Interlude 5: The Parent Trap

I know I promised Dennison I'd explain to his parents that he was an irreplaceable and invaluable part of my team. But for some reason, I feel like I'd rather be beating the crap out of the Skeeve King again than doing this. It's not that I don't want to help him out... hell, he's put up with me long enough, I figure I owe him at least a dozen favors.

No, it's just the way he talks about his parents. They're offensively rich — his words, not mine... and it makes me wonder what adjective goes with the kind of rich Maddie is. They're also insufferable snobs — again, his words, not mine — who apparently get most of their exercise by dropping names. While I chided him about his description, I did accept his recommendation that I withhold judgment and decide whether or not he was to them rude in absentia until after I met them.

I have a feeling they told their travel agent to find them the most luxurious and expensive hotel closest to their precious son. I can't think of any other reason they'd wind up at St. Julien's. If they had wanted classy, they'd have stayed at the Brown Palace... where they might have inadvertently run into a certain wedding party, so I'm glad their tastes run to ostentatious rather than refined. Of course, Boulder might turn out to be more than they bargained for... not a lot of people are impressed with wealthy people who are impressed with themselves.

I pull up in front of the building and have a momentary staring contest with the young man working valet parking. When I shut down the bike and make a point of tucking the key into one of the pouches on my belt, he shrugs slightly. Yeah... that's right... no joy riding tonight. Not that an employee of a classy place like this would even consider anything so uncouth... but he's not going to be able to move the bike from the yellow striped pavement, either.

Dennison said he'd meet me out front here. Originally, his plan was to have us all sit down over tea in the patio cafe and have a delightfully civilized conversation. However, he texted me earlier to let me know his folks found the idea categorically out of the question. Based on the stories he's been telling the past few weeks, I really have to wonder how much of it is an exaggeration. How much of it veers close to the truth? How much of it Dennison is making up out of whole cloth? When he's talking about them, his aura flares with misery that's supported by a high level of sincerity. If he's making shit up, he absolutely believes it to be true.

He'd texted that his mother was 'beyond appalled' at the idea of sitting outside on a filthy chair in the freezing cold.

First of all, I'm pretty sure a swank place like St. Julien's would make darn sure their outdoor seating is as clean and comfortable as anything they have inside.

And second, good grief! Are they ever a couple of sissies! Fifty-three degrees is pretty darn comfortable; the sun is shining, and it's a bright, glorious Colorado afternoon.

But that's fine. We'll run this operation however Dennison thinks it ought to be run. I did offer to meet him inside, but I think he knows me well enough that he declined that offer immediately. Well, given my taunting of The Golden's concierge, I'm almost certain I'd somehow manage to give St. Julien's concierge a nervous breakdown. It's a gift. True, I guess it does depend on who you ask. Regardless, it's definitely better for everyone if I just sit here making the valet nervous while I wait for Dennison.

Fortunately for all parties concerned, Dennison is one of those people who believes in punctuality. I get off the bike when I see him come through the main entrance and meet him in the middle of the courtyard.

He glances back at my bike — which I've left in the No Parking zone — and sighs. "Does a day ever go by when you don't break some law?"

I grin at him. "Of course." I pause a moment, then add, "Those are the days, however, that I spend more time messing with people's brain cells."

He groans. "I have a feeling I'm going to regret this."

I shrug. "It depends on what your ultimate goal is here, Dennison. I was under the impression you need your parents to understand that the job you're doing out here in Colorado is at least as important as whatever plots they're hatching for you back East. I assume they're unimpressed with any job satisfaction you derive from being a Deputy Sheriff?"

Dennison snorts. "Job satisfaction is for the weak."

I chuckle; it sounds evil even to my ears. "I have a high level of job satisfaction. By that logic, I must be dreadfully weak." I rub my hands together in anticipation. "Who do I get to arm wrestle?"

He just rolls his eyes and gestures to the door. "Come on. Let's get this over with." Then he nods at the staff sticking up over my shoulder. "Are you keeping that, too?"

I slide the staff out of the scabbard. "Why wouldn't I?"

Sighing, he mutters to himself, "Well, Brian, what's the worst that can happen? They'll just disown you, that's all. No problem, no pressure."

I chuckle, then give the doorman a nice, polite Andrea smile when he opens the door for us.

"Over there," Dennison says quietly, nodding to a couple sitting on a rather uncomfortable looking sofa in the far corner of the lobby. The doorman is apparently also the hotel's concierge; he walks over to a small but elegant desk to the side of the door near the main check-in desk. He nods to the young woman behind the counter, and she disappears into a back room somewhere. I can hear her stomach growling, and — almost surprisingly — I feel a little guilty about disrupting her lunch.

