Kim blinked and turned to stare at her lover. “Beg pardon?”
Shego scowled down at the scribbles she'd been making on a printout. “Okay, maybe I overstated it. We're not broke. In fact, for normal people we'd be damn rich.”
“Buuut,” Kim prompted, frowning a bit herself.
“But we've got payments to Lairco coming up, and this is kinda an expensive operation to run. I'd say we've got maybe two months before expenses overcome interest and income from investments.”
Kim walked over and slowly sat down in a chair at the table, laying her jacket across her lap. “Shego, are you telling me that, just as we're learning to work together as a unit, just as we're really starting to make some small dent in street crime, we're going to be thwarted not by Global Justice finding us, by villains, or anything like that… but by lack of funding?”
Shego leaned back, rubbing her pencil's eraser across her forehead, unconsciously scratching one of the ears of her jaguar-mark. “That's about the size of it. Unless we start bringing in another source of income to help us keep ahead of the bills, we might be moving in with your parents.”
“Ouch.” Kim winced, then ran both hands through her hair. “Okay. Well, what about Yori's hacking? She could always ‘liberate’ some funds from somebody that wouldn't miss a few million here and there.”
The green-skinned woman grinned broadly, flashing a fang. “Pumpkin, you know it makes me moist when you get so flagrant about breaking the law.” Then she sighed and flicked her thumb across the fang nervously. “Yeah, maybe, but if we do stuff like that too often it'll get too many people looking around.”
“You're probably right.” Kim sighed and stood up, pulling on her jacket and zipping it up. “I'll try to think of something, or we'll talk about it, or… I don't know. I need to do some shopping.”
“Okay.” Shego nodded, glancing back down at her figures, then quickly snagged Kim and kissed a few of her fingertips.
Managing a small grin, Kim turned and headed out the door.
Kim tried not to feel too bleak as she walked up and down the aisles of the small neighborhood market, but it was hard. Before, lacking funds just meant less eating out, or not getting some new designer jacket she wanted. Now it was suddenly threatening not only her mission, but her newfound independence. Shego was right… without the money to sustain them, they might have to give it all up and…
Well, maybe not literally move back in with her parents, but still.
She'd never known how miserable something like this must make people. Every time she set something in the handbasket, she pictured some nebulous amount in a bank account dropping closer to zero. It was almost making her sick to her stomach, besides grumpy.
‘Let Yori buy her own damn condoms, screw it,’ she thought with unprecedented venom, turning away from the pharmaceuticals area and heading back up towards the front of the store.
“-nna cut it today, man!”
“Please, I have already paid you what is due.”
“That's what the man asks of you for all this sweet protection you get, buddy! But what about my trouble, eh?”
‘So it's true. Give a criminal even a little bit of power, he starts talking in exposition,’ Kim thought, expression flat as she stayed between aisles and watched the crew-cut twenty-something badgering the older man behind the counter.
“That is already everything I had on hand in the safe. Please, already this cuts deeply into my profits.”
“I'm tired of your sob-stories,” the thug snapped, starting to reach a hand across the counter.
Kim's hand wrapped around his forearm, squeezing tightly enough to make him stop where he was. “You've got your boss's money. Time to leave and take it back to him.”
“What the hell?” He scowled and turned his head to look at her, glaring at the redhead's face. The expression held for a few moments, but then his eyes dropped away from the cold, deadly look in her own and he yanked his arm away. “Whatever. Ain't good to do stuff like this in front of customers, right, old man? Ain't businesslike.” Dusting off the front of his coat as if that could clean his wounded pride, he turned and walked out.
“Thank you, young lady. I am afraid it will only make him more angry next time, however,” the old man said with a sigh.
Kim set her basket on the counter. “Who's he working for?”
“Mr. Scarapini. He ‘protects’ every store for blocks that is not owned by a big chain.”
“How much is he hitting you up for?” Kim asked curiously.
The owner told her an amount that actually made her wince. Then the analytical part of her brain started racking up the number of shops in the general neighborhood. The idea that popped into her brain was likely completely immoral and definitely not heroic. But maybe it was exactly what she needed to kill two birds with one stone.
“Hypothetically, what if you could pay half that and get protection? Like, real protection. Keeping people from robbing you, keeping vandals away, and definitely keeping any of Mr. Scarapini's boys away?” Kim said slowly.
The old man blinked. “If such a thing were possible, I would consider it a bargain.”
“Think your fellow shopkeepers would think the same thing?”
“I cannot speak for all of them, but I can guarantee at least a handful would think the same.”
“Well, start spreading the word quiet-like. You might be getting an upgrade in service for a downgrade in price.”
