairly impressive. I’ve got a broken nose and three broken ribs, which I knew about. I’ve got a concussion, ditto. I’m covered in various bruises, cuts and contusions, and my left pinkie finger got sprained at some point in there. And there’s a furrow down my back, almost a foot long but only about an eighth of an inch deep at the worst point, where the shot Vince fired at me didn’t quite miss. In everything that was going on and with the beating I’d already taken, I never even felt it. It wasn’t until I took off my shirt at the hospital and saw the tear along the back that I knew how close the bullet had come.
Brian pops in at some point in the process, and I’m glad to see that he’s doing better than me. He’s got a mild concussion and some nice bruising, too, and he shows off the bandages covering the second-degree burns on his forearms from where the flaming duct tape clung to him and burned through his shirt. But nothing’s broken, and he seems pretty chipper about the whole process.
“I can’t believe I got you tangled up in this,” I apologize, and Brian laughs.
“All you did was meet me for coffee, man! It’s not like you asked me to go drive you out to find those guys or anything, you know?”
I glare at Brian and cut my eyes at Peterson. I’m glad that Brian’s able to joke about this, but I’d really prefer it if he not get the police officer thinking about the last time he and Brian met. That was in the middle of a lightning-damaged city street, where Brian had just driven me out to find the stormraiser in an attempt to stop her. I’m about to try to convince Peterson that I’m not dangerous and I know what I’m doing, and putting his mind on someone who flooded the city for weeks is not going to do me any favors.
Brian takes the hint and switches to more innocuous chatter, then ducks out when a doctor comes back in with my X-ray results. Peterson continues to wait stolidly, and eventually I’m all bandaged, stitched and pain-killed, and we’re alone in a hospital room.
Peterson closes the door. “Mr. Everton. What did you want to tell me?”
Everything. Nothing. This is still a terrible idea, but I haven’t got a better one. And someone on the police force has to know about Vince’s body double trick, or they’ll never look at him for any of these crimes. So where do I start?
“You’ve been right about me all along. I’ve got — I get — weird powers.”
“Yeah, I — look, do you have a piece of paper?”
I hobble to the bathroom and, at my direction, Peterson crumbles up a wad of toilet paper in the sink. I gesture, and it bursts into flames. I hasten to turn on the taps and put it out before it can set off the smoke alarm.
Peterson, to his credit, barely flinches. He asks, “Can you do that again?”
“As many times as you want.”
“I’d like to set up a camera to–”
“No! No cameras. And no other witnesses, either. I don’t want people knowing I can do this.”
“What are you afraid of, Mr. Everton?”
I laugh, then wince at the pain in my ribs. “Afraid of? I’m afraid of being locked up to be someone’s science experiment. I’m afraid of being used. I’m afraid of being singled out, avoided, hated, feared.”
The drugs are making me expansive, so I press on, “I get a nemesis with these powers, do you know that? I could control magnetism before, and Regina tried to kill me for it. Not even for having the power, really. She just hated me really personally. She tried to bring an entire museum down on my head, and I never did anything to her.
“And now I’ve got Vince, and he’s kidnapping my friends and trying to make me teach him pyrokinesis! And I don’t know how to do that, and I sure don’t want to, and I don’t know how many bodies he’s in or if I’ve even met the real one yet.”
“The real one?” asks Peterson, and I realize I’ve skipped a few steps in the explanation.
“Right. So, Vince Amano, I think he’s my nemesis. This time, for this power, I mean. But the nemesis gets powers, too. Like Regina, remember? You locked her up for it, for a little while. But she was right. She could control the rain and the lightning. She wasn’t wrong.”
“And Vince?” prompts Peterson, getting me back on track.
“Yeah, Vince. Vince has copies. Of himself, I mean. There were three there today at the warehouse, and maybe a fourth who was keeping lookout. And if you had one at the police station that’s five, and the one who hit me with the car is six, because you were right and that was my fault and it was Vince in the car, or at least a Vince.”
“Mr. Everton –”
“Check dental records or something if you don’t believe me!” I suddenly realize I’ve been shouting for the last couple of sentences, and I make an effort to calm down. My heart is beating rapidly.
