Chapter 17

Tiffany sat counting out the money at her kitchen table. She hated dealing with that perv Roscoe, but he was a top notch fence. It had taken a few days for her to flash off the laser serial numbers from most of the gems but it was pretty easy if she could focus her power. The only problem was dealing with the neighbors.

But then that's why they had started up Three Sisters Photography. Tiffany and Alexis both had successful lines of calendars and catalogs. They were bronzed, athletic and not afraid to let folks know it. Granted, they were making more from the cover business than from their heists, but she lived for the adrenaline rush.

"So, how much did we get this time?" Alexis as she entered the room. A loose shirt covered the cropped blue halter that she had worn earlier. Her dark hair still hung loosely around her shoulders. Her liter mug of water recently refilled.

"Well, there weren't any diamonds in this haul, so we only got eight hundred grand." Tiffany said with a bit of resignation.

Alexis laughed a bit. "You know that sleezeball is pocketing at least that much himself. I can't believe that you still want to deal with him."

"Well, I've asked you to check the phone book and see if you could find someone else." Tiffany said, then dodged a towel.

The sound of a van rumbled up into the studio.

"Oh, that's Sandra, quick get rid of this."

The two sisters frantically grabbed the piles of cash and stuffed them into workout bags.

Sandra walked in to the kitchen. She was almost the dead opposite of her sisters. Her hair was a tangled mess pulled back into a shaggy pony tail. She wore no makeup, and looked like she had spent the last several months sleeping in her dusty army surplus jacket. Several light meters and spotting lenses filled the copious pockets. The others overflowed with old film cans, tools and various bits of photographic equipment.

It was quite obvious which of the sisters spent most of the time on which end of the camera.

"How did the shoot go?" Alexis asked Sandra's back. Sandra was digging through the fridge looking for something. Sandra's annoyed head poked up and looked toward the brunette. "Cripes Alexis, can't you leave a few bottles of water for the rest of us?"

"I could whip some up for you." Alexis said innocently.

"No, that's gross." Sandra said as she took a glass out of the cabinet and poured a bit of tap water into the glass. She took a gulp and winced at the taste. She reached into another cabinet and pulled out a huge bag of Salt and Vinegar potato chips, and started munching.

"Once on the lips, a life on the hips" Tiffany cautioned.

Sandra glared back at her sister. Then brightened and asked, "Speaking of spending your life on your hips, how was your rigourous Spa?"

Alexis fluffed her hair, "Quite invigorating, you really should come out with us sometime, I think you'll see it's well worth your time."

"True, and you can carry more." Tiffany whispered toward Alexis.

"No thank you." Sandra said.

"C'mon Sandy, it's a lot of fun.", Tiffany said.

Sandra glared back, this time with a fair bit more earnesty. "Don't call me Sandy. My name is Sandra. Look, I'm not exactly thrilled with the idea of being what I am, and although you two seem to love it, I got the short end of the broomstick."

"You can't deny your fate as a wytch, Sandra" Alexis said. "We hold the power of the elements, and like it or not, I am the Surfwytch, Tiffany is the Sunwytch..."

Sandra covered her ears "Augh!! Don't say it. I know, I know, I'm the Sandwytch. God, that's so stupid." Sandra sighed deeply and grabbed another fist full of salty chips, munching noisily. "Trust the folks to have a really stupid sense of humor. Do you have any idea how hard it is to be a photographer with this? I mean why couldn't I have gotten Tiffany's power? You have any idea how much I'd save on flashes? Or your power Alexis, it'd make doing the rinses a total piece of cake, but no, I got the ability to summon various types of grit. Perfect. And I get to spend my weekends blowing dust out of cameras and film packs."

Alexis and Tiffany rolled their eyes as they listened to Sandra vex about her hex. It was the same argument they'd each heard a hundred times before. Sandra slumped back into her chair, depressed. "I can't help but think we should be doing something with these other than filling the wanton needs of car mechanics and pent up teenage boys."