I glance around the lobby. This is supposed to be luxury? It looks like a golden dragon vomited in here. Well, what do I know? I've been genetically wired to prefer simplicity, I think. Living in China during my teens seems to have only reinforced that.

As we approach his parents, Dennison's father stands and... yep, I think I'd call the look on his face a scowl. A cursory glance at their auras tells me dad is offended and mom is just pissed off. "Dad, Mom... I'd like to introduce you to Ninja, one of Denver's Supers." He looks at me; from looking at his aura, I'm not sure if he's depressed or just resigned to being miserable. "Ninja... my parents, Audrey and Garrett Dennison." His voice is definitely edged with frustration and even a touch of anger. I suspect the conversation prior to my arrival was not the most pleasant Dennison has had this week.

Well, contrary to what I might have led Dennison to believe, I'm not here to cause a scene. Sure, I might have been willing to poke a little fun at his parents if I thought either one of them had a sense of humor. But that most definitely does not appear to be the case.

"Mr. and Mrs. Dennison," is all I say as I bow slightly. Very slightly. So slightly, in fact, that both Doshu Ueshiba and Grandmaster Chen would be quite disappointed in me for my poor manners. Dennison's parents don't seem to notice.

"What's the meaning of this, Brian? I thought you said you wanted us to meet someone of importance while we were here..." his father says. He is clearly unimpressed both with me in general and the fact that I'm one of the Protectors of Denver. I can easily imagine the sort of raised nose and sniff that one of the upper crust would demonstrate upon meeting someone from the unwashed masses, although Dennison's father does neither. Have I ever mentioned that Bobby has thoroughly corrupted me by making me watch altogether too many movies? I didn't have to imagine the derision in the man's voice, however. "...not some trollop in a Halloween costume."

Oops. My not very nice smile starts slowly as I stare at Dennison's father. I will, for the moment, refrain from sharing my famous potty mouth with him.

"Gosh, Dennison... you didn't mention how charming your father is."

Dennison is clearly mortified. Oh, not because he believes his father has truly offended me, but because — like Pablo — he's actually a gentleman. He's offended on my behalf, which is really rather sweet even if it is unnecessary. He's also smart enough to know I would probably verbally rip his father a new one if I got started here. I won't, of course, and I'm pretty sure he knows that, too.

Still, I do hope his spine is as strong when dealing with his parents as it is when he puts up with me. He can take anything I dish out. He wouldn't still be in the position of being my liaison to Adams County if he couldn't. But he doesn't need to take his father's crap on my account.

I place my free hand, the hand that is not holding the lethal weapon, lightly on Dennison's shoulder.

"Hey, don't sweat it, Brian. You cops are the most visible part of the population that holds me in high esteem. The general public doesn't know I exist, and I like it that way. There's no reason someone from out of town should know who I am."

His father is at least self-aware enough to flinch at the look I give him, but he doesn't quite grasp why his words and tone have Dennison's face slowly turning a bright red.

"I told you I work with the Supers out here in the Denver area, Dad. Since I work most often with Ninja, I thought it was important for you and Mom to understand some of the work I do with her."

His mother looks at me then, and I have to wonder how it's possible that such a normal person like Dennison could be related to these two... I guess self-important jackasses is probably the nicest thing I could say about them. Maddie's got considerably more money than they do — and I don't need to know how much money these two have to be able to make that assertion with absolute certainty. Maddie's got more money than most corporations and some countries. Or, to put it another way, she's probably got more money than God, assuming God had any money. She's also got a lot more tact and has these two beat hands down on manners, as well.

"I don't think we need to know anything about the nonsense you're involved in here in Colorado, Brian. I was hoping you'd finally come to your senses and would be coming home with us."

I look from one parent to the other for a moment, then wrap both hands loosely around the staff in front of me. Anyone who knows me would see this position as well beyond the mere point of at ease... I'm practically lounging and weaponless since it's not a stance conducive to a quick move into action.

"We'll play it your way here, Chief, but I don't think we're going to accomplish much today." I take my focus from his parents and look at Dennison with a more normal smile. "You know, now that I'm thinking about it, Passeri merely alluded to the fact that she knew your parents. She didn't mention how delightful they were."

"Ninja..." he groans at the same time his mother starts in on him.

"Brian! You are not still associating with that... that... that..."

