For anyone dedicated enough to check out my website, here’s Super Chapter One for your reading amusement. Super is the origin story for the Arca superhero urban fantasy series. This is from version 2.2 of the book, so hopefully all typos and grammatical nuisances have been trapped and humanely released elsewhere.
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Super Chapter One
Sometimes, Zita Garcia wished for the kind of blind date where the guy threw up, and she could leave.
Instead, her date, the world’s most boring cherub with a badge, continued his monologue while she schemed to escape. Her plans had been locksmith work for an infusion of cash, followed by dinner with her two brothers. Instead, they had thrown her to the dogs—or in this case, her oldest brother’s puzzling choice of a blind date: Dr. Justin Smith, an FBI psychiatrist or whatever. A question penetrated, standing out from the other blathering. “What? Oh, Miguel told you I’m an underachiever. No, I’m a tax preparer. My brother exaggerates.”
A flicker of movement and the angry growl of a car without a muffler caught her attention, overriding the nearby bustling buzz of a highway. Before she could look, however, Zita’s other brother amended her statements from where he shamelessly eavesdropped.
Metal chair legs scraped pavement as Quentin rose from the table next to theirs on the sidewalk of the trendy café in the outdoor mall. He closed in on them. Innocence shone from her brother’s face, but his words were pure devilry. “I couldn’t help but overhear as I passed. Don’t let Zita sell herself short. Baby girl here speaks four languages and trains for the Olympics in her free time. I’m going to get something sweet, so if you take off together, don’t worry about me.” His eyes strayed to the interior of the restaurant, and he winked at someone there.
Zita gave her brother a death glare. Trying to be nice but uninteresting was killing her. Carajo, Justin’s all hopeful I’m a brain trust now. Please brush me off soon. Some adorable little nerd is pining to scoop you up. She cursed herself for accepting her brother’s offer of a ride to and from dinner; since her sprained ankle prevented use of her motorcycle, she should have taken a cab or bus.
Her date widened his eyes and gave her a pleased smile, increasing his resemblance to a pug. “Miguel had said you’re athletic and super intelligent, so we should have that in common. Tell me about yourself,” Justin burbled at her hair. He had been unable to pull his bulging, over-large eyes from it since they met. His preoccupation with her hair lost him any respect he might have gained for ignoring Quentin’s hovering presence and not ogling her generous chest.
Zita’s traitorous brother patted her on the shoulder, undeterred by the glare she gave him. Quentin’s grin widened, exhibiting the smile the siblings had in common. His whiskey eyes danced. “Have fun, kids.” He abandoned her for his own admirer inside the café.
Based on the subtle detachment in Justin’s eyes, his title, and the forced enthusiasm in his voice, Zita suspected he might be legal to drink. Despite that, she doubted his smooth face had ever known a razor.
He adjusted his crooked tie. It hung from the neck of a suit apparently purchased with unrealistic expectations for his eventual full growth. As he sat back, his jacket flapped open and flaunted a gun that coiled tense on one scrawny hip, inching toward the moment of escape.
How could he miss that the firearm is undersized for its holster? Why didn’t he fasten the strap to keep it in place? Even though he said today was his first day with it, you’d think he would know that much. Zita snorted as the intelligent comment caught up with her. Her reply came out clipped. “I only speak four because I lived all over.” She flicked a blue-and-white-dyed dreadlock out of her eyes. With a mental curse at both her brothers, she tried a more frightening tack: reality. “The Olympics are a dream. I like extreme sports, exercising, and the outdoors. I work out for a few hours every day, switching it up between a few different things: acrobatics, martial arts, rock climbing, and so on. Last October, I climbed Mount Washington.”
Social obligation done, she fussed with the hot pink athletic wrap on her sprained ankle and took a wolfish bite of her sandwich to avoid further conversation. The headache that had been teasing her with small bites of pain intensified with every word the man spoke. And he liked talking. Sweat trickled down her back inside the makeshift sauna of her wilted blue work coveralls. Unwilling to risk encouraging him by unzipping even a little, she prayed he would leave so she could remove it and cool off.
Another rev of the loud engine drew her attention. Shops and small restaurants faced each other across two roads running in either direction. Perhaps to discourage jaywalkers, the mall planners had crammed spindly bushes and oversized flowerpots down the center of the grassy area separating the streets. A muscle car with stripes idled outside the jewelry store on the corner opposite the café. The orange paint job was vivid and happy, like the world’s sleekest pumpkin, but the ski mask the driver wore ruined the cheery effect. It reminded her of biting into a cookie to find out it was wax. She hated when that happened. Fake cookies should not look so real.