Alexis nudged Tiffany in a knowing way. At least they had found a good use, even if Sandra was the proverbial stick in the mud, or as Tiffany would say, just the mud.

Sandra brushed the salt, grease and crumbs off her hands and perked up a bit. "Enough of that, we've got that shoot in Boise to do this weekend. Did you to go scout out locations like I asked?"

"Uhm, yeah, sort of. We found at least one place we thought we liked, but it needed to be cleaned out."Tiffany said as she tried to surpress her smile. Alexis shoved her again.

"Ok, fine whatever. I should have known better. Well, be ready to go by seven. We've got an early flight." Sandra said as she got up and walked out of the kitchen. Tiffany and Alexis were still quietly giggling to each other.

Sandra called back, "Still the sooner we finish those promo shots for the Boise P.D. calendar the better."

Tiffany and Sandra stopped giggling.

Bob waited in his Doctors office. He knew he was fine, but Avey insisted that he get a checkup. Even though Bob knew is destiny was to one day become ultimate ruler of at least several world dominating organizations, he knew better than to try to argue with his wife.

Still, he hated being stuck in the office with nothing to do. He was a bit edgy still, probably an aftereffect of everything that happened. Bob looked around the office for something to distract himself. He played with a few of the model organs and skeletons, taking quick mental notes for later. He walked over to the shelves of books that lined his doctor's walls. One thing Bob could say about Hooper was that the good doctor did not confine himself to just the study of general medicine. There were various tomes on electro-mechanical engineering, and astrophyics.

Bob had never really paid much attention to such fields, considering that he had decided to focus himself on advertising, business and other schools of pure evil. Still, he had watched the occasional NOVA on PBS. He hefted a tome and idly leafed through it. He stood reading the article about worm hole theory and tachyon particles. Oddly he found himself gripped by the concepts and hungry for more information. Soon he had most of the books open and was scanning through them. No, not scanning, absorbing the information in them.

"Well, Mr. Malevolant, I have to say that you're a very lucky man. It looks like other than some minor burns you're perfectly healthy.... And apparently making yourself quite at home." Dr. Hooper said as he entered his office to see Bob settled in a nest of open text books, whipping through pages at a prodigious rate. Bob looked up at the Doctor.

"Yes of course, Hawking was right about larger wormholes requiring too much energy, but there's no reason you couldn't simply use a narrower one as a carrier. What we really need is providing a means for focusing the gamma emissions via low iron silicates to act as a filter for some ionized hydrogen based..." Bob mumbled to himself. Dr. Hooper cleared his throat. Bob looked up, very much surprised to see the doctor standing there. Bob looked a bit embarrassed and quickly started closing and collecting up the books.

"I didn't know you had an interest in astrophysics. It's just kind of a hobby with me."

Bob slid the last book into place. They were in exactly the same order as when he started. "Yeah, I hadn't really looked into it that much before. Still, I find several of the theories intriguing to say the least."

"Would you like to borrow a few of those?" the Doctor asked Bob.

"No, no thank you, I read most of them." Bob replied, a bit surprised by his own answer, but it was true.

Dr. Hooper was a bit surprised too. "Really? When?" he asked.

"Just now." Bob replied candidly.

"Elenor Woodhead has nothing on you, Bob." Dr. Hooper said not quite believing Bob. "Well, like I said, you're mightly lucky and other than a few minor burns on your hand there, you're fine."

Bob smiled, "Thanks, Avey will be glad to hear that."

A few minutes later Bob emerged from his Doctor's office and looked up.

"Margie? What did I tell you about chasing cars? Put the Miada down and let's go home."

Margie did as she was told. Bob hoped that the driver had waterproofed his seats, although it probably would have been less of a concern if the driver wasn't still in the car.

Bob attached the leash and the two headed back toward Atlantica.