“Dan. I believe you.”
“Oh. Okay. Good.” I sit down on the bed again, my head swimming slightly. I’m not sure I’m really making my case as a stable and non-dangerous individual, but if Peterson believes me, at least that’s something.
“You believe that Vince Amano has cloned himself for the purpose of committing robberies while maintaining an alibi. You further believe that those clones kidnapped Mr. King and assaulted you, with the goal of learning your power of starting fires with your mind. And you believe that he is intent on killing you, because he is your nemesis.”
Maybe it’s his quiet, straightforward delivery, or maybe it’s just having it all laid out together like that, but it sounds totally insane when he says it. “Yeah, but it’s true! Look, I’ll show you the fire thing –”
Peterson waves me back down. “Unfortunately, Mr. Everton, as I said, I believe you. Absurd and impossible as that sounds, it fits the available facts we have, and explains a few that no other explanation satisfactorily covers. Most recent among these is that we recovered Mr. King’s phone at the warehouse, and Mr. Amano’s fingerprints are on it. You and Mr. King — Brian — both claim that he has the ability to be in multiple places at once, and I’m disgusted to say that that seems like it might well be the case.”
Relief hits me like a wave. “So what are you going to do?”
“Well, I’m not going to write any of this down for the report. That’s a quick trip to see the psychiatrist. So you don’t have to worry about gaining any extra attention just yet.”
Another wave of relief. I should have told Peterson months ago. This is going incredibly well. I really couldn’t have asked for it to turn out any better, in fact.
Suddenly, a thought strikes me, and so what Peterson sees is me using my right hand to pinch the web of skin between my left thumb and forefinger. Then I frown and flick myself in the right side, which causes me to abruptly sit up very straight, hissing and biting my lip in pain.
I describe this from his perspective so that you can get the full impact of the answer to his very reasonable question, “What are you doing?”
“Well,” I tell him, “I, um, thought you were taking this sort of too well, and I thought that with the drugs and head trauma and all, I might be dreaming it. So I pinched my nerve, but it didn’t really hurt, but I thought that might be because of the pain-killers so to confirm that I was asleep, I flicked myself in a broken rib. And, um, I wasn’t asleep.”
I’ve never seen Peterson break into a grin before. I’ve seen him smile, but not in this genuine, unplanned, spontaneous way. He shakes his head at me.
“You have a novel approach to things, Dan.”
“Yeah, um, well. I try.”
After a moment, Peterson stands up. “I’m going to have more questions for you later. For now, let’s free up this room.” He opens the door and I follow him into the hallway, where we immediately run into Dr. Simmons.
“Dan! You look terrible.”
“I don’t feel great either, Doc.”
“And this is another altercation, not a result of your — ah, condition?”
“Yeah, it’s not directly from my ‘condition,’ no. Officer Peterson and I were just talking about that. Officer Peterson, Doc Simmons.”
The two shake hands while the doc looks Peterson over critically. “Are you not still keeping this under wraps, then?”
“It’s still under wraps! I’m just expanding the wrap a little, I guess.”
Doc Simmons hmphs noncommittally. “See if you can keep him out of these altercations,” she says to Peterson.
“I intend to,” he replies.
The conversation done, Simmons dismisses us and strides off down the hall. Peterson and I head on toward the front doors.
“Do you need a ride home?”
“Oh man, yes, please. I was not looking forward to catching the bus like this.”
When I haul my aching body out of Peterson’s car at my house, I suddenly have a bit of deja vu, thinking about the last time this happened right after my first superpower hit. This time, though, instead of telling me not to leave town, Peterson just says, “I’ll give you a call soon. Try to stay out of trouble until then.” Which is a fairly similar message, actually, but a lot less ominous.
Inside, I gingerly seat myself on the couch and get my phone out to text Matt. “Emergency resolved. Sorry again. I’ll be in tomorrow.”
I catch a glimpse of my face reflected on the screen of my phone and add, “Can I work grill? Front counter’s probably not the best idea.”