Archive for February, 2011


Posted: February 28, 2011 in Announcements / General

Well, too many late nights of fighting crime in the mean streets of Southern Maine have taken their toll, and I’ve been laid up and unable to write about the exploits of my costumed comrades.

Or, perhaps it’s just that my little girl was home all week for winter break, spending (or so it seemed) 90% of that time on my lap at my computer to play Wizard 101 online. Plus illness making its way through my home and sapping my will to write.

But things are looking up, and my mild-mannered self will soon be back in action against the bad guys.

Or, the good guys sometimes, too, as the case may be.

I actually have the next installment of “The Gathering Storm” almost completed, but it might be a few days before I get it up. Problem is that I start introducing a character only seen in passing before, Crazy Jane, and I feel like I need to do a one-shot story backtracking a little from her first appearance to set the stage for the unfolding of who she is and what she will be doing.

Of course, that wouldn’t have been much of a problem either (i.e. I should have been able to knock out that story by now) except that as Valentine’s Day approached, I realized I probably shouldn’t break my streak of having a stand-alone story for most major celebratory/holiday times, and so I spent my time throwing together a Doctor Holiday story instead (Tough Love) at the last minute.

Rest assured, the Crazy Jane stand-alone story, “Insanity Peal,” is indeed already in progress, and I hope to have it up this weekend, followed shortly thereafter by chapter 13 of “The Gathering Storm.”

She looked up the tall, burly man—a veritable giant compared to her tiny frame—with eyes wide, round and damp with terror. She didn’t know him. She didn’t know where she was. She wanted her Mommy and Daddy. She just wanted to give them the Valentine’s Day card she had made for them in her first-grade class today.

“I love you so very much,” the man told her in a voice that seemed too chirpy and high-pitched for someone so gruff looking and titanic of stature. Still, despite the voice’s lack of baritone character or rumbling bass notes, it was threatening. And it sounded especially wrong to her. Odd. Dangerous. Wicked.

Like the Wicked Witch of the West, maybe, but a man’s version.

“I wanna go home,” she whined.

He struck her across the shoulder, knocking her down. “No one loves you there. I love you,” he almost screeched. “I don’t want to mark your face. But I’m going to have to hurt you to make you understand, won’t I? To make you understand how much I love you. To make you love me back.”

* * *

Another man in another place shook his head, wrapped all around with thick brown cotton strips except for his eyes, nostrils and mouth. He tried to shake out the clinging toxic nature of the words he had just heard and the images he had seen but they wouldn’t come loose from his mind.

Was that happening now? Or did it happen already? Or is it still yet to happen?

He knew he had to find her, regardless. The big man might have done so much more to her already, or might not. But whatever level of harm had been done, Doctor Holiday would need to be there to clean up the mess. To punish.

But most of all, Doctor Holiday hoped he could be there to save. Last Valentine’s Day, he’d been anything but a hero. He’d done things to a woman not much less worse than what this little girl in his thoughts faced right now—or had faced already—or had yet to suffer. He’d been a ravager. Tonight, in the space between twilight and darkness, his faces of love and justice were mostly aligned. The darker faces were obscured. This year he could be a saint on Valentine’s Day. Or at least far from a sinner.

He felt he was getting closer to the girl; the visions were becoming clearer and clearer. Proximity to her would be the most logical explanation for that.

Doctor Holiday saw a street thug, who turned as his peripheral vision caught the play of light from the digital display on Doctor Holiday’s chest, festively declaring that Valentine’s Day was here with a flourish of exploding hearts and kissing lips and spinning chocolate boxes and blooming roses.

By the time the street-tough could even make sense of who it was he was dealing with, Doctor Holiday had him by his collar and lifted him off the ground.

The thug started talking immediately. He need no prodding to answer Doctor Holiday’s questions. He spilled responses out; he even gave answers the transhuman didn’t need and didn’t want. But he didn’t know anything about the girl.

Doctor Holiday had been through 23 guys like this already in quick succession, with none of them being any help but all of them unwilling to be silent when he questioned them—unwilling to challenge him. His reputation preceded him.

A pity I can’t always be a hero, because no one dares to anger Doctor Holiday unless they’re as insane as I am.

As it happened, though, the two-dozenth time was the charm.

* * *

Just a little while earlier, she had been holding the construction-paper heart of fuschia with red lace around the edges and little plastic gems glued to it and the “I Love Mom and Dad” scrawled in her own hand with purple marker and her own name signed in white crayon.