"Whore," Mr. Dennison helpfully interjects.

Okay, now that is entirely uncalled for! I feel Fox pressing against my leg as I very slowly shift my gaze back to Dennison's father. I'm getting ticked off, though not likely in a way that's going to get my eyes flashing. I hope. I think I'm more offended on Passeri's behalf... at least at the moment... despite the fact that she's probably been called as many unpleasant names as I have. No, maybe I'm just annoyed at this guy's attitude and lack of common decency. Sure, I can be a snarky bitch with the best of them, but unless it's someone like Ji-Ji who had been going around stealing qi from old folks — including, especially, my Tita! — I don't go right for the big insults first thing.

Warrior, might I recommend...

Diplomacy, O Fox? Yes. And thank you for any assistance you can offer in that endeavor. As you know, I don't suffer fools gladly.

"Dennison, I believe the civilians are casting aspersions on the character of Detective Passeri. Are you sure you know these people?"

You might want to consider working on your diplomatic skills in addition to camouflage and invisibility, Warrior.

Hey, I didn't call them raving lunatics or hemorrhoidal lesions, did I? Baby steps, Fox... baby steps.

I swear the Spirit actually sighs. And from behind me, I sense someone approaching... from the look on the senior Dennisons' faces, I'm going to guess it's the concierge.

Brian also sighs. "Norma had a higher GPA than I did." He eyes his parents. "They still refuse to believe that she's brilliant."

"Hmm. A four point oh to your three nine nine?"

"Three point nine seven. I'm a disappointment to them."

"Well, I was somewhere between the two of you, and I don't hold it against you."

With a soft clearing of his throat, the concierge makes his presence known to Dennison. I mean, obviously his parents saw him approaching... and I could feel the waves of anxiety, and hear the fairly quiet footsteps. "Is there a problem I can help resolve here?" He addresses the elder Dennisons, as they're guests of the establishment.

I'll say one thing for Brian's mother... she's a pretty good actress. With one hand over her heart, she looks away from her son and me, and makes a shooing gesture toward us. "Oh, do make them go away," she says with a slight quaver in her voice. "Garrett, please do something about your son." Well, it's certainly not Oscar-worthy, or even deserving of a standing ovation, but I could easily drop my staff against my shoulder and give her the slow clap.

Warrior... Fox's tone is more exasperated than anything else.

What?! I haven't said or done anything naughty!

Yet. With you, there must always be that qualifier.

Well... I suppose Fox is right. Fine. Yet. But I'm trying to behave myself.

Brian and I look at one another and he smiles weakly at me.

"You outrank me."

"Get out! You can't pull the same stunts the military does," I say with faux indignation. "There's a rule about that somewhere. There has to be."

That brings out a real smile from him. "No, ma'am, it's not the same thing at all." He makes a sweeping gesture to my attire before pointing at my staff. "You are in uniform. I..." He brushes imaginary dirt from the sleeve of his Nuggets jacket. " not."

"You are a pain in several of my body parts, Dennison." I flash him a smile before turning to the concierge, noting his name tag as I do.

"I'm not sure the underlying problem to be resolved can benefit from either your assistance, Thomas, or mine." I tilt my head slightly in Dennison's direction. "Sergeant Dennison believed otherwise, but he may be coming to his senses."

Said deputy sighs and mutters, "Ninja!" I just give Thomas one of Andrea's friendly Welcome to the library, how can I help you? smiles.

"Yes, ma'am." He's a middle-aged man, perhaps edging toward retirement age... but not really close enough that it would be a consideration in today's economy. "We can't have a disturbance here in the lobby. I'm sure you understand."

I nod sagely. I'm not above doing a little acting of my own. It does seem to be a job requirement some days.

"No, of course not. I completely agree." I glance pointedly around the lobby. "Your interior designer seems to have created more than enough of a disturbance already."

He's a consummate professional and doesn't even bat an eye. "The owner and design team attempted to replicate the atmosphere of Parisian elegance." And he even manages to say that with a straight face.

"Obviously, I visited the wrong parts of Paris last month," I say, trying to go for a shocked and surprised reaction.

"Brian, your mother and I have had enough of your nonsense," the senior Dennison says, clearly dismissing both me and Thomas with his tone and attitude. "We'll be leaving the day after Christmas, and we expect you to return to Manhasset with us."

I step back... I really don't want to be in the line of fire in a family feud. I wind up standing beside Thomas, but in a backup position — behind and to the right — for Dennison. Unlike my stance before, I'm ready for a fight... one that I desperately hope doesn't turn into anything more than a family argument.

