Gatekeepers #4

Though she wouldn’t have told anyone there, Evey relished the opportunity to really dig into a problem like this. Navigating social situations and such was something that she plodded through, but this? This was where she felt at home: in the eye of the storm.

“I just finished looking through the student files,” Evey said, flinging her finding from her tablet to the main console for everyone to see. “We have 3 Leah’s in our student body.”

Sienna nodded. “And I did a search for all graduates, too. That only adds another seven.”

“Hm.” Cade drummed his fingers on the projection table. “Any criminal records or known associates?”

“No,” Sienna said. “Not that easy, I’m afraid.”

“Well, then, let’s do it this way,” Antonio said. “We know that our suspect is an Extra, and this Extra has some sort of powerset that revolves around something in the neighborhood of earth-moving. What do the records have to say about that?”

Sienna nodded and tapped a few things into her tablet. “Too many hits to be useful. More than 100 altogether. What’s more, all adult criminals on that list — less than 10 — have already been tried and sentenced and are currently serving time. Well, one is out on parole and confirmed to be in Arkansas but wouldn’t have the kind of range to affect us here in Ohio. And only two students currently attending Summit have that kind of potency: Evan Morris and Rachel Kuwakubo.”

Evey couldn’t keep the surprise from her face. Though she had referenced enrollment records, she had known but not seen yet that Athena agents had access to the detailed power profiles of each student; it was still surprising to see in action. She decided not to say anything; no need to look like an amateur.

“So we’re looking at a free agent with no criminal background, then. Or a student,” Antonio said, balancing his chair on its back two legs.

“Looks like it,” Evey said. “Well, we’re going to have to go the long way about this. Cade, I want you and Antonio to talk to our local seismokinetics. Sienna and I will talk to the Leah’s.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Cade said, getting to his feet. “Antonio?”

Antonio gracefully slid off his chair as it clacked into place. “On it.”

“Shall we?” Evey said to Sienna.

Sienna nodded, and they all went their separate directions.

* * * * *

“Do you have anyone who might want to hurt you or your family?” Evey asked one Leah Shroeder. She was a tall, slender girl with hair the color of straw.

Leah shook her head. “Not that I can think of, Miss. Um. Bloom, was it?”

Evey smiled. “Evey is fine.”

“Evey. Okay.” Leah thought it over. “No. I’m the first Extra in my family, so it’s not like we’re on the wrong side of someone like Mr. President or something like that.”

Sienna raised an eyebrow. “That’s a specific person to call out.”

Leah turned a little pink. “Sorry. He’s just been on the news lately.”

“As always,” Evey said quietly. “Thank you for your time, Leah.” Evey slid her a business card. “If you can think of anything else, don’t hesitate to call me. Day or night.”

“Okay, I will!” Leah said as she slipped the card into her pocket.

* * * * *

“Is there anyone who would want to hurt you or try to coerce your family into doing something?” Evey asked one Leah Riveli. She had jet black, curly hair with a complexion to match, and she sat easily back in her chair, chewing gum.

“Nope,” Leah said, looking distinctly bored.

“Just ‘nope?’” Sienna asked, mouth drawing in a line.

“Well, I mean,” Leah said around a bubble gum bubble, “I can’t think of anything. My dad’s the Minute Man. You know, for There Yesterday?”

Evey nodded. “The Extra courier company.”

“Yep.” She blew another bubble. “Everybody loves us, and There Yesterday doesn’t really do the whole hero thing.”

“Still, there’s a lot of money that goes through that outfit.” Sienna sat down at the table next to Evey. “Has your dad ever mentioned having any problems with anyone?”

“Nope,” Leah said.

Evey sighed but knew better than to push it. After all, this girl was a little bit of a punk but not a criminal. “Well, Leah, if can think of anything, I’d like you to give me a call.” Evey slid her a business card.

“Sure.” Leah blew another bubble that popped loudly.

* * * * *

The final Leah, Leah Masters, looked tired but very well-kempt. Her overall image was one of, well, a studious student: neat, button-up blouse, neatly-ironed skirt (neither of which were required by the dress code) and well-polished shoes. It was an outfit that Evey would have expected to see at a preparatory school more than somewhere like Summit.

“Hi, Leah,” Evey said, smiling a little. “Do you mind if I call you Leah?”

Leah shook her head.

“Okay, then,” Evey said. “Leah, you know the earthquake on campus earlier today?”

She nodded.

“The person who caused it scratched a name in the wall,” Evey said. “Do you think that someone would be trying to hurt you or your family for any reason?”

Leah chewed on her lip for a moment and hesitated before she said, “I can’t think of a reason.”

Sienna looked up from her tablet and fixed the girl with a penetrating stare; Leah wilted in front of it.

“Is there something else that you would like to tell us, Leah?” Sienna asked. Evey decided not to look at Sienna at that moment, as she wanted to provide unified front while interacting with the students. However, that frosty tone wasn’t acceptable with an innocent girl, so Evey would have to talk to her about that later.