Ron stared at his childhood friend as if she had a cow up her nose. “KP, you want to start a protection racket?”
“Not a racket. Actual protection. It's more like providing services that insurance companies can't. And in the process, we shove organized crime out of part of Seattle.”
“To start taking it over ourselves,” Ron pointed out, still looking a little uncomfortable.
Kim actually seemed to consider, then began smiling in a rather fiendish way.
“Oh my God,” Shego murmured, taking her turn to stare at Kim. “That is the fucking sexiest smile I have ever seen, pumpkin.”
“You really are thinking like a Yakuza, Kim,” Yori piped up, not sounding very disapproving.
“Nature abhors a vacuum, even human nature.” Kim folded her arms over her chest and leaned back in her chair. “Some things are just going to happen no matter what. If we can be in charge of them, make them as safe for everyone involved as we can, and at the same time make the money we need to keep doing the important stuff…”
“Then you get a hero who's also a villain,” snickered Shego. “I love it!”
“So you seriously want to take on organized crime?” Ron asked.
“Wouldn't be the first time,” Kim muttered. “I'm just better equipped to do it this time around. But we'll have to be careful about it. I definitely want to put some thought into this.”
“A wise decision,” Yori agreed, shuffling through the bags. “… Um, Kim…?”
“Oops, did I forget something?” Kim blinked innocently, doing an excellent job at feigning lack of knowledge.
Kim paced back and forth on the top floor. It wasn't quick, agitated pacing, but instead long, slow strides covering a line about twenty feet long. Yori sat nearby working at one of her workdesks.
“Going directly to the man at the top is probably the best idea. Let him know straight-out what's going on. It's better than just building to a confrontation, that's more likely to get someone caught in the middle. And if we could intimidate him…”
“Convincing him to just leave is too much,” Yori noted, glancing up. “Such a man would not give up everything.”
“You're right.” Kim stopped and rubbed her chin, then hmmed. “What about a timeline? We let him know we're moving in and taking over, but not all at once. He'd have time to pull out, go somewhere else.”
“Become someone else's problem?” Yori queried.
“I guess, but that's about the best we can manage right now. We'll work on making him no longer a problem for this city before we worry about the world at large.”
Kim sighed, rubbing at her neck again, then wandering over to look over Yori's shoulder. “What's this?”
“This,” Yori said, indicating a roll of dark grey material about the size of a roll of toilet paper. “Is a new kind of impact-absorbing material. And this,” she continued, looking back down at the lightboard she was bent over. “Is a new kind of plastic that responds to electrical impulses from extremely fine wires threaded throughout it, causing it to be able to change its shape easily.”
Kim blinked in surprise. “That's some pretty heavy stuff.”
“I have been working on it with my mentor,” Yori replied, lowering her magnification goggles back into place. “Though I must admit that he does much of the work.”
“Changes shape easily…” Kim's imagination began kicking that over, and her gaze wandered to the roll of material. “And you said this stuff absorbs impact?”
“It lessens it to a great degree, yes. I was intending to make a cover for the Kimmunicator and perhaps start lining pockets with that roll. To cut down on the possibility of damaging anything delicate.”
“Could you make more of it?”
“Certainly, but it would take about a week and a significant expenditure.”
“And the shape-changing plastic… do you think you could come up with some way to make it one-way seethrough?”
Yori considered for a moment, then nodded thoughtfully. “I think so. In fact, if the wires were attuned finely enough, it would almost act like an LCD screen. Would you like me to begin work on that as well…?”
“Please and thank you.” Kim smiled and squeezed Yori's shoulder, then turned and hurried towards the stairs.
“Do you have somewhere to go, Kim…?”
“Yeah. A visit that was overdue anyway.”
The window unlocked with a few quiet thumps of a fist against a certain part of the frame. She really should have told someone it was that easy, but she just thought it came in handy. Kim actually paused for a moment after sliding the window open, and marveled that life was ever so easy and carefree that she didn't have to worry about some villain opening her bedroom window and beating the crap out of her as she slept.
Shaking away the nostalgia, she slid into the room and closed the window after herself. She looked around in the dark, well-adjusted eyes taking in the details. Her room was cleaner than she'd left it, but seemed largely untouched. She wondered if any of the clothes in the closet would still fit, and how much she could afford to take back with her and still be stealthy. She missed little touches of home, sometimes.
Carefully, avoiding well-known creaks and cautious of any possible new ones, Kim descended the stairs from her little turret-room and crept along the hallways, pausing briefly to blow a kiss towards the room where her parents were sleeping. Then she paused outside her brothers’ room, contemplating her biggest challenge.