She had been walking to the bus when the ground fell away from her and she was whisked away in sweaty arms with a crone-like voice stridently telling her he would make everything all right.

The card she had made fell the ground when he took her.

She could just barely see it fluttering away on the wind as he carried her away against her will.

Fluttering away like all her hopes.

* * *

The vision hit Doctor Holiday hard. He was close. He must be. But this vision was out of sequence. Did that mean he was looking for the girl and her abductor too soon? Had she not been snatched yet? Or was he grabbing random thoughts from her mind?

It was all so confusing to him, all the more so because he had to get used to a whole new palette every time a holiday awakened his mind—or a threat to him did. Did he have clairvoyance? Telepathy? Both? Right now, he’d rather have super-senses to track her scent and Speedster powers to move him along more rapidly toward her, but they seemed not to be in his list of options.

So many people thought of Doctor Holiday almost as if he were a god. He appeared, and seemingly had whatever power he needed. He’d never been captured, hindered or substantially harmed. No one could track him. No one could stop him.

Hell, it makes me feel like a god sometimes, and even more so the darker faces inside me, who relish that sensation. But I’m not a god. On the other hand, I am more than just a man. Or even more than just a transhuman.

“Please…” came a ragged voice.

Doctor Holiday realized he had drifted in mid-interrogation of this 24th street-tough he held in his iron grip. Even when he didn’t have Brute powers, he was stronger than most people; whether or not the man knew who held him he couldn’t tell—he’d temporarily stashed his chest display somewhere safe to travel lighter.

“You said they went west down Butterwood,” Doctor Holiday said. “How far?”

“I don’t know. I was doin’ business but I think they got as far as the Citibank. Maybe the wetback store.”

“You mean the bodega? I don’t need racism confusing my information,” Doctor Holiday said with a warning note.

“Yeah, the bodega. The Mexican market. The Hispanic store. Please don’t fuckin’ kill me!”

Doctor Holiday tossed him aside, and went to find someone closer to the information he needed.

* * *

The girl’s clothes were in a ragged heap. She hurt. She was beyond crying or screaming. He’d touched…he’d…Momma! Her heart was slipping into a dark pit and her mind into a sea of agony and fear. She was lost. She wanted her…she wanted…she finally found her voice, but could only sob raggedly. Screams were beyond the power of her throat to form, though they echoed loudly inside her skull.

* * *

Doctor Holiday shook off the vision, feeling a panicky surge in his chest—at the thought of his chest, he realized the display was there again but could not recall having retrieved or why he would have wasted the time to do so. He cursed himself silently.

Too late too late too late too late.

He snatched up a woman by the bodega whom he knew possessed a substantial amount of crack cocaine and crystal meth, though he wasn’t sure how he knew she was holding.

“Did you see a man carrying a girl? Where did they go? Tell me or I will shove your crack rocks into your sinuses and break all your limbs.”

He felt unease making the threats—it reminded him too much of last Valentine’s Day and another woman. But there was no time to waste, and this woman was no innocent by any measure. He was certain of that.

“They went into the closed-up jewelry store over there Mister Holiday! I swear! I don’t now ‘im and I don’t have anything to do with ‘im.”

“But you watched him drag a girl into that place,” Doctor Holiday said as he dropped her roughly, adding loudly as he walked away: “If you have children, give them up. If you don’t, never have them. You’ll destroy them.”

Now that he had a location, Doctor Holiday could feel the truth of it. He could hear the terror in the girl’s mind and follow it as surely as any piercing scream through crisp winter air. He moved quickly and he tore the boards away from the door and front window, even without Brute-level strength. His fingers bled a bit but it felt like the wood was being ripped away almost before he even yanked at it. He was frantic and rough—there was no time to figure out exactly how the man had entered or where. Demolition was needed her, and demolition he performed with rapid efficiency.

He barged into the tiny, abandoned storefront and saw the scene by the light of an electric lantern. The girl, just as he had seen in his mind—just as frightened as she had been then, but made all the more heartbreaking by the proximity to her reality as well as his connection to her mind and his knowledge of what the man who held her was willing to do to her.

She was holding her shoulder, but her clothes were intact.

He struck her down, but he hadn’t gotten to the rest. Not yet. I saw the past, the present, and the future. She can be saved, not simply salvaged.

Doctor Holiday snatched up the startled man without hesitation and regarded him in the dim glow of the lantern, with the pinks and reds and purples of the display on his chest reflecting off the man’s skin and giving him a sickly pallor.