“I think it was Jimmy!” Leah said in a hushed voice as she buried her head in her hands.

“… Jimmy?” Evey asked, sliding over a box of tissues that she had brought in just for the occasion.

“My older brother. He’s a seismokinetic.” Leah took a tissue and blew her nose loudly.

Evey and Sienna shared a look.

“Leah,” Evey said. “Do you know why your brother would do something like this? Did he have some sort of vendetta against you?”

Leah shook her head frantically. “No, not at all. I love Jimmy,” she said, then blew her nose. “But he… I think he does bad things or something.”

Evey saw out of the corner of her eye that Sienna leaned just the slightest bit closer.

“Go on?” Evey asked.

“He’s done some… things,” Leah said. “He hasn’t said before, but he’ll just show up with money sometimes. He’ll even do that when he doesn’t have a job. It doesn’t really go together, you know?”

Evey nodded, the wheels starting to turn in her mind.

“Has he always been like this?” Sienna asked. “Doing things like what you had mentioned?”

Leah shook her head. “It started after Dad died.”

“I’m sorry to hear about that,” Evey said.

“Thank you,” Leah said, sighing. “It happened a while ago. I was pretty little, too, so I don’t remember him all that much. Jimmy, though… he tried to be a dad to me and stuff. Tried to help mom.”

Sienna’s eyes were already alight with thought, so she was probably already a few steps further down the path that Evey had started on in her own thinking.

“And your mother,” Evey said. “She still lives here in town?”

Leah nodded. Evey nodded too, though inwardly. She felt like she had what she needed.

“Thanks for your time, Leah. If you think of anything — and especially if Jimmy contacts you — please let me know, okay?” she said as she slid her card to Leah.

Leah took the card in both hands and nodded. “Okay, I will. Is… is Jimmy in trouble?”

Sienna and Evey shared another look. “No. At least, not yet.”

* * * * *

“Both of the students had alibis,” Cade said as they reassembled in the main room. “Evan Morris was across campus and can only use his powers within his line of sight; Rachel Kuwakubo was in the building that was evacuated and requires ongoing concentration for an effect of that magnitude. And she was on the move.”

“I appreciate your work, everyone,” Evey said, but then she nodded to Sienna, who flicked a motion across her tablet that made the imaging table light up with a man’s three-dimensional profile. “But we have a suspect. This is James Masters, who is not only a seismokinetc but has a sister named Leah here at Summit.”

Antonio’s brow knitted in confusion. “Why would he attack his sister’s school? Some kind of family feud?”

Sienna shook her head. “It doesn’t look that way right now, no. According to Leah, they get along very well. What’s more, she wasn’t in the building that got attacked, which suggests a familiarity with her schedule.”

“Maybe it was teach someone a lesson?” Antonio asked. “Like, trying to scare a crappy teacher or a bully?

“Doesn’t track,” Cade said. “Intimidation like that only works when the person doing the intimidating and why they’re doing it are clear. This doesn’t have a clear perpetrator, a clear target, or a clear reason.”

“And the people in town had nothing to do with Summit,” Sienna said. “I’ll double-check to make sure, but I don’t imagine I’ll find anything.

“It doesn’t matter,” Antonio said. “People are going to get hurt if this keeps going.”

“Very true,” Evey said, getting to her feet. She had a feeling that Sienna would have already done it, so she asked, “Sienna, what is his current place of residence?”

Sienna made a face. “Unknown, unfortunately. His last listed address is here in Akron, and he hasn’t been there for a little over three years.”

“Do you have Leah’s mother’s address?” Evey asked, not feeling particularly happy with the idea but unable to think of a better one.

Sienna nodded. “I do.”

Evey’s stomach felt leaden, but she still got to her feet. “Antonio, if you would come with me, we need to go talk with Mrs. Masters.”

Antonio nodded.

“I could start making patrols around campus,” Cade suggested, “and keep my senses open for this man. Now that I’ve acquired his aggression profile, I should be able to pick him out more easily.”

“That’s a terrific idea,” Evey said. “Sienna, gather any information you can about James, and if you find out that he’s here in town –”

“– I’ll make sure to give you the word,” Sienna said, giving a tight smile as her tone grew strained. “This isn’t our first time at the rodeo.”

Evey smiled back but genuinely. “I know. I’m just getting my feet underneath me. Antonio?”

Antonio nodded, and the two of them gathered up their equipment and left for town, Cade close behind them.

* * * * *

Evey and Antonio walked up to the front door of the Masters home, though Evey would have normally been hesitant to apply the word “home” to it. It had clearly not been taken care of, what with debris littering the front yard and a front porch that was nearly groaning under the weight of old appliances: a washing machine that had seen better days; a half-broken-down microwave (it was missing its door).

