Chronicles of a Caped Crusader: Of Beauty and Brawn - Part Four
Chloe delivered her report to the other Defenders about Veronica and waited for a response.
"We see her. She's speaking with Degrass on the stage," Lightning Lenny said.
"Do not engage," Loraine's voice ordered over the communicator. "Keep tabs on both as inconspicuously as possible, but do not engage. Backup is coming."
"Can I book?" Chloe asked.
"Yes, get your disaster-prone mother out of there. Just in case."
Chloe stuffed the communicator back in the pocket and made her way out into the convention room. She scanned the crowd, looking for Kristy. She saw her walking towards the stage. She tried to push her way through the crush to reach her, but it was slow going. She just missed catching her as Kristy made her way up onto the stage.
She pressed herself against the stage to listen, not wanting to make a scene by rushing up after her.
"Hey, you're not really supposed to be up here," Veronica said, her voice familiar even thought it was muffled by the mask she wore.
"I'm sorry, I just wanted to speak to Mr. Degrass really quick. I'm with a local paper; I'm doing a story on the Beauty Contest. Since you're the guest judge, I was hoping I could ask you a few quick questions about the experience?" Kristy said, putting on her best perky, charming journalist act.
"Oh, I'd love to. Now isn't the best time, though. I could make time for you during the next break," Degrass said.
"Oh, that would be wonderful. Thank you so much. I'll look forward to it," Kristy said. "Could I also ask you a few questions on what it takes to put together a contest like this, Miss?"
"Oh, no, I'm not a good person to ask. I'm a temp, I'm just filling for really minor things tonight because they were short staffed. Apparently, there was a bout of NeoMonia among the crew," Veronica explained.
"All right then; thank you both for your time. I'll see you later, Mr. Degrass," Kristy said cheerily, making her way off the stage.
She left the stage and wrapped an arm around Chloe. "Hey, honey!" she cried cheerily as she led her into the crowd. "You were beautiful up there, and you spoke so well. I'm so proud of you."
Once they were deeper into the crowd, Kristy leaned in close and whispered, "I hope you don't mind, but we're leaving."
"Why?" Chloe asked, though secretly relieved.
"Because Degrass is totally up to something, probably has something to do with that assistant he was talking to. Did you hear that line about the NeoMonia? At this time of year? Ha, no. Also, it's pretty clear she's lying; they have all the usual staff. I was here just last month supporting a friend, I know. We should go inform the DoN that something fishy is going down. Maybe they can catch Degrass in the act. That'll look really good for you, won't it?"
"Wow, okay, let's go," Chloe said, still trying to not let on that she already knew what was going on.
They reached the doors only to have their path blocked by two burly Neopets in suits, a Nimmo and a Scorchio. Chloe recognized them as members of Vile's gang. She swallowed hard, knowing things were going wrong.
"Are you Kristy and Chloe Kimmy?" one of them asked.
"No, Evita Starinne and my daughter Rachel. I work for the Teen Neopet, a fashion magazine. She's an aspiring model and a violinist. She also has Spontaneous Recurring Doldrums. It's very rare and somewhat serious. I'm out of ointment, but the clinic is right around the corner. We'll be back by the time they announce the winners," Kristy promptly lied.
The two Neopets looked at each other, seemingly unsure. Kristy had delivered the lie so promptly and matter of fact that hardly seemed like it could be a lie. She started to push past them, leading Chloe along, when they were stopped again by a voice.
"Why are you letting them go?" Degrass asked caustically.
"These aren't the right ladies," one of them said.
"Are you idiots? Of course that's them. I mean, look at all her hair! That's the trademark of the Weekly World correspondent," Degrass snapped.
"One of these days, I'm going to cut all my hair off," Kristy muttered through teeth clenched into a semblance of a smile. She turned around. "And what do you and your friends want, Mr. Degrass?"
"Where were you in such a hurry to be off to?" Degrass asked. "The winners haven't been announced."