Not only would they probably have set up some sort of alarm system, but it was likely to be a mess in there, making stealth that much harder. She wanted to talk to them without making a big fuss or announcing her presence… making too big a splash around here was still likely to be dangerous.
She slid her Kimmunicator out of her pocket and fiddled with it briefly. She'd missed the thing… Sifu usually hadn't let her use it during training, since it would have defeated a lot of the purpose of, say, learning trackfinding if she had a GPS with her. But some things demanded a more thoroughly-gadgety approach, which was partly why she was here.
A quick run of the Kimmunicator around the doorframe and wall around it showed no electrical signals except a small extra one near where the light switch would be. Looked like the Tweebs had been relying on anyone sneaking in needing to turn the lights on.
Kim opened the door carefully, still wary for any more “old school” traps, but none were forthcoming. She picked her way carefully through the half-completed gadgets and what looked like the pieces of a disassembled missile launcher, stepping between the twin beds and just taking a moment to look at her brothers.
She'd never really been close with them, and that had made their absence in recent years both easier and harder to bear. Missed opportunities, memories of a few fun times when all three of them were smaller. Thirteen years was a long time to hold a grudge for them not being a little sister, after all, even if they were annoying little… guys.
Kneeling, Kim reached a hand out in either direction, gently pressing on their chests. “Jim. Tim.”
They both gasped and started to sit up, but she pressed back again, then quickly shushed them, holding a finger up to her lips and looking back and forth.
“Kim?” Jim whispered, eyes wide.
“Hey guys,” she whispered back, grinning.
“What are you doing here? Have you come home?”
Kim blinked, and the blatant hope in Tim's voice actually threatened to bring tears to her eyes. It almost hurt to shake her head. “Sorry, no. Just visiting you two.”
“Geez, our psycho big sister the supervillain,” Jim muttered, then clambered out of bed to hug her on one side, Tim quickly doing the same on the other side.
“Haven't even taken over the world yet.”
“We're so ashamed.”
“Heh. Gimme time, guys.” Kim smiled and wrapped an arm around each twin, hugging back, then drawing back a little. “In fact, that's part of why I'm here. I'm getting ready to oust a mobster and take over his racket.”
“Seriously?!” Both boys cried, then erked and repeated, more quietly, “Seriously?”
“Basically, yeah. There's more to it than that, but I need some stuff before I do, and my new techie is gonna be busy. You two are the only ones I can go to for this. Think you're up to it?”
“We'll get it taken care of!”
“Great. Here's a list of the stuff I need.” Kim pulled a folded piece of paper out of her pocket and handed it over. “Think you can get it done before Friday?”
The boys unfolded the paper and looked down the list, quietly murmuring about the various measurements and weight notations, before Tim looked at his brother musingly.
“Hoo-sha,” Jim replied with a grin.
“Great! Knew I could count on you,” Kim whispered enthusiastically. “Put the stuff in a bag and leave it behind the tree in the back yard Friday night, okay?”
“You got it.”
“Kim, are… we ever gonna see you again? Like, normally?” Tim asked.
”… I dunno, guys.” Kim shook her head. “I'm not sure how all this is gonna work out. The answer might be no.”
The boys exchanged a look, then moved in to hug her again.
“Hey. You'll always be my villainous inspiration,” Kim said softly, hugging back again and closing her eyes.
“Cross my heart and hope to walk across this room with my eyes closed.”
“That would be bad.”
Kim zipped up the front of the bodysuit, feeling it conform against her body. It wasn't like a second skin… it was thicker, for one thing, and for another was designed more to hold things in place besides giving her freedom of movement. The material itself felt like some sort of thin, non-glossy rubber, and the dark grey would be as good as black in the night. It had a high collar, assuring that she wouldn't get rain down her neck anymore.
She knelt and did up the clasps of one boot, then the other, before standing and shrugging her shoulders into the straps of her combat harness. She fastened the clasps over her chest and waist, then ran the straps between her legs that would attach to the hip holsters. Into one went her new collapsible bo staff, into the other went a slim, high-voltage taser. She clipped a few other items to the new harness, then pulled on her new long black coat; with it on the harness was almost invisible, and even with the new suit it was going to be cold out there.
Kim turned towards Yori, who was holding out the mask. Kim took a moment to pull her hair back tightly and clip it into a ponytail, then took the mask and raised it to her face, pressing it into place around her eyes and feeling the prop adhesive fasten securely. No more rain in her eyes.
Pulling on her gloves, she glanced at Shego and the others already standing and waiting in their ninja uniforms. “So, how do I look?”