"Margie? Go on-line. Find all pages with the following words; 'Mossbauer, silicate, hydrogen''"

Bob climbed onto Margie's back and began reading from a small control screen. The first thing he found was a several page paper that was recently presented in London by a group of Canadian physicists called Theoretical Quadrupole Splitting Distributions of Octahedral Fe2+ in Layer Silicates. Bob read it in complete rapture.

Detective Wallace was not sighed heavily before he opened the door. He hated doing this, but he had to admit that although they were nut jobs, they were useful. He opened his office job. Inside were the two costumed cretins christened by the press as the Dogmatic Duo, Grayhound and Puppyboy.

"Does the circus know you've been raiding their wardrobe?" Wallace said to the two.

"What can I say? I'm never one to turn down a tent sale.", JB returned easily. "Oh, by the way, with the recent cutbacks you've had, I know a great way to get a lot more of you into smaller cars."

Chris shot a withering glance at his brother, before looking back at Wallace. Stoic as always, Wallace never even hinted to the fact that Puppyboy just scored a minor point in his favor.

"Detective Wallace," Chris said before JB got them thrown in a cell, "what can we help you with?"

"A few days ago there was a robbery over at the Sham Company Jewelry Store."

"I hear their ads on the radio all the time. That's the company trying to get high-school kids to by their wedding rings from them." JB remarked. He then switched to a low gravelly voice that mimicked the founder "Guys, do you find you have too much money lying around and are wondering what to do with it? We here at Sham Company know a great way to empty that burdensome wallet on cheap gaudy jewelry your wife will look at funny for hours."

Chris and Detective Wallace both glared at him. JB simply smiled at his own joke.

Wallace continued, "The employees reported that two women entered the store dressed in athletic apparel. A mister Thomas Knightwood approached one of the suspects, a blonde woman, who after a brief exchange apparently managed to blind everyone in the store using an unknown method. We believe that the woman had an accomplice, and the two of them managed to clean out the store in seconds."

Chris took in the details and then asked, "I'm a bit confused, this sounds more like your area of expertise. Why are you asking for our help?"

Wallace closed the file. "Because unfortunately, the Chief won't let us call Ms. Cleo."

"Do you have any pictures or video from the store cameras?" Chris asked.

"No, the recording machines and tapes were overloaded by the burst of light and destroyed by the seawater."

"Seawater?" Chris said, "Where the heck did they get seawater?"

"That's what we said, but the analysis of some of the liquid confirms that it's sea water. The other big clue was the bits of kelp and the surprised looking grouper." Wallace said reading off the report.

"I'll also assume that there wasn't a big tanker truck parked outside with someone idly playing with a nozzle?" Chris asked somewhat rhetorically.

"Not that was reported by the storekeepers. I'd also note that the water seemed to flow only through the cases, areas of the floor that were much lower were bone dry."

"Hmm, Are you sure they weren't drycleaners?", JB asked with a broad smile.

"JB? Do I have to have you wait outside?" Chris asked his brother with more than a bit of irritation.

"I'll be good."

"You'd be better, quiet."

JB slumped down a bit.

"Ok, so these aren't you're run of the mill crooks. Do you have anything else for us to run with?"

"If I give you this would you not stop running until you got past the Idaho Border?" Wallace asked.

"Do you want me to leave and you can sit in the room with JB?" Chris replied flatly.

Wallace quickly handed over the folder. Chris opened it and scanned through a few of the reports. There were two character sketches that weren't much help. "I'd like to hang on to these, Can I get a copy?"

"Those are the copies, and I don't want to see those appear in the Chronicle tomorrow."

"Not even if they're in cuffs with you standing behind them?"

"I'll make the exception. Look, I know you two have helped us in the past, but I don't want you doing anything stupid that could land us in a costly court battle. This has to be by the book. I want you two to just keep your eyes and ears open and to tell us about anything you hear. Got that?"

"Understood." Chris said, collected the folder and walked out the room.

