She was dressed like a hooker, desperately short red skirt, black fishnet body stocking, red high heels, and something I assumed was supposed to be a top, but looked more like a shredded red shawl draped over her shoulders. The body-sock should have been tight on her, but she was bone-thin, and it almost hung loose. Her hair was a wild mane of black with dirty-blond streaks, and I don’t think even pharaohs wore that much eyeliner. She was only twenty five, I think, but when she grinned, her teeth were thoroughly yellow and crooked, and her long nails gave her an overall hag look.
“You look like shit, Jackie.”
“You want something?” I hadn’t seen her in seven years, and that was seven years too short. I wasn’t sure how the fuck she found me, but I’d been crashing in
for a few months now. If she lived in the area these days, it was possible she’d
seen me. I wasn’t exactly hiding. But then, I wasn’t expecting old associates
to sneak up on me. Los Angeles
Jackie grinned. “Me and the boys, we finished our sentences. We all back out now.”
“That’s great. You can go make an honest living. Plenty of jobs to go around these days.”
“Yeah, sure. Cause you’d know all about honest living, wouldn’t ya Max?”
Goddamnit. Same old Jackie. She just got off on getting under your skin. Even when she was my flunky, she’d run her mouth some days until finally one of us just slapped her to shut her up. I think she got off on that, too. I would have kicked her out of the gang if the SFF hadn’t busted us up before I got the chance. I swiveled in my chair to face her fully. My energy was all focused on durability, but even without it, I wasn’t worried that Jackie could hurt me. I just wanted to be slow enough to deal with her in as short a time as possible, and not so strong that if I had to slap her again I’d take her head off.
“So, the Justice Cunts got greased,” Jackie continued. “You know what that means?”
Jem made a sour face and moved to say something, but I gave her a glance and a slight shake of the head to let her know I had it handled. A few years in the slammer clearly hadn’t done Jackie any favors. I wondered how many minutes it took her to get a meth hit once she was released. She looked like she’d break her hand trying to punch me even if I didn’t have any powers.
“Enlighten me,” I said, leaning on the counter and looking bored.
“It means we can do whatever we want,” she said. “We don’t have the long arm of the law to break us up any more. Well, not an arm long enough to count.” Her grin grew so wide, I thought the top of her head might fall off. “We don’t have to worry about some random group of super cunts turnin’ our leader against us.” She leaned close. Even my durability set to maximum didn’t quite stop the nausea from her smell. “None of us ever forgave you for that, you know. We sat there schemin’ how we’d do it. How we’d get you back, boss.”
She backed away just before I was about to break my poker face and shove her out of my personal space. Her grin shrank enough so that he face looked slightly less horrifying and she threw her hands up in an exaggerated shrug. “But hey, you know, I get it. You’re one of the special ones. They got a use for you. So you get to cut the deal. You get the short sentence, you get to walk on out and have your sweet little government check. And we get left to rot.”
“The ASP doesn’t sign my checks no more,” I said. “I work private now.”
Jackie laughed a shrill laugh and clapped. “Oh, good for you. Movin’ right on up in the world.”
Everyone in the diner was watching us now. Not too many people here probably knew who I was, or what I was, but they knew something was definitely off, aside from the trashy bitch making a spectacle of herself.
“Ma’am, if you got beef, take it outside.” Jem pointed to the door, trying to look stern. She paused for a second, then grinned. A metal spatula floated over the grill and pulled up hamburger patty, holding it in the air for a moment, before flipping and pressing it back down on the hot surface. “We don’t serve drugged up cows in here!”
I smirked. “Your one-liners are terrible.”
Jem shrugged, still grinning at her own awful attempt at some kind of pun. “And that’s why I didn’t become a superhero.”
Jackie clapped again, glaring daggers at her. “HaHA! Good one! You’re lucky you’re not a superhero, cuz a line that bad would be reason enough to make you deader ‘an the SFF.”
Jem sighed and glowered at Jackie. The bitch suddenly yelped as a chair slid across the floor and hit the back of her knees, forcing her to fall into it. The chair carried her toward the door, which swung open by itself, then dumped her unceremoniously on the sidewalk, before flying back in and depositing itself beneath its table. The door swung shut, but it was one of those metal frames holding a thick pane of glass, so I could still see Jackie as she staggered up off the ground and rubbed her butt.
“Old friend?” said Jem, hooking her thumb towards the door.
I turned to face her as I said, “Just an old regret.” I was about to say more, when there was a sudden roaring sound that rattled the windows of the diner, and a huge flash of orange light erupted in my peripheral vision. Others in the diner shouted and jumped, some ducking down under their tables. Jem let out a yelp and ducked below the counter. Even I flinched, despite my durability being set to maximum.
Through the glass of the door, I could see the outline of Jackie’s body, wreathed in flames. Something appeared to be growing out of her, wrapping itself around her form. The flames died down around her as what appeared to be some kind of dark-green bark material bulked out her form, like some kind of organic body armor. Her head was the last thing to be covered, but this time, the material ballooned and shifted colors, into a large, bulbous shape. For a moment, the flames disappeared. Then, glowing red cracks appeared in front of the shape, and split open into a perfect rendition of a jack-o-lantern. The flames licked the air in front of its eyes, mouth, and nose-hole.
Fuck. That wasn’t good.
“MAX!!!” the thing shouted. Jackie’s voice, deeper and more ragged, and loud enough the windows shook again. Flames danced around her head as she spoke. “After I flay your fucking skin off, I’m going to shove your head right up her ass!”