“Badass enough to make me wet,” Shego replied with a smirk.
“If it was anybody but you, baby, I'd think you'd left the ‘myself’ off the end,” Kim replied dryly.
“Really cool, KP,” Ron said, giving a thumbs-up and grinning.
“You look most imposing, Kim.”
“Good. Everyone know what their job is?” Receiving nods, Kim knelt down and rubbed the jaguar's head. “Good. Then let's go get ourselves in over our heads.”
Joey Scarapini turned over in bed, grunting as he found himself waking up when he'd rather stay asleep. He opened his eyes for a moment and flopped onto his back, catching a female shape at the corner of his bed. Blinking, he raised his head. “Agatha, that you?”
“No, Mr. Scarapini.”
Lightning flashed and thunder boomed outside, giving the mobster a glimpse of the redheaded figure at the foot of his bed. The black mask surrounding her eyes had solid white lenses, and the shape of it gave her face an extremely severe quality.
“What the hell are you doing here?!” Scarapini demanded, hand shooting to the bedside table and finding the space he'd reached for bare.
“Your wife's still in Sacramento. Your gun's right here.” The redhead raised one hand, the weapon held upwards in L-fashion, and gave it a small wag. “We needed to tell you a few things.”
“Who the fuck is ‘we’?” he demanded.
He looked to the side and started at the sight of a ninja crouching on his bedside table, balanced on the balls of her feet and arms resting on her knees. That wasn't nearly as intimidating at the fact that she was staring at him with green and yellow eyes with slit pupils.
When he looked to the other side, his jaw dropped at the sight of a jaguar prowling forward, then giving a lurch and slamming its paws down on the side of his bed to stare at him.
“What the fuck is this fucking cat fucking big cat,” he started to stammer.
“Keep it down, Mr. Scarapini. Loud, annoying noises make her cranky,” the redhead said evenly.
Joey swallowed and forced his teeth together.
“My name is Chione. I've been in town for a little while, and decided things need to change. So here's how it's gonna go.”
“You're gonna come in here and try to push me out of business?” he demanded, anger briefly overriding fear. Then he stared as the eyepieces of the mask actually narrowed, turning pointier, making them look like a snake's eyes. Was it even a mask?!
“I said be quiet,” she said softly, evenly.
He was quiet.
“Thank you. Now the point of this is that you can let yourself be pushed out gradually and retire, maybe move somewhere else… or you can be pushed out fast. As in, ‘out the window’,” Chione continued, tilting her head a bit towards the balcony doors. As if on cue, another flash of lightning and thunder illuminated the falling rain and the railing around the slick balcony.
“What… what are you talking about?”
“I'm talking about moving in. Doing business my way. When I step in somewhere, you're gonna let me. You hear ‘Chione says that's her place now’, you say ‘She's right’. You just keep doing business as usual, but you start planning your retirement and figuring out if Florida sounds nice. You've made a lot of money off of other peoples’ hard work, Mr. Scarapini, it's time for the gravy train to shift tracks.”
“So… what… I play obedient, or you shove me off my balcony?” he grumbled.
“Yes. But first I have the jaguar take some pieces out of you.”
He looked over at the big cat, who just so happened to be licking its chops, and swallowed heavily. “I… I got people I report to, too, ya know…”
“If they don't like it, I can pay them a visit as well. Think it over, Mr. Scarapini… you can keep your life of wealth and privilege, or some FBI intern can spend an afternoon closing out your file.” Chione brought her hands together, fingers barely seeming to move. Then she parted her hands and let the gun tumble to the ground in pieces before turning and starting to walk towards the door, the jaguar dropping back to the floor and moving to follow her. “The choice is yours.”
There was another bright flash of light and a roar of thunder, and Scarapini fell back against his pillows. His head feeling groggy for some reason, he looked back and forth, seeing nothing but an empty room. He almost started to write it off as a dream, until he noticed the tears in his bed where the jaguar had been. Hesitantly, he crawled over to the end of the bed and peered down. His gun was laying scattered on the carpet.
Kim grinned as she perched on the roof of the house across the street, the wind whipping her wet ponytail out to the side. “Great work with the lightning flasher, Ron. You were right on cue.”
“Think he'll do it?” Ron asked, shoving said special effects machine back into his backpack.
“I'm pretty sure we made enough of an impression. A little reminder here and there will probably be enough to keep him in line, if we think he's slipping.”
“So now what, masked crusader?”
“Now we go home and dry off the jaguar. Tomorrow, we start remolding the organized crime in Seattle in our own image.”