Oblivious, her companion did not notice as he took up the burden of conversation again. His gun slid farther out of the too-large holster. Experience had taught her that men never took suggestions well about how to wear their weapons. She reminded herself to stop obsessing about the man’s firearm. He wiggled in his seat with enthusiasm. Pues, he spent several minutes telling me how he’s a prodigy at his calling, and he’s not even practicing it. “Hang on, I got to call the cops about that robbery over there. Can you get the license number or take a picture if you’ve got a camera phone?” Distracted, Zita thumbed toward the car and the jewelry store. Not waiting for his response, she pulled out her phone and flipped it open. She watched him in her peripheral vision, most of her attention on the car.
Justin jerked around and finally noticed the two men enter the store as Zita began to talk to the operator. “You call. I’ve got a job to do,” he said, leaping to his feet and snatching his ID from the table. With a clatter, his chair fell to the ground behind him, and the little green metal table rocked. Coffee sloshed out of his cup.
“Seriously?” Zita blinked in disbelief.
Each of his limbs tried to go a different direction as he sprinted across the street.
A white sedan screeched to a halt to avoid hitting him.
The sedan’s driver flipped him off and kept going.
Justin almost fell crossing the grassy strip when a bush snagged the straggling edge of one pant leg.
Zita spotted his gun falling out as he untangled himself, but he continued across the next road. She smacked her head with her hand. Her stomach tightened, a hard, cold knot in her center. Suddenly dry, her throat could barely swallow. Do I want to do this? I can’t let him be murdered, not like in Brazil. Justin has the coordination and muscle tone of a born desk jockey; he needs help.
“Pretty certain Behavioral Analyzers or whatever your title is aren’t supposed to do that. I would know if I’d been listening better, I suppose. He’s been watching too much TV,” she grumbled, setting aside the mangled remains of her sandwich and limping over to the gun.
The operator on the phone said, “What was that?”
In reply, Zita did not bother to explain. “Send an ambulance. An overconfident FBI civilian is playing hero. Armed robbery. Gotta go.” She rattled off the location and snapped the phone shut. Reaching the bush, she crouched to extricate the weapon, a Glock 22. One new scratch marred the finish. With a mental tsk, she tucked it into a pocket of her bulky coveralls.
Justin’s voice was loud as he identified himself and demanded the robbers stop when they exited the store. His eyes widened, and his talking sped up as his hand patted the empty holster.
Zita sighed, and pulled out a utility knife from a zipped pocket on her leg, concealing it against her body. Her stomach clenched again, and she exhaled, focusing. I’ve been through worse. This is an exhibition against amateurs.
The robbers stopped for a few seconds and stared at the young FBI specialist, who tried to glower back.
Zita lowered her estimate of their ages. Older teens, and they must be new to robbery if they’re using that car and wearing pants that will slow running. The ones on the sidewalk should be high school or college football players, not robbing a hole-in-the-wall jeweler four blocks from a cop shop. Maybe I won’t die. Her stomach eased as a scheme formed. I’ll have to be obnoxious and loud. The corners of her mouth quirked up. Finally, a plan that plays to my strengths.
Exaggerating her limp, she struggled across the street, ending with her leaning against the hood of the orange car. “Sweet ride. That color is all kind of cool,” she yakked at the driver. The hood radiated heat under the hand she stroked down the edges. With the hand he couldn’t see, she drove the blade of her knife into the wall of the front tire and pulled it along to make a considerable gash.
From her peripheral vision, she saw the two boys on the sidewalk glance at her, and then away. One clutched a common brand of semiautomatic 9mm gun, probably selected because it was easy to find, cheap, and held ten rounds of punishing inaccuracy in a shiny nickel frame. He barked at Justin. “You better move out of the way and go give your daddy his ID badge back before I shoot your skinny ass.” He raised his gun, holding it sideways. You’d think they’d leave the guns home until they learned how to shoot; everyone knows a man who can’t handle his gun, can’t handle other things. Of course, if they knew anything about shooting, they would use a better firearm. The mental heckling helped her focus.
Justin raised his hands and tried a soothing voice. “Now, we got off to a bad start. I know you don’t want to do this. Grand larceny with a weapon gets you extra time. You know, if you put that down, we can find a better solution than this. Keep your life on track.”
Disbelief held the driver speechless for a minute. “Get away from my car, bitch, or I’ll run you down,” he snarled.