"She's not feeling well, I was taking her down to the clinic. We were hoping to be back before the winners were announced," Kristy explained with forced calm. "Since when do you get to hold people up? We're allowed to leave at any time, even should it cost her a win."
"Yeah, funny that the clinic is right next door to where your daughter works. That wouldn't have anything to do with it, would it? We're going to have to insist that you stay," Degrass said. "We actually have something we'd like to show you backstage."
"You really are up to something dirty, aren't you, Degrass?" Kristy said with a sarcastic smile. "You shouldn't mess with me. We journalist types can break you more easily than you'd think. You wouldn't believe what the Weekly World knows about your underworld connections. It wouldn't take much to pull a few strings, call in a few favors, and pass a few bribes along. We do all that and we'll be able to present some massively incriminating documents to the Defenders of Neopia along with publishing it and smearing your reputation for good. We will do that."
"You won't be around to do that," Degrass said with a smirk.
"No, but trust me when I say, you'll wish I was. My boss is not a forgiving man, and he'd take it as a personal attack. Bounty hunters are easy to come by; most don't have morals," Kristy warned.
"I think she's right about that. He's not a nice man," Chloe added.
"I'll take my chances. Boys, escort the ladies along," Degrass ordered with a snap of his fingers.
"You take that one!" Kristy shouted, pushing Chloe down so they both ducked under the hands that reached out to grab them.
Chloe swept her leg, knocking the Scorchio down. She jumped up and raised her fist, delivering a blow to his head that immediately knocked him senseless. She turned and saw the Nimmo swinging a punch at her.
She started to duck, but Kristy stepped in the way, raising her clipboard. The clipboard was made of solid metal, something meant to be durable enough to take anywhere with her. The metal dented inward from the force of the blow, and the Nimmo hopped backward, holding his hand. She swung the clipboard, hitting him solidly in the head with it and knocking him off his feet. Kristy dropped the clipboard and stuck him with the flat of her hand, knocking him unconscious.
Chloe barely had a minute to register the unexpected action from her mother. It wasn't a lucky blow, it had been a carefully calculated blow meant to incapacitate an opponent. She shook the question of where and when Kristy could have learned that from her mind.
Degrass was looking at them in amazed horror. He started to turn.
"Don't you go anywhere, you creep! No one threatens my daughter!" Kristy screamed, grabbing the clipboard and throwing it like a disk, hitting him in the legs and sending him toppling.
Chloe saw Veronica on the stage, watching. They were made. She pulled the communicator out of her pocket.
"We got made. I repeat, we got made. Veronica's going to run," Chloe reported.
In the crowd, Lightning Lenny and Blackwing tossed off their disguises. Lightning raced up onto the stage, blocking Veronica's exit routes, and Blackwing blocked the stairs leading off the stage.
Veronica ran forward, flipping the table off the stage and into the crowd. Most of the crowd managed to scatter out from under it in time. She jumped into the now cleared section, making for the front door. Lightning got in front of her, blocking that exit and Blackwing jumped off the stage from behind.
Veronica reached into her suit and pulled out a blaster. She pointed it into the crowd and fired randomly. Lightning raced forward, catching up the people who might be hit by it all at once and pushing them out of the way. They all tumbled to the ground, Lightning included. Before he could get back to his feet, Veronica fired again, rendering him unconscious.
"Drop it, Veronica," Blackwing shouted.
She turned to look at him; he had a blaster trained on her. She pointed it at Chloe. "I'm much faster than you, and she's not wearing armor. Is this the care you take of your employees? You drop it."
With a frustrated growl, Blackwing placed his blaster on the ground.
"Now, kick it over here," Veronica said.
He did so and she hooked the toe of her shoe under it and flipped it into the air, catching it and putting it inside the holster in her coat, never giving an opening.
"Now, it's time to walk out of here. Any volunteers to come with me?"
To be continued...