Sick, yes…but knowing how wrong what he does is to the world; how wrong it is to his victims. Sick, but not a victim himself. He knows. He’s culpable.

Rage surged inside Doctor Holiday and he almost crushed the man’s windpipe. Almost tossed him against the wall. Almost got ready to beat him to a bloody pulp and beyond that. Voices were crying for punishment and pain inside him. Retribution and repayment. Justice and…


Doctor Holiday was a hero tonight. He intended to remain so until Valentine’s Day was over, and perhaps a bit beyond it if he could, even if he took no heroic actions but simply held them dear for a while yet into his travels.

“You claim you love her,” Doctor Holiday snarled. “You claim you have her heart in mind. I have your heart in mind, too, you sick freak.”

The same telekinesis that had helped him wrest away the wood now took hold of the pumping organ in the abductor’s chest. Behind the breastbone the heart struggled and sputtered against a crushing force—an invisible fist.

“This is what a heart attack feels like,” Doctor Holiday said, with an almost clinical tone now. Professional. Calm. He released the pressure. “You’ll probably know what it feels like many more times in the future, if you live long enough in prison.”

Doctor Holiday reached for another power—Necro abilities that had been awaiting this moment—and he undermined the physiology of the muscle tissues of the heart and degraded the arteries and veins that connected to it. He ravaged the man’s cardiovascular system, secure in the knowledge the abuser had a nigh-incurable heart condition now. But in prison, no one was going to work that hard to fix it with major coronary bypass surgeries, and no transplant would ever be in his future.

This large and powerful man, who would have been Doctor Holiday’s physical equal if not for the transhuman powers arrayed against him, would be weak and sickly in prison.

“Even hardened cons hate men like you—most of them do,” Doctor Holiday noted. “And you won’t be able to fight them off. Your life will be short and brutal, I think. Justice served. And served in the way it should be intended. I apprehend. Others will judge. Others will serve you the punishment you deserve.”

When Doctor Holiday picked up the girl in one arm and lifted her to his hip, she surged up and hugged his neck hard, crying softly into his neck. The tears broke his heart but her tight squeezing of his neck was nothing but gratitude and love. He wondered how long since he’d felt something that pure, or if he ever had. Wondered if he had a child of his own somewhere who had hugged his neck once and missed doing so.

Doctor Holiday lifted the big man easily with his other arm, with the telekinetic powers to aid him. Then he broke the embrace of the girl just long enough to give her a brief warm kiss on her forehead, and walked toward her home, miles away—never doubting for a moment that his mind knew the path and would guide his feet true.

* * *

Three police cruisers were at the girl’s home, so the play of pink, red and purple lights from Doctor Holiday’s chest-mounted digital marquee were joined by flashes of darker red, as well as blue and white.

The police and parents were both aghast at Doctor Holiday’s approach, until the girl turned her head and smiled at them. Everyone still eyed him warily, but more gazes were now locked on the limp man in his custody, whom he simply dropped to the grass.

Doctor Holiday set the girl down gently on the lawn and said, “Be safe.”

As she turned to go to her parents, he suddenly said, “Wait!”

She turned, startled. Her eyes looked worried for a moment, as he reached inside his coat.

His hand returned with the Valentine’s Day card she had created. “I found this,” he said, and pressed the slightly battered but largely unmarred piece of handcrafted art into her hands. She smiled and ran to her parents, giving them the gift of the card and more than that, Doctor Holiday thought: The gift of her safe return.

Doctor Holiday endured a few minutes of nervous questioning by the police, and then 10 minutes later, tired of it and simply walked away without a word. He wasn’t needed here. The police didn’t try to stop him.

He glanced back once, to see the girl looking through the window, away from the police officer speaking with her inside and toward him instead.

She smiled, and he smiled back.

It was a happy day this year.

He prayed it would be a happy Valentine’s Day next year as well.

He walked for a long time, hours until midnight struck, and then his digital display began to count down to Easter Day—and he was Doctor Holiday no longer but simply a wanderer without a history and a vagrant without a name.

No memory of having saved a girl.

No recollection of giving her back what she had lost.

No memory of the warm arms embracing his neck.

[ – To view a list of all current chapters, click here – ]

When Carl Beacham, attorney-at-law, entered Query’s office from the tiny and unstaffed outer reception area—He really should get a sexy secretary, Carl mused silently—a head swiveled toward him swiftly—a metallic-and-polymer visage regarding him coldly with two large and luminous eyes separated by a sharp and curving beak.