After withdrawing her knife from the tire, she limped toward the back of the car. With her voice pitched higher and whinier, she complained as if she were the densest person on the planet. “Hey, I’ve got a bum leg. If you’re gonna be like that, you shouldn’t pimp out your ride.” Zita heaved a deep breath, keeping as much of the car as possible between her and the idiot with the gun. With a flick, she shut the knife and dropped it into one of her pockets as she moved. Warm sweat trickled down her back, not all due to the muggy May air.
“Are you stupid?” the driver said. “Get lost!”
The group on the sidewalk glanced at her, but their attention was on Justin. The beefy leader gestured with the gun. “You know what? I do want to do this. And I think you want to shut your mouth!” He shook his weapon, with the last few words escalating in pitch before he continued. “Toss over your wallet and badge, and kiss the sidewalk before I shoot your head off!” His voice rose to a shout on the threat, and the other kid on the sidewalk shifted as if he had to pee or wanted to rabbit anywhere else.
“We can go. Don’t need to mess with nobody else. We got the bag,” the nervous one urged the others. The driver revved the engine.
Reluctant to obey, hands still in the air, Justin caught sight of Zita. His eyes widened, and he shook his head at her in mute appeal as he dropped to one knee.
“Don’t say no to me! Wallet!” His face red, the leader of the robbers wore the glazed incomprehension of a bull ready to charge.
Let’s hope Justin is smart enough to dash for safety. Zita let her gaze turn toward the corner of the shop where he could find cover from the weapon, but she continued her slow amble to the sidewalk. She ignored her common sense urging her to run and hide; sometimes her brain was no fun. When she had cover from the gun, she stopped behind the orange car and slapped the trunk. With a toss of her hair, she raised her own voice. “Since you’re blind, which is a dumbass thing in a driver, I am behind your car. That means I’m not in your way, and you can go wherever without running my sweet ass over. So stop insulting me before I scratch up your cherry paint job to prove to you who’s smarter.” She affixed a sneer on her face. Her heart raced. Come on…
The armed kid snickered. His weapon dipped. “Let’s get in the car before the gimp beats up Dylan.”
Tension reduced, check. Sirens sounded—she’d guess four blocks away at the precinct station. Must’ve finished the donuts. The other teen nodded and dove for the safety of the car.
Since he had mentioned her, she figured even a moron would notice the sidewalk tableau. Zita opened her mouth as if to berate him further, even lifting a finger. With a dramatic gasp, she let her eyes fall to his (terrible grip on his) firearm, and shrieked, “Gun!” Ignoring the angry ache in her ankle, she hopped and hobbled into the closest store, trailing shrieks. Masculine laughter sounded outside. Justin had better appreciate me acting a fool to give him a chance to escape or pull a clutch piece. Even with my ankle, I could run the distance faster than the cops are getting here.
A gun went off outside and glass shattered.
She dropped to her knees.
The others in the clothing store cowered in the back, except for one entrepreneur, who was creeping toward the front with his phone. Flesh smacked against flesh, and something clattered.
Zita peeked out.
Tangled in a vicious wrestling match, the leader and Justin rolled around on the sidewalk outside of the store. For a collection of bony arms and legs with no coordination, Justin used his excess of elbow to his advantage. Despite that, he was losing to the teenager, who had at least fifty pounds and a few inches on him. The car engine revved, but the two inside the orange vehicle seemed to be having a whispered conversation. The robber’s gun had skidded to a halt not far from her.
“Come on, we going,” the rabbity one in the car shouted. The sirens got louder, then cut off. The bull of a kid now sat on top of Justin, gripping the hair on the back of the FBI analyst’s head. Red stained the sidewalk.
Justin’s dead if someone doesn’t stop him. Shit. Guess I’m someone. Careful to avoid inching out of cover any more than necessary, Zita set her foot on the robber’s sleazy gun. With a gentle nudge, she prodded it into the store to reduce its visibility. Please don’t let there be any more guns. With another deep breath, she stepped out of the shop. Zita angled her body to present less of a target from the direction of the car. “That’s enough. Go on. Leave him be.”
The leader sneered, one hand poised to pound Justin’s head into the sidewalk again. “What is this? Junior Detective needs his spic partner to rescue him?” His pupils were dark and dilated against the whites of his eyes.
Who even says that? She put her hands on her hips and let her indignation sound off in her voice. “Oh, hell no. I’m not his partner. I’m his blind date. Why don’t you take off and let me get a piece in? I got plenty to say to his pasty ass.”
The robber snickered. He released Justin’s hair too, so Zita counted it as a step in the right direction. The driver hooted, but the rabbity kid urged his friend to get in the car. A whimper sounded from beneath the big teenager.