“Is Lady Chun there? Yeah, sure. … Lady Chun? Hi! Yeah, it's Kim! Great. No, no, I'm fine. Yeah, she's good too. -Really- well, so far. Heh, no, no thanks. Hey, listen, have you got a protégé or someone like that? You know, someone who you're grooming to run her own place. Well, y'see, I'm out here in Seattle, and I'm looking to shake things up a bit…”
‘So that's what that feels like,’ the pimp thought as the staff struck him for the second time, bending him over before a third rap hit behind his shoulders and knocked him to the ground. The masked woman nudged a foot under his shoulder and rolled him onto his back, and one of the black-clad figures came over to press on his chest with a foot.
“Things are changing around here. We don't like men that beat women… especially when they take money from them in the process.” The redhead glared down at him, her form cutting an imposing figure in the light of a streetlamp. “So here's how it is. You leave town, tonight. If you're thinking of complaining to the big guys about this, just mention that Chione said so. If we see you around again…”
The one stepping on his chest fired a blast of green energy into the concrete to one side of his head.
“That smell tells me we've made our point.” Chione nodded to the ninja, who removed her foot. The pimp bolted to his feet, staggering back several steps as if not daring to turn his back on them, then finally turned and sprinted away.
Kim turned and walked over to where Yori and Ron were attending to the prostitute they'd just rescued, Yori dabbing at the cut above her eye. Seeing the girl balk, she raised a hand. “It's okay. We're here to help. Do you have anywhere to go…?”
“I'll get her taken care of,” the robed Chinese woman said as a pair of similarly-clad girls helped the new arrival towards the back room.
Ling Chun smiled wryly, inclining her head. She was in her late twenties, face a little too angular to be called beautiful, hair pulled back into a bun. Still, her eyes were warm and mischievous, and her voice had a smoky, sexy quality that Kim rather envied. “I wonder what you're thanking me for. This is how we are to build a business here, yes?”
Kim nodded. “With only willing girls, and no abuse or drugs.”
“That is how mother believes in things, so that is no hardship.” Ling looked Kim up and down. “I must say, this seems an odd turn for you. Playing superhero?”
“Yeah, you tell me a superhero that's a silent partner in a brothel,” Kim replied dryly, shaking her head. “This is just the best way to get the job done.”
“If you say so. The customer always knows what she wants,” Ling teased, then glanced aside. “Though sometimes the working girl knows what she wants as well, it seems.”
Kim blinked and looked over. Yori was standing with a hand over her face in exasperated fashion, while a half-dozen of the brothel girls clustered around Ron and Shego. The two had put their backs together and were looking mildly panicked at the incoming press of cooing, smiling girls.
“Shego!” Kim called, frowning.
“I'm not doing anything! Get ‘em off!”
“Well, we're back in black,” Shego announced, closing a ledger. “And looking to stay that way, too.”
“Good.” Kim grinned, leaning back and putting her hands behind her head. “Vandalism, robberies, and even shoplifting are down in the areas we've taken over protection. Every pimp in the city is looking over his shoulder every time he walks up to a girl. I guess next we should start planning what to do about the drug dealers.”
“You really satisfied with playing it this way, pumpkin?” Shego leaned forward a bit, looking at her lover earnestly. “You know I'm down with setting up a criminal empire under these kinds of rules, I just didn't think you'd want to settle down to it.”
“Who's settling?” Kim eyed Shego evenly. “Call it phase one. Once we get things set up and running more smoothly with this, we won't have to devote nearly as much attention to it. When we've gotten the smaller stuff decreased, that means it'll take less of our attention away from the bigger stuff once we start chasing it.”
“You're the Alpha,” Shego replied, shaking her head and grinning bemusedly.
“Damn right I am.”
“Nnnh. What th’ fok…?”
“I keep telling you, it works better when you don't try to block those punches with your face.”
Shaking her head and leaving the GJ medics to take care of Mesh's latest broken nose, Punk headed over towards the tech van, already trying to figure out some new, more creative way to phrase ‘We got our asses beat’ in a report. Again.
Before she even arrived at the van, the door slid open and Ferret Girl leaned her head out. “We've got a hit.”
Punk stopped and stared at her, utterly confused for a moment. Then her eyes slowly widened. “You mean on-”
“Seattle area. A mob informant reported on a crazy story the boss was telling. It hit enough key phrases to make a hit. I think it may be them.”
Punk's lips slowly curled into a smirk. “Get Betsy on the comm. Suddenly, getting our asses handed to us by Subject One just took a lot lower priority, I'm betting.”
-End Part Seventeen