His body jerked reflexively, and he faltered in his stride, but saw Query patiently tinkering immediately behind that bird-like head and his heart rate quickly ramped downward. He closed the door as he stepped inside, curious now instead of concerned, at the thing on Query’s desk that looked like a hybrid between a large model airplane and an owl.

Query was intent on his project, and said nothing, so Carl sat in one of the time-worn chairs, wood darkened from thousands of sittings, probably, creaking loud enough to make him worry he might be about to land on his ass on the floor.

He waited, and was rewarded a couple minutes later with a cordial “How are you, Carl?” as Query set down the precision tools he had been using and flipped a switch. The eyes of the “owl” went dead, and its head tilted forward slightly as if in rest.

“Doin’ fine, Query,” he responded. “You couldn’t afford a better office? Bigger at least?”

“It suits me fine, Carl, and it’ll be easier to trash if I have to make an escape again because you let some hottie slip a transmitter into your pocket. Building is older, and access to escape routes and hidey holes is better.”

“Is the main escape hatch behind the bookcase again?” Carl asked casually, not really expecting an answer this time any more than he had when he asked it at their previous meeting.

“You’ll find out if you happen to accidentally lead another hit squad to me, Carl,” Query said with dry humor. “So let’s both say a prayer for you to never know where I’ve hidden my bolt-hole.”

Carl nodded to the mechanical construct on Query’s desk. “New pet? I think you should try for something a bit warmer and softer that licks you. And it is…?”

“This is Archimedes,” Query said nonchalantly, ignoring the verbal bait that Carl had set out.

“You named it after a philosopher?”

“No. Archimedes was a Greek mathematician, scientist, engineer and inventor,” Query corrected him, “but I actually named it after the owl that Merlin had in The Sword in the Stone or The Once and Future King—I forget which. Maybe both.”

“So, it does have a name. Funny, I always figured you for a cat person,” Carl said with a wink and slight leer.

“There is no truth to the rumor you are no doubt attempting to start that Cheshire and I have a ‘thing’ going,” Query said with mild irritation, unable to let the second bit of bait pass by. “It has a name so that I can know which one it is. I have eleven, after all.”

“Eleven? OK, eleven what? What is that thing?”

“Same tech as military drones. You know, the ones that do the spying missions over Afghanistan or Iraq or whatever. Or killing missions if they’re fitted with micro-ordinances.”

Carl opened his mouth but Query interrupted him before he could speak.

“Before you ask—No, I’ve armed none of them, at least not yet, and yes, the others have names too. Bubo, after the mechanical owl from Clash of the Titans; Hedwig, Pidwidgeon and Hermes, who are the only owls I remember in the Harry Potter books; Plop from a children’s story called The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark; Soren and Coryn from the Guardians of Ga’Hoole stories; Woodsy Owl from the U.S. Forest Service’s ‘Give a Hoot—Don’t Pollute’ campaign; and Laurel and Hardy. Now you know a little more about my operations and I’ve given you literature, film and pop culture education to boot. You can thank me later.”

“Laurel and Hardy were humans,” Carl pointed out.

“I ran out of owl names and besides, those two drones typically work together in back-and-forth, crisscrossing surveillance runs, like a well-tuned comedy duo routine. There, another cultural reference for you. You need all of the culture you can get.”

“You built yourself eleven drones?” Carl asked incredulously. “I know you have a lot of time on your hands, but…”

“This one I built,” Query said, passing his hand over the drone almost theatrically, “which is why I’m tinkering with it. It’s always been a bit buggy. Reverse-engineered it from one of the ten military-issue models that I acquired previously. All I did with the others was reprogram them a little and fit them with some custom sensors and their own owl heads. I wanted them to have some customization and not just be khaki couture. I’d like them to have a little flair and style.”

“Wasn’t aware that you had a shopping account with the military. How did you get them to sell you ten…” Carl paused, then said, “Oh, Query…you didn’t steal them from the military, did you?”

“A bit too ambitious for me. And a little unpatriotic I might add. No, someone else stole them, and when I crushed their operation and started scavenging through their ill-gotten wares, I found the drones. That was about a year ago. Figured they’d be useful; I was right. Figured the military already wrote them off; don’t care whether I was right about that or not—finder’s keepers. Archimedes here is my pet project. Once I get him to be more or less bug-free, I can build my own in the future. Still expensive as fuck, but I can cut some corners and score some deals on materials that the military can’t.”