Zita huffed and drew Justin’s gun. “Fine, let him go, or I’ll shoot. I’m not playing no more.” While silence might have been wiser, she had to add one more thing. “Notice I know how to hold a gun, so it won’t break my wrists too.” She turned her head to the kids in the car and lifted her eyebrows. I look threatening. This is a gun. Be frightened of the loca and do as I command.
For all of a second, she thought it had worked.
“He’s all yours,” the bully on the sidewalk said, throwing himself into the car. Tires squealing, the orange car howled off.
I totally deserve a reward for this, maybe a piece of… oh.
Three of the four police cars that had been sneaking up to surround them followed, lights reigniting and sirens ablaze with sound again as the pursuit began. The fourth pulled up in front of her with a screech.
Zita looked from the gun to the cop car. She set the weapon down on the ground in front of her and took a couple steps back, holding her hands up in the air.
Inside the shop, the enterprising man continued to point his phone their direction.
“No, don’t help, keep filming,” she spat.
Another moan came from the pavement. His face a bloody mess, Justin pushed himself up to a sitting position and glared at her from eyes swelling shut.
Guess I don’t have to worry about letting him down easy. “Dude, you should have run or pulled your clutch piece. Are you okay?” As the cops circled her, claiming her attention, she kept her hands in the air and obeyed every shouted command.
Despite the endless rebukes for her actions, the police were gentle in their questioning. The number of times they called her girl was galling, but Zita took the censure without complaint. She smirked when the police radio announced that the thieves’ car blew a tire less than a mile away, but she refrained from admitting her part.
Forty-five grueling minutes later, she extricated herself and limped back across the street to the restaurant. The admonition to stay in town for a statement rang in her ears as she hobbled. The remnants of her sandwich and pickle had disappeared, though her scowling brother sat at her table. She grimaced. After that fiasco, she deserved a snack.
Quentin frowned at her, setting down his half-empty coffee. “What the hell were you thinking? You could’ve been killed!” No hint of a smile appeared on his usually sunny face.
Tilting her aching head back, Zita exhaled and ran her hand over her hair. “I’m five foot nothing, and I’ve been called cute more times than you’ve had sex.” She settled into her chair.
Anger gave way to thoughtfulness. “Unlikely, but possible. You are so adorable that it is a constant struggle not to pinch your little cheeks and coo at you. What does that have to do with you trying to die? Climbing mountains and jumping out of planes is one thing, this is…” Quentin waved a hand in the air as if words failed him. At five-foot-ten, he had the height she lacked, and he had the good fortune to share the striking Quechua features of their mother and oldest brother. On him, the effect was soulful. Zita was the only one to sport a mestizo pixie face, courtesy of their father. Regular workouts kept Quentin toned enough to please his dates, without being much stronger than average or spending a minute more in a gym than necessary.
“My point is, nobody looks at me and sees a threat. People don’t realize I’m twenty-six, rather than twenty or even eighteen. Sure, they like me, but they don’t want me doing their taxes or anything that requires brains or maturity. I have to work to be taken seriously, neta? If the situation had turned into a farce, those kids would be less likely to hurt anyone or get hurt. Justin may not be my type or even resemble an effective agent, but he doesn’t deserve to die. So, you know, comic relief to the rescue.” She eased her sore foot back up and took off her shoe.
Quentin stared across the street with the expression that told her his mind had drifted somewhere other than the dying confusion there. He sipped his coffee and grimaced. It was probably cold.
While he was silent, she sent Miguel a brief text. “No on the baby agent. He can’t keep his gun in his holster.” As expected, she got no reply. Some people were too responsible to reply to personal texts at work; the concept was alien to her.
“If the Marines taught me nothing else, it’s that any situation can go to crap at any moment. You’re not invulnerable. Don’t make us lose you yet.” Quentin’s phone chimed, and he dug it out of his pocket, all dreaminess gone. Wielding his second-best angelic grin, he hugged her. One hand stroked over her hair. “Don’t you remember our rule? Don’t be a dumbass. Miguel will harangue you later and then some… when he finds out. If his latest serial killer case weren’t giving him fits, he’d already be here to do it. Tell you what, I’ll get you something sugary for the adrenaline crash if you can stay out of any more trouble. So, relax, I’ll be right back.” He disappeared into the café.
Suspicion flaring at his unusual willingness to pay for food, Zita tried to unwind while she tightened the athletic wrap on her ankle again. A few minutes of people-watching, and her shoulders began to relax.
Gleeful evil interrupted her salacious appreciation of the derrieres of several fit men in tight biking enthusiast gear as Quentin returned with a bear claw pastry and a sweating lemonade. “So, admit it, Iggy may have been bad, but he was a better pick for you than that epic fail getting his nose set. You want me to call him back and see if he wants a second date? I bet he seems more appealing now.”