The two walked down the courthouse stairs toward where the car was parked.

"Well, Grommit. I think we handled that bit nicely." JB said in a bad British accent.

Chris stopped to look at him. "How long have you been waiting to say that?"

"About three weeks now."

Chris headed back down the stairs. "Should have waited."

Special Agent Francis DeMarco continued his sweep of the crowd. He carefully watched for any unwarranted or suspicious activities. Unfortunately, there still wasn't any. Just the normal tourists, shoppers, muggers and pick-pockets working the crowds. For the second week, there was still no sign of any off-world activities or suspicious build up of unauthorized Canadian activity.

He brought the pan pipe up to his lips and began to play again.

He was really starting to hate Peruvian Mountain music.

Ops was thorough, but not very creative. Back in 1996 when Peru banned and exported all of it's musicians (a move that garnered well over 98% of the Peruvian popular vote). Ops had taken advantage of the few scattered groups by bulking them up with agents. Unfortunately, they apparently got a really good deal on outfits and instruments and now it was the defacto cover story, dammit. Agent DeFranco was positive that there was ex-goat header in the Andes living much better than he was a few years ago.

The only good thing was that he didn't actually have to play anything. The speakers broadcast a tight loop of the haunting, restful tones that gave DeFranco reoccurring nightmares that involved alpaca and llamas. Not that he was being threatened by the beasts. The simple fact that he could identify the differences between the two was frightening enough to him.

A field operative approached the table. DeMarco knew she was a field operative. They were the only ones who were interested in Peruvian Mountain Music.

Agent DeMarco walked over to the table. He no longer cared if anyone noticed that his solo was continuing without the benefit of his playing.

"I would like to buy two CDs please."

Definitely an operative.

"What do you have?" DeFranco asked.

"Boise is currently inhabited by two Class Three Superheroes, although one may be higher and the other might be lower."

"Why is that?"

"Partly because they are recent arrivals and direct information is sketchy. Official USHA records are equally sketchy. Oddly they are also classified as 405s."

"405s? Can we get a warrant or mandate override on that?"

"Not likely unless we have some criminal intent. They've come close, but there's nothing hard and fast. Interesting tidbit is that the Y-Guys made an appearance here."

"And we can't get a rogue warrant for that?"

"No, the prime actually managed to catch them. They escaped later, but the locals weren't involved in transports. That was handled by two USHA reps."

"Typical. Still, the prime managed to capture the Y-Guys. That's impressive. I take it he's the potential class two?"

"No, actually he's the potential hero class."

DeMarco paused and just looked at the field op. Not much could catch him off guard like that.

"He made quite a mess of the Y-Guy OpCenter too." The operative continued in her deadpan delivery. "There are scattered reports that the prime has some BPD capability, that's why he's a Class Three."

"Bio/electric Pulse Discharge, huh? How many LeJole's?"

"Again, it's sketchy, but one report puts the estimate anywhere from .5 to 30."

DeFranco let out a low whistle. "Yeah, that's definitely Class Three. 30, huh? Too bad we can't test him, I'm sure he'd appreciate getting a Class One out of it."

They both laughed at the implications of that statement.

"Any other LH?"

"No, that's about it. Several hostiles exist, but nothing above Class Three."

DeFranco knit his brows. "Looks pretty typical so far. What about non-natives?"


"What?" DeFranco was very surprised by that one.

"No verified traceable alien presence has been detected at this time."

"It must be cloaked." DeFranco assumed and thought for a few moments. "Good work, do you have the disk?"

The woman reached into her stroller and pulled out a "Restful Mountains" CD case. "This is all I've gotten so far. Oh, and I threw on a few U2 MP3s on there."

DeFranco cracked, his hands were shaking. He had been given a new lease on life. With as much emotion as he could sum up, "Thank You."

"Same time next week?" The woman said as she took her payment concealed in a "Zamfir's Greatest Hits" CD.