"Dad, I don't know how many times I've got to tell you... I'm not going back to Long Island." There's that same edge of frustration in his voice that poured out when the Commerce City residents were camping up in the park in Thornton, but Dennison is also well and truly pissed off. Very little of that can probably be heard by Normals, but his body language is pretty clear.

The problem is that his dad is stubborn, isn't accustomed to taking 'no' for an answer, and really believes he can push his son around.

Wow. He doesn't know his son very well. Even I wouldn't try pushing Dennison's buttons right now.

"If things start to go belly up here," I whisper to Thomas, "and I have a bad feeling they will, call the County instead of the City. Ask for Sheriff Goldman."

The concierge eyes the hotel guests for a moment, then nods minutely.

"Brian, you're wasting your life!" Oh, nice. His mom is about to turn on the faucet.

"Mother, you've got to be the most melodramatic person I know!" Dennison says as he shakes his head. "What are you going to do next? Pretend to faint?" Thomas decides this would be a good time to go back to his desk. He might actually need to call Abe. "You probably shouldn't... the fainting trick only works once, and you used that tactic two years ago."

"How dare you speak to your mother like that, young man? You've obviously been corrupted by the likes of... of... that one..." He gestures toward me. "...and that whore you insist on seeing!"

Dennison's aura flashes to rage in an instant.

Again, I rest a hand lightly on his shoulder. "Whoa, buddy. Chill out there," I say softly. "I've heard worse, and I'm sure Passeri has, too. We're big girls... you don't need to take offense on our account. But thanks for being a gentleman."

He's got his jaw clenched so hard that I'm pretty sure he's going to regret it later. And I'm hoping he has good, strong, healthy teeth or he's going to break one. I can get away with that kind of thing; Normals can't. Added to that, his fists are curled so tightly that his fingernails would need to be nonexistent to not leave marks on his palms.

Thomas is speaking quietly into the phone.


Both Dennison and I stare at his mother as she struggles to stand. Granted, the sofa does look like one of those overly squishy things that just sucks a person right in. But in addition to that, I'd have to describe Mrs. Dennison as being more in the matron category than elegant socialite. Even without her incredible healing factor, Maddie would have the elegant socialite thing nailed and I'd bet anything she'll be able to pull it off right up to her dying day. The matronly Mrs. Dennison does not appear to be the healthiest person in this room, and I don't think her status as a Normal is the only factor contributing to her less than robust health.

Of course, I do drop my hand. But instead of moving back into a neutral stance, instinct takes over as I flip the staff back over my shoulder into the scabbard — I've been practicing that move a lot. I come into a defensive posture that probably wouldn't be seen as such by anyone who wasn't a Taiji Master. I'll have to take a deeper look at the woman's aura and meridians when she's calmed down; there's something odd about her aura.

Unfortunately for all of us, Mr. Dennison turns to help Mrs. Dennison up out of the sofa of doom. She glares at me with crazy eyes and tries to push her husband out of the way.

"What the hell, Mom?" Poor Dennison is clearly shocked by his mother's behavior.

"Brian!" his father reprimands him, presumably for his language.

Gosh darn it all, doesn't that just push one of my buttons?

"Dude, what the fuck?" I ask Dennison without taking my eyes off his mother. "You really should have warned me your mother was bat shit crazy. I'd have stayed home."

"I'll have you watch your language around my wife, you freak!" Dennison's father says. I ignore him.

"I don't know what's up, Ninja," Brian says, also paying very little attention to his father. He's clearly puzzled, and he's starting to worry. "This is definitely atypical behavior."

"Do not talk about your mother like that to strangers! We raised you better than that, Brian." It's probably a good thing he's a good six inches taller than his wife and looks like he works out a little more often. Even with those advantages, he isn't having a lot of luck in keeping his wife from pushing past him to get at... well, I'm not really sure at this point. She might want to claw my eyes out, or she might just want to protect her precious baby boy.

In either case, she's gone right off the rails.

"A lot of things can cause sudden personality changes," I muse. "Some of them also cause the patient to behave in ways that are not exactly mild and innocuous, and can be downright dangerous. Think like a cop, Dennison."

He nods. "Has mom been acting strangely lately, Dad? Any new medications? Was she in an accident?"

"I will not discuss your mother's health in a public place," his father responds. "And it isn't any of your business anyway."

"Environmental toxin that's affected both of them?" I ask.