“This isn’t any place for a family,” Antonio said, and Evey decided not to say anything. Instead, she nodded noncommittally at him and tapped lightly on the door. There wasn’t any answer at first, so Evey knocked again with more force. There was a stirring inside, and then the door opened. The woman on the other side of the door was clearly in poor health, what with her sunken-in eyes and grayish pallor. Evey had seen more than her fair share of the ill during her time with Crosswinds, and Mrs. Masters looked bad even by those standards.

In the time that Evey triaged — rather, analyzed — Mrs. Masters’ health, Mrs. Masters had realized that she was not just answering the door for anyone but for People in Uniforms. She pulled herself up to a better standing position than she had been occupying a moment before, but it was clear from her sharp breath that it cost her.

“I’m very sorry to bother you, Mrs. Masters,” Evey said, offering a sympathetic smile. “I’m Agent Bloom; this is Agent Dominguez. We’re with the Athena Program. We need to speak with you.”

Her eyes went wide. “Is this about Leah?”

“A little bit, ma’am,” Antonio said, and Evey noted that he had a adopted a soft, almost warm tone. She already felt good about choosing to bring him along. “Would you be more comfortable speaking to us out here or inside?”

Mrs. Masters looked back over her shoulder — Evey stopped herself from following her gaze — and then stepped out onto the porch and closed the door behind her.

“Out here, please,” she said, then leaned against the doorframe. “So, what’s happened?”

“Well, ma’am,” Evey said. “We’ve been seeing unusual, targeted seismological activity throughout the area over the last 48 hours…”

Evey then described all the events that had unfolded since she had started her work at Summit (with Antonio providing a touch of character to it to make it sound a little less ominous), and Mrs. Masters listened with rapt attention all the while. When Evey was done recounting events, Mrs. Masters sighed.

“So, you think it was Jimmy,” she said, and Evey noted that it was a statement, not a question.

“That’s right, ma’am,” Evey said. “Forgive me for saying so, but you don’t sound surprised.”

Mrs. Masters shrugged one shoulder. “Jimmy has always been wanting things to be better for the family. He really stepped up when Mike died… in some ways. Not so much in others.”

Evey couldn’t help but notice that next to no sadness touched Mrs. Masters’ voice when she spoke of her husband’s death. She had moved on.

“Then he got a scholarship from those civil engineering people, and he was off to college. For all the good that did.” Mrs. Masters reached inside her bathrobe to produce a pack of cigarettes, and she pulled one out and put it in her mouth. Evey was very unhappy with the health choice but kept a stoic face. “Even with a pretty-much-guaranteed job after school, he wasn’t satisfied. He had already been trying to get rich quick, so working at a steady job wasn’t for him. Not that he even made it; he flunked out after losing his scholarship.” Mrs. Masters began feeling around in her robe. “Where’d I put that lighter?”

As if he had planned for it, Antonio produced a lighter and held it up for her. She lit her cigarette and took a shaky puff. “Thanks.” She exhaled a cloud of smoke. “Where was I?”

“Getting rich quick,” Evey said.

“Ah, yeah.” She took another drag from the cigarette. “He thought that having powers could make up for not planning anything. He wasn’t wrong exactly, but he could never keep money long enough to do much with it. He’d get me and Leah presents, sometimes, and then we wouldn’t hear from him for months.”

Evey nodded. “Do you have any contact information for your son? It would be helpful.”

Mrs. Masters shook her head. “I had his phone number, but it was out of service when I tried it last.”

“And when was that?” Evey asked.

“Friday,” Mrs. Masters said.

“And the most recent address we have for him is over on Independence Avenue,” Antonio said. “Do you have a more recent one than that?”

Mrs. Masters shook her head. “That’s the one I got, too.”

“Okay, then,” Evey said, nodding. “Thanks for your time, Mrs. Masters.” They turned to leave, but Evey heard Mrs. Masters say something.

“Please don’t hurt him,” she said.

“… sorry?” Evey said, her and Antonio both turning back to her.

“It sounds like he’s made another stupid decision, but he’s a good boy. Well, he means well, I guess I should say,” she said, punctuating with an exhalation of smoke. “If he’s doing this, it’s because he thinks it would do well by us. I’m almost sure of it.”

Evey considered for a moment. Though she would still have to make sure that he was brought in and gotten under control, it was clear that he wasn’t some criminal by nature. Well. Not one that had gotten caught and tried, anyway. That shaded the situation… but didn’t change it as much as Mrs. Masters seemed to hope it would.

“I understand, Mrs. Masters,” Evey said, nodding to Antonio. “Thanks for your time.”

Mrs. Masters nodded and slipped back into the house. Evey and Antonio started back toward the car.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Antonio asked Evey in a volume more approaching his usual one.

“I believe so,” she said. “Someone has offered to take care of the Masters in exchange for Jimmy’s cooperation.”

“Sounds about right,” Antonio said, opening the passenger door of the car. “I can kinda understand wanting to do it.”

Evey shook her head. “Not me. But we need to stop him, regardless.”

“Couldn’t agree more, boss,” Antonio said, getting into the car. Evey followed suit and the two of them drove back toward campus.

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