“So, this is how you keep tabs on events in New Judah.”

“And New York,” Query added. “They’re just one tool, really, but they are very useful. Aerial recon is a serious upper hand. I can only do so much hacking into surveillance systems, hiring informants and all that. As much as I’d love to talk shop, though, we’re not here to discuss aerodynamics and espionage, are we?”

“Patsy and I had a little fight, so I’m in no rush to get back home and besides, I’m enjoying our repartee, but yeah, flying spying owl mini-planes isn’t really on our agenda.”

“Argument?” Query said, turning his head more directly toward Carl—the other man could feel the intensity of the gaze even though he couldn’t see the eyes behind the mask. “Patsy’s the best thing in your life aside from my paychecks. Try not to screw it up. OK, give me the daily report.”

Not for the first time, Carl took note of the tone in Query’s voice when he spoke of Patsy, and he wondered if the hero had some personal connection, or whether he simply snooped so much on Carl’s life that he had a strong opinion about how the man should live it.

“Allrighty then…first item on the list is Zoe Dawson. Met with her, talked with her, researched her. Feels legit, but I still have worries.”

“How so?”

“She sounds honestly unnerved by this recruitment effort she says Janus is conducting on her through Underworld. She seems sincere in wanting help, but at the same time, she’s two parts pissed and one part scared. Seems like the ratio should be reversed, and that makes me wonder if she’s just a good actress. Also, I’m not buying the level of interest Janus supposedly has here. She’s an Acro—I got her to admit that much and it wasn’t hard to figure out anyway—but why would he expend this much effort on her? And if she has other powers, why is she being so cagey about them with me? Frankly, I think the odds are slightly tilted toward this being a trap, with her as the willing bait to lure you out.”

Query leaned back slowly in his office chair after sliding Archimedes to the side of his oversized desk, and put his army-booted feet up on the desk. By turns for the next few minutes, he gazed up at the ceiling or consulted something on his computer monitor.

Carl, for his part, regarded the well-worn soles of those boots, and wondered how much they’d witnessed; how much they’d done. How many moonlit, blood-tinged puddles had lapped at them in alleyways where Query might save a wounded victim from a rape or murder? How many skulls might they have concussed and how many cheekbones might they have shattered in fights? How many miles had they logged pacing or wandering over countless sleepless nights and days?

Finally, Query sighed and removed his feet, sitting back upright and looking right at Carl in what the lawyer presumed was an intense and penetrating gaze.

“She’s legit,” Query said. “Certain enough to bet your life on it, anyway.”

“How kind of you,” Carl said dryly, knowing it was a joke.

“OK, I’d bet my life too,” Query said. “I’ve already hacked into her student records, medical records, e-mail accounts, parent’s e-mail accounts and all other sorts of shit, and her being more pissed than scared fits the personality profile I’ve constructed. So unless Janus recruited her for this theoretical trap for me back in middle school—which is long before I even entered onto the hero scene—I think we can mark that off the list of concerns. Zoe is confrontational and smart; if she wasn’t so much the former, her professors’ grades would more accurately reflect the latter. As it is, probably half of them downgrade her a half to a full grade because they don’t like the way she challenges their assumptions so often.”

“What about the whole power thing? She’s either not much in that respect or she’s being evasive about other ones she possesses. Doesn’t it seem a bit much for Janus to be so hot for an Acro?”

“Not odd for Janus to be hot for any attractive transhuman female from what I’ve been able to figure. He’s a man-whore, apparently, as well as being a sociopath, sadist and control freak. But what it comes down to is that Zoe doesn’t trust us. Or you, at least.”

“Why not? She called us for help, remember?”

“She’s smart, and now a little paranoid thanks to Underworld’s avid attentions,” Query noted. “She’s wondering if perhaps you’re actually working for Janus and trying to find out more about her or trick her somehow. Most likely, she doesn’t know how Janus knows she has any powers, but she’s deduced he still doesn’t know the full extent and she doesn’t want him to know, because then she knows he won’t let up on getting her. Janus is still unsure of what she’s capable of, but Zoe knows she’d be very valuable to him. And she doesn’t want to be.”

“I know you have great insight, deductive powers and intuition, Query, but those are big jumps.”

“Backed by your report, my research, those nifty transhuman intuitive abilities of mine, and the fact I’ve spied on your two interactions with Zoe—so I have some personal insight into her demeanor. I’ve also slipped into her classes and her dorm on a few occasions over the past several days.”