Dennison snorts. "I wish. No, that's par for the course for my father. He's always been an ass."

They both loudly and inarticulately express their displeasure at Dennison's assessment.

"Hmm. Well, from here it sure looks like your mother's a danger to herself," I note. "Possibly a danger to others if they don't know how to deal with folks like this. It's your call here, buddy. What do you want to do?"

"It's not my turf, but I'd call for backup."

"Done. Sheriff ought to be on his way by now."

"You called County and not local?"

"I've worked with the County more often than the City. Figured things would be less likely to get out of control."

He nods again. "Sure, that makes sense. Well, next — if the violence escalates and we can't do a field assessment — I'd recommend a mandatory cooling off period that involves blood tests and CT scans."

"I agree. Once our backup arrives, I'll see if I can get you that assessment. Doing a deep meridian scan takes me a little more offline than I'm comfortable with when the perp is acting up like this."

"How dare you talk about my wife like that, freak?!"

I sigh. Dennison sighs.

"Let me guess... it's not just the Unfortunates who should be rounded up and dumped in ghettos, but folks like me and Peregrine and Peacekeeper and Black Wolf, too."

"Pretty spot on, Ninja, I'm sorry to say. I also apologize for not recognizing the extent of his prejudice until now." Brian shakes his head sadly.

"You've been out here," I say as I shrug. "You might not have picked up on it even if you were back East, so no need to apologize."

"You should all be locked up where you can't infect the rest of us!"

Well, that obviously wasn't the smartest thing to ever come out of the man's mouth. I can sense a wave of anger and disgust washing over us from the concierge behind me. Someone he loves has been affected by the Virus. I have the same feelings, obviously. But I'm just going to keep them tucked away. For now.

And now, O Fox, I'll show what diplomacy with crazy people looks like.

"First of all, bub..." Damn it, Logan! How'd you get inside my brain like that? "...I have a genetic mutation that might have presented as color blindness or maybe Downs Syndrome or even brittle bone disease if the mutation had been located on a different gene. So I'm not going to infect anyone. Sheesh." Okay, there's the whole inheritance thing that those two will have to deal with, but that's not my concern at the moment. And the whole issue of just what abnormalities might present because of what caused my mutation is a big red herring. Whatever. "Second, I don't take kindly to talk of wholesale discrimination against a group of people just because they're different than you and you don't like it. So shut your pie hole on the topic, or you'll make me cross."

I fail to see the diplomacy in that, Warrior.

That's because crazy people don't respond to being told — as one of my classmates once put it — to go hell in such a way that they'll look forward to the trip. With crazy people, you keep it short and simple... and just tell them to go to hell.

I believe we should have further discussions on this topic.

I look forward to it. At the moment, however, I have crazy people here.

Mrs. Dennison is starting to do that zany zombie thing Bobby was doing a couple of weeks ago at Charlie's. Great. Is this some sort of new disease we're going to see flowing through the population? Stressed-induced zombie behavior? That would keep life interesting, wouldn't it?

After glaring at me for a few seconds, Mr. Dennison looks at the concierge. "I demand that you call the police!"

"They've already been called, sir," Thomas says very calmly and professionally.

The senior Dennison nods, then turns to his wife. "Audrey, you need to calm down. The police are on their way... they'll take that horrible woman away... and we'll be going home soon with Brian."

I have to admit that I'm surprised his little pep talk calms her down a bit... enough that she's not acting like a zombie, anyway. The way she's clinging to her husband like he's her lifeline is a radical contrast to the look she's giving me. You know what saying, "if looks could kill"? Yeah, if they could, I'd be awfully damn glad to have my exceptionally high healing factor.

When I look at Brian, he's rolling his eyes.

"Has she always been this way with your female friends?" I ask softly.


I shake my head. Poor Brian. "She needs therapy."


I hear the door open again and familiar footsteps stop a few paces inside the door. I know Abe; he's taking in the whole scene. Since neither he nor the concierge are saying anything, I'm going to assume Abe doesn't have any difficulty figuring out where he's needed as his footsteps begin again... and head in our direction.

Mrs. Dennison makes some kind of strangled, inarticulate sound and points toward the doorway. Mr. Dennison glances over his shoulder, then looks back at his wife, patting her back. "There you go, dear. The police will take care of everything now."

Abe comes to a stop beside me and looks at Dennison's parents for a moment before speaking.

"Surprised to get a call that ought to have gone to the City. What've we got here, Ninja?"

