Crime brulee in: a delectable deliverance

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Chapter 1 - Prologue

TWO YEARS AGO

‘Crime Brulee Still at Large; Local Opera House Terrorized in Horrific Heist,’ read the latest headline from the Blackwater Bugle, but Special Agent Ned Daniels of the US Division of Heroics, stage-manager of capes and determinator of the nation’s future, was hardly worried. With any luck, he’d get the green light soon from upstairs to send his star protege after the fiendish firebug. It would look great in the papers, too: the possibilities for puns would be endless once Blowtorch finished Crime Brulee.

Despite the overcast weather, the nightmarish traffic in the cab on his way to the office, and the yet-unknown whereabouts of the notorious bone-stealing serial killer known as the Graverobber, whose arrest technically fell under Ned’s umbrella of responsibility, he was feeling lately like nothing could bring him down. How could he complain about minor setbacks when he had the mighty Blowtorch waiting for him in his bed at home, ready to spill sweet nothings from her soft lips as he nudged apart her thighs?

She alone in the Division had ever stepped up to rival his acumen, and ever bothered to understand him. An outcast from an unaccepting home, she’d had her life blown apart when she’d been thrown out into the street in her teens, only to land herself a spot among the nation’s greatest defenders, but she hadn’t forgotten her roots, and in that way, they were kindred spirits. Combat had rattled him back in the days of the Gulf War, and taken a lot of his faith in people from him, but knowing he had someone in his corner who was willing to see his soul and stay the course with him gave him a warmth, a groundedness, that made the world feel brand new.

He hadn’t been this happy since before he got his legs blown off.

Not even the appearance of Agent Hastings, the young upstart who’d quickly assumed the role of his rival in the short time since she’d been hired, in his doorway, could dampen his mood. “Cornelia! How is this wonderful day finding you?” he asked, shuffling the papers on his desk.

A guttural grunt escaped the slim brunette’s throat as she approached his desk, a manila folder grasped in her hands. “Worse, now that I’ve seen the smug smirk on your insufferable face, and read into its implications.”

“Relax, Agent. I can assure you, your sister is in good hands. Perhaps better than your own; have you still not heard from Vaporwave?”

“I’m sure Agent Dashwood has a very good reason for remaining incommunicado, and that wherever she is, she’s taking care of what needs to be done,” said Cornelia. “But I didn’t come here to talk about her, or my sister, though I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised she’s landed in your lap: Connie’s always had terrible taste. No; this is about the new recruit the men upstairs are trying to shove on me.”

“Kaufskey?”

“Yes, yes, the pudgy little human lie detector without any combative abilities whatsoever.”

Ned rolled his eyes. “Anything can be a combative ability if you’ve got enough creativity, and your failure to grasp that, my dear, is why you’ll never surpass me.”

“You can agree to disagree with me on some points, Daniels, but the fact of the matter is, he could be far more valuable to us as a resource than a combatant. His bloodwork just came back, and as it turns out, he’s not just an empath: his body has the ability to produce a neurotoxin that, when introduced, forces any subject to tell the truth. Think of the implications this could have on the efficiency of our interrogations!”

“So your plan is to send him down to chem lab to free up the spot on your roster? How cruel.”

“Don’t pretend you’re above it.”

“And you’ve come to me, your despised enemy, because…?”

Cornelia sighed and surrendered her folder, laying it on the edge of his desk just far away enough so that he had to wheel up to reach. He’d have expected no less from her. “Certain…conditions…need to be met in order for the recruit to do what he does, and let’s just say, extreme measures will have to be put into place. Upstairs wants an additional signature besides mine before they jettison my proposition, but you strike me as an expert in keeping an operation like this running smoothly.”

He opened up the folder and skimmed over her proposal, which included machine blueprints, timetables, and a lot of conversions and calculations. He had to admit, she was more clever than he had ever given her credit for…but her plan wasn’t perfect. “Well, you’re no machinist. I’d have to make some changes to this design, but I think with the tools at my disposal, we could definitely optimize the input budget and save the company a considerable amount of money in the long run in shadow-work salaries. And you know how the company loves its money.”

“So, what do you say?” asked Cornelia. “Just this once, let’s put our differences aside? Sign on the dotted line and let’s the both of us get a much-deserved raise?”

He dug for a pen in a drawer, uncapped it, and signed. “Deal, you miserable bitch.”

She snatched her paperwork back with a sharklike smirk. “Thank you, you disgusting old freak.”
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