“She lives in an all-girl athletic dorm,” Carl pointed out. “Really working your disguise skills this week, aren’t you?”

“I hadn’t used them in too long. Weeks, really. Don’t want to get sloppy in my skills.”

“So, you’ve vetted her; what do we do now? Help her vanish? Nab Underworld at their next meeting? What?”

“You do nothing, Carl, except to let her know you’ve reported to me and to tell her to sit tight. The rest is up to me.”

“Do you have a plan?”

“More or less,” Query responded. “I have a few. Circumstances in the field will dictate which comes into play.”

For several moments, Carl stared into the almost featureless black mask, focusing on the red question mark—the sole bit of flair it possessed—and tried to form his own theories as that punctuation mark mocked him silently.

“You’re going to use her as bait to draw out Janus, at the same time as you’re going to try to protect her, aren’t you?”

“Probably,” Query admitted.

“Risky for both of you.”

“Yeah,” Query admitted, putting his feet back up on his desk, presenting Carl with their scuffed, cracked landscape once more. “But Janus tried to have me killed without provocation, and I’m not about to let that slide.”

* * *

“Love what you’ve done with the wings,” Tooth Fairy said, craning her neck a little, twisting her torso this way and that, and regarding her back in the trio of mirrors. “I really appreciate those little bits of decoration that make them a bit more sinister, and the flapping action is so much easier to control now.”

She stopped admiring herself and the updates to her costume, and turned to face the woman with whom she was speaking. Tooth Fairy smiled and added, “You know, it’s not many people in your line of work who would be so accepting of a severed head in a plastic shopping bag. You really are the best.”

Francesca DeSantos returned Tooth Fairy’s smile—she was genuinely flattered and felt no guilt taking credit for everything, even though Julian Gregori’s original wing-work was still in place—just tweaked a bit. She was actually impressed with Julian’s design, but wasn’t about to admit respect of a rival designer to her new client. “Thank you, my dear. In the few weeks since you switched from Julian over to me for costume design, I’ve found you to be a refreshing bit of company as well. Too many of your ilk are so serious and don’t know how to enjoy themselves in their work.”

Tooth Fairy snorted slightly, and frowned. “Julian and Leon. Pffffpppht! So many rules and principles with those two. You’ll actually hook me up with weapons suppliers, which saves me so much time. They couldn’t even take a joke or two about me snacking on the flesh of their little girl.”

“Truth be told, considering most of the children I’ve encountered in life, the world would be a better place if more than a few of them were eaten,” Francesca responded drolly. “By the way, why do you have a severed head with you?”

Tooth Fairy quickly recounted a tale of a kidnapping for ransom that she decided to abort when she realized how annoying her victim was going to be while she negotiated a ransom amount and the delivery method for of money. In the end, she noted, he was less trouble to her dead than as a source of new income.

“Are you sending a message to his family with the head, then?” Francesca asked with undisguised curiosity and sincere interest.

Tooth Fairy shook her head. “Just want the teeth. Need some new jewelry. I normally let victims off with just a couple extractions, but since he was dead, well…might as well take them all. Easier with the head off. Anyway, I was just getting ready to pull them out when I heard police sirens. Decided not to take a chance and bolted with it in a bag.”

“Really? What kind of jewelry? I do design accessories as well, you know,” Francesca noted.

Tooth Fairy smiled broadly, and let her teeth grow longer and wider to make an almost cartoon-like exaggeration of a smile. “I was thinking something more substantial than my normal baubles. Maybe a broad torc-style necklace. Not enough teeth in this head for that, but I have others at home.”

“Do you have any objection to mixed media?” Francesca asked. “Perhaps his teeth and some of your other human ones mixed with animal teeth and a few bones, and working in some precious metals and stones here and there for accent?”

“Sounds expensive,” Tooth Fairy noted, but she was still smiling, albeit with normal teeth now.

“A girl’s got to stay in business,” Francesca answered. “And I promise I’ll make you even more gorgeous than you already are.”

Tooth Fairy reached out a hand, and as she shook the other woman’s, she noted that the designer didn’t flinch a bit when she felt the brief touch and scrape of tiny dentition that Tooth Fairy had formed momentarily in a faux mouth on her palm. “I think this is going to be a beautiful business relationship,” the villain said. “As long as you keep the cost under $20,000, you’ve got a deal.”

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