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The question of whether Vance was dead or not became more than academic when he found himself in a bathtub up to his chin in ice water like some forgotten cocktail garnish, a demonic woman standing over him, and no memory of how he got there.
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Read free chapters of Dispensing Justice here (or get it here).
Read free chapters of The Red Rook here (or get it here). -- Fritz Freiheit

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Dispensing Justice - Chapter 8 - Penny Keeps Her Cool

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When high school freshman Michael Gurrick's father is killed by supervillains, he takes up his father's supersuit and seeks justice (or will it be vengeance?) against his father's killers. (e)

Back to Chapter 7

Chapter 8 — Penny Keeps Her Cool

"My afternoon meeting was canceled," 'Dad' said as I buckled my seat belt. "So I thought I would surprise you and pick you up."

I stopped myself from saying "Oh, you really surprised me, all right." Instead I said, "That Bayside fusion sub-plant installation must be going well if you could sneak away."

"The secondary heat-exchanger delivery has been delayed, and I've applied pressure with the suppliers where I can. It's all up to Fusion Dynamics now."

Damn, I thought. He's even got the Bayside construction schedule down,

We started to pull out of the parking lot when I spotted Penny riding her mountain bike around the edge of the soccer field, heading for home. I was torn. Should I get Penny involved? Or just take the risk myself? Penny could take care of herself, but the two of us together . . .

"You seem tense, Michael," 'Dad' said, "Did things not go well in school today? Or, you've already seen the news on SNN today, and---"

"There's Penny," I said, interrupting him. "Can we give Penny a ride home?" I rolled my window down and leaned out to avoid the cameras.

"Indubitably," he said, slowing the van.

Oh, crap, I thought. This guy is even in on the family jokes!

"Hey, Penny!" I yelled. "Want a ride?"

She waved and 'Dad' pulled the mini-van over. She stopped her bike on my side and looked in. I watched for signs of surprise.

Her eyes widened momentarily, then she said, in an admirably normal tone of voice, "Oh, hi, Mike."

I mouthed 'get in' and waggled my eyebrows.

"Hello, Penny," 'Dad' said.

"Want a ride?" I repeated with more waggling of the eyebrows.

"Sure. Thanks. Yeah, I'm pretty beat after tennis practice."

Oh, come on, I thought, rolling my eyes at her, then glancing at 'Dad', you could play tennis all day long and then do a triathlon before dinner, just to work up a real appetite. But 'Dad' hadn't noticed or didn't care. Penny just gave me a blank look.

She racked her bike and climbed in, taking the seat behind me. The automatic door slid shut and 'Dad' pulled out into traffic.

"So, Penny," 'Dad' said, "are you planning on going out for the football team this fall?"

Why would he ask that? Just to make conversation?

"Yes, that's the plan. That is, if I can talk Diana into letting me."

"I thought you might be, now that the school board has adopted the 'iron man' rules."

He knows about Penny! I thought. And he must know about Diana, too. Why else ask about 'iron man' football? Penny had thought that she might talk her mother into letting her play now that NFL's 'iron man' rules had trickled down through the college football leagues to the Greater Metro high school league. I thought it was a pathetic attempt by the NFL to take back viewership it had lost to the American Supers Football League. On the other hand, you couldn't deny that average high school kids today were notably tougher now than they had been before Supernova 1947A and the Galactics' nanotech repairs of its radiation-induced genetic damage. Whether or not they had superpowers.

I held the pen between door and seat, showing it to Penny. I made several screwdriver-like twisting motions, then jabbed it in the direction of 'Dad'.

There was a stinging pain to the back of my neck and I almost jerked around, dropping the pen in the process. I knew that Penny had flicked me with a paper pellet. One of her highly compressed paper pellets, which had been known to draw blood. I read it as a vote of no confidence in my idea of macing 'Dad'.

While I fumbled for the pen, I changed tactics, trying to make him trip up on his facts and force him to act.

"I've been thinking about interviewing Professor Jane for my sociology final project."

"Professor Jane---" he said, pausing for a fraction of a second, "---would make an excellent interviewee for your social studies project."

Smooth. If I hadn't of been looking for it, I wouldn't have caught hesitation. My fingers felt the metal barrel of the pen, and I fished it out.

"I thought so," I said. We had pulled up to a stop light. It was time to take whoever this was out, whether or not Penny liked the idea. I lifted the pen, angling it towards 'Dad's' face. I started to twist it when he said, "You just can't rely on secrecy for protection."

I froze. It was Dad's prearranged key-phrase indicating that he was okay, and not under duress. While I still didn't believe this was Dad, I was forced to conclude that the man with Dad's face and wedding ring was here with Mom's consent and foreknowledge.

It was quiet for several long heartbeats, the only sounds were the purr of the van's electric motors and the hiss of tires on rain-wet pavement as we accelerated through the intersection.

Then Penny kicked the back of my seat, hard. "Oops, sorry," she said. "Just had a muscle spasm."

Five minutes later we were pulling into Penny's driveway.

"I'll come over after dinner. I'm stuck on a calculus problem," Penny said as she slid out the back door. "I'm sure you can walk me through how to solve it." But what Penny had really said was, You will explain what just happened to my satisfaction.

"No problem," I said. "See you later."

We watched in silence until Penny disappeared through her front door.

"Do you want to talk about it, Michael?"

"Talk about what, 'Dad'?" Did I just say his name with quotes?

"You tell me."

We pulled into our driveway, the garage door rising in front of us. I didn't say anything.

"Well, when you are ready to talk, I am . . ."

It was the right thing to say. I just didn't want to hear it from him.

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