Was fratricide really a sin? Zita seized the food. She took a fortifying bite of the pastry, then another, before he could steal it back. With a snort, she shoved a blue dreadlock aside. “Inky’s a no go, Q.”
“Why, you got plans tonight that don’t involve working out in a gym?” her brother replied. “His name is Iggy. He likes climbing. You like climbing, and it couldn’t hurt for you to climb on each other. How long’s it been now, my little Two-Date Disaster?”
She counted. Four years, one month, one week, not that he needs to know. I could figure out the number of hours, but I’m not obsessive. Much. Zita countered, “Hombre, some of us don’t have to buy STD tests in bulk. Sweet hands and a sexy rear can’t stop the whole thief thing from turning me off. So did you need me to do more tonight? You’re on the hook for my pitiful paycheck on the lock changeover earlier today.” Fatigue washed over her. She took another bite and washed it down with the drink. Her brother’s voice interrupted her musing.
He had the audacity to say, “Your paycheck would be bigger if you could commit to more hours, instead of working part-time for me, part-time for the tax place, and picking up summer jobs in exotic locations whenever you get a chance. I don’t know why you think you’re looking for a serious relationship when you won’t even commit to one full-time job. No more work for us today. I’ve got a hot date tonight.” Her brother teased even as he spun a chair backward and plopped down across from her.
“I spent more time on that door earlier than you will on tonight’s so-called relationship outside the bed.” Practice helped her ignore his criticism of her lifestyle. Grabbing her lemonade, Zita gulped it. The sweet and tart liquid washed cold over her tongue but failed to grant the relief she sought. I need rest, aspirin, and food, if that much sugar can’t make me feel better. Tomorrow, if I’m up for it, I can scope out the Cairo apartment building in DC and work on my plans to creep out and spider up it some night.
He shrugged and stole a bite of her bear claw. “Guilty as charged.”
Unable to stand the claustrophobic feel of clammy fabric on her back another second, she pulled at her work coveralls, unzipping and stripping off the top half. Her head spun as she stood and let the clothing pool around her ankles. The air, thick with summer and burgers and exhaust, had to be only a few degrees cooler without the bulky clothes; nonetheless, she was elated as if escaping a fiery prison.
Without asking, Quentin washed down his bite with a gulp of her drink and held it out to her. “So, should I call one of my other friends, see if they’re available this weekend?”
Stepping free of the coveralls, she bent and picked them up before answering. Her head swam, and she resolved to rest until the flu or whatever passed. “No. From Iggy’s face, he was expecting someone more… more something not me anyway. What did you tell him?” After a brief battle to catch her breath, Zita fought to focus through the increasing pain. She rubbed damp hands on her cargo shorts.
Her brother shook his head, letting his fashionably shaggy black hair settle around his face. He puffed out a breath of air. “It’s the hair. That’s got to be the ugliest chingado hair on the planet. You should do a makeover. I know ladies who could work on you, ones who like a challenge. That’s you all over and then some. As for Iggy, all I said was I had a cute little sister who picked up extra bucks working for my locksmith business when her accounting job was slow. Oh, and that you were a bit shy, but loved to have fun. Well, I might have added you were stacked, too.” He smirked.
She stared at him. Her head was pounding her brain to jelly. The sun had disappeared behind the horizon, and the dusk should have been soothing, but the pain grew. “That’s got to be the biggest pile of… prevarication I’ve ever heard. It’s somehow true and a fat lie at the same time,” she accused. There may have been some awe amid the disgust, but she would never admit it.
The bastard preened. “I know, I was proud of it,” he admitted. “But if I’d described you as a hyperactive terrier training for a nonexistent Olympic event, who has had more failed and injured dates than anyone else ever, nobody’d go out with you. You’d be stuck with Miguel’s picks since you don’t look on your own. Nobody wants that, except him. Let’s not forget the giant Technicolor tarantula on your head, either.”
Zita pointed an accusing finger at him, but a wave of dizziness swept over her, and she forgot what she was saying. Her head ached. Oh, right. “My hair is fun! Why you got to be hating?” she scolded, her hands the punctuation.
He tsked, undeterred by her rebuke, but stopped. Quentin peered at her. “Hey, what’s wrong?” Whatever he saw made him drop the chair and rush to her side.
She swayed. Strange, I hadn’t planned to do that. Her vision shrank as the world faded. Zita fought it but felt herself falling, interrupted by a stabbing sensation on her forehead before the blackness won.