DeMarco slid the operative's CD into his equipment box. It was going to be a fun week, but he still had to get through the weekend gig. He sighed heavily and walked back up onto the stage to pick up his latest solo. He "played" his pipes and dreamt of MP3 players.

Tiffany carefully weighed the pros and cons, along with the countless variables associated around the proposal. She thought about the potential for repercussions by doing a calendar shoot for the Boise Police Department and summed up her analysis as concisely as she could. "This really sucks"

"I know Tiff, but we've got to do this. Besides, it'll be a rush." Alexis said as she slid portions of herself into place.

They opened the dressing room's "door", much to the appreciation of the collected officers. The sun shone brightly and the sisters vogued appropriately. Tiffany's concerns evaporated as she put on her working face.

Sandra, camera in hand and flanked by assistants quickly took control of the situation. She turned and announced to the collected brigade, "I'm sorry, but I'll need this to be a closed set. I don't want to ruin the surprise for you guys."

Naturally the crowd erupted in low laughs as various ideas sprang to the collected minds, few reprintable in checkout magazines. Sandra was a bit repulsed by that, but took it in stride. "Now, now," she yelled over the chuckles, "As they say, 'Leering may be Lovely, but a Picture Lasts Longer.' And maybe if you all are good and let us be, I'll send you the proofs of everything I take. We've got our job to do, and you've got your job to do, so if you'll please excuse us…"

There was a quick chorus of good natured "Aww's" but the crowd began to disperse. Tiffany and Alexis waved back to some of the departing officers and camped a few poses to keep them grinning.

Once Sandra determined that enough of the crowd had gone, she was strictly business. "Alexis, we're starting with you." That was all Tiffany needed to hear. She knew that the two would be busy shooting for at least half an hour. Sandra was a consummate perfectionist when it came to stuff like that. Tiffany pulled on a loose jacket and wandered away from the shooting area.

That was one of the things she had learned that made it all the more fun. Pretty girls are hard to tell apart. People would give descriptions of her, but to be honest, her looks were amazingly common, and without the makeup and styling, she could easily fit in to any crowd. A bit of rouge and a different shade of lipstick, and she could be in a thousand places at once.

She felt confident that no one could tell her from anyone else.

Not even that short guy in the dark gray suit. The one who kept looking her way. The perv. Tiffany knew she should have put on her sweat pants. Now he's calling over his buddy. Somone dressed like it's Holloween already. God, look at all those colors.

Gray pulled out some piece of paper with a heavy typed header and text on the bottom. He turned his back to Tiffany and began talking to his friend, who was wearing a red jacket or cape or some…


Tiffany felt the cold fingers of panic start to creep up her back. She turned and started walking back down the alley toward Sandra and Alexis.

She heard footsteps and glanced back down the street to see the two starting to close in on her. Tiffany started walking faster, trying to get away.

"Miss?" she heard a voice call out, "Can I ask you a few questions, please?"

Tiffany ran. She sprinted back toward the lot.

"Help! Sandra! Perverts!" She called out.

Sandra stopped taking pictures.

"There are two crazies chasing me!" Tiffany cried out as she ran past her sister.

Sandra looked down the alley and saw a gaudily dressed man in full sprint trying to catch up to Tiffany. She let the camera fall, and with a few quick words in an ancient tongue, a torrent of sand emerged from her outstretched hands.

JB was caught completely by surprise as the sand blasted him backwards down the alley past Chris.

"Two can play that game!" Chris yelled out and braced himself for the pain.

That never came.


Chris looked at his arm. Nothing. No blast of energy, not so much as a trickle.

He didn't have a lot of time to think about it though.

A second blast of sand sent him hurling down the alley toward JB.

Will Bob be trying out voice synthesizers for a new career path?

Who is that masked Peruvian?

Have Chris and JB been beach slapped?

Tune in next time for:

Gritty Sarong
A Sandy Cover Up

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