"Civilians disturbing the peace, possible medical origin." I tilt my head toward Dennison. "This is Sergeant Brian Dennison, Adams County Deputy Sheriff... those are his folks, Garrett and Audrey." I look at Dennison again, this time managing a smile. "Deputy Chief Abe Goldman, top detective here in Boulder County."

Abe nods to Dennison. "Son."

Dennison looks between me and Abe a couple of times, but he smiles as he shakes his head. "Good to meet you, sir. Ninja's told me a bit about you."

"Call me Abe. I don't stand on formalities." Abe pretends to glare at me, but he's having a hard time keeping a hint of a smile from his face. "You telling tales out of school?"

"I'd never do any such thing, Abe. And if I did, I'd only say the nicest things about you."

Dennison snickers.

"Officer, I want you to arrest that woman!"

Abe raises an eyebrow at he looks at Mr. Dennison. "I'm with the County, Mr. Dennison. So you can address me as Sheriff, or Chief or Detective," he says mildly. "We leave that 'Officer' bit for the City boys and girls." Without taking his eyes off the Dennisons, Abe asks, "What have you gone and done, Ninja, that a citizen might want you arrested for?"

"As near as I can tell, Chief, I placed a hand on Mrs. Dennison's precious son's shoulder to urge him to remain calm when Mr. Dennison maligned me and Detective Passeri from Bloomfield County." I pause for just a second or two. "Oh... right. And I'm a mutant."

Abe chuckled. "You do have a way about you, don't you? Did that mouth of yours push a few buttons?"

"No," Dennison says, "Ninja was more restrained than I think I've ever see her. She didn't use any foul language until after my mother snapped. And it was just the once."

"She is a freak, and she has corrupted our son!" Garrett Dennison insists.

Abe nods sagely. It's one of his greatest talents... looking wise. Hmm, rather like Dad, Papa, and my uncles. No wonder I like the man.

"I don't know where you folks are from..."

"We're from Manhasset," Mrs. Dennison says, both primly and pretentiously, which — until this moment — I didn't think was possible.

Abe just looks at her.

"It's on Long Island in New York," Dennison tells Abe.

The older man nods again. "Yup, that makes sense. I hear New York is a mighty strange place. But I'm pretty sure there are Supers out there, too."

Since meeting Maddie, I've done at least some research about Supers around the country. Plus, Charles' school is out there... though they don't advertize the fact that all the students are mutants.

"There are a few in New York City — three or four, I think — plus some who spend time there but are actually based elsewhere. And there are Supers in DC, Boston, Philly. The FBI guy said he'd worked with the ones in Atlanta, Chicago and Seattle."

"I'm going to go out on a limb then, and say the police in New York don't go around arresting the Supers out there." He looks at me, perhaps for verification... but more likely it's the game he's playing.

I shrug. "That would be my guess, too."

He looks at the Dennisons again. "Being as we consider Peregrine and Ninja and..." He turns to me again. "What's that new fella's name?"

"Peacekeeper. I ought to bring him up here to meet you sometime."

"And he doesn't have a potty mouth like you do," Dennison adds, grinning at me.

Abe smiles and addresses the Dennisons again. "Being as we consider Peregrine and Ninja and Peacekeeper all part of the law enforcement community here along the Front Range, I can't go arresting her without any reason."

"She corrupted my son!!"

"Oh, for the love of all that's holy, Mother, will you knock that off? I can't see how it's at all possible for Ninja to have corrupted me in any way, shape or form!" With hands on his hips — the most aggressive stance I've ever seen Dennison take when we're not facing a perp — he glares at his parents. "What weird delusional theory have you concocted that makes you think she has?"

"Well, certainly the fact that you speak so disrespectfully to your mother can be attributed to that freak and the whore you associate with," his father replies.

Having already used that weapon against him, Dennison ignores his father's insults to me and Passeri. He shakes his head, and he seems to be consumed by sadness. Abe's eyebrows start crawling toward his hairline, however.

"No, Dad. That's me being a thirty year old man who's sick and tired of being treated like a child." His eyes flicker between his parent's faces. "I'd really like to know why you think I've been corrupted. I get why you hate Norma... you spent too much energy living vicariously through my achievements that you can't handle it that someone is smarter than I am. Well, get over it. Norma is smarter than I am... and I'm fine with it. It makes her a damn good cop.

"What I don't get is your attitude toward the Supers. Maybe that's just prejudice, pure and simple. If it is, I want no part of it."

"You won't come home," his mother whimpers quietly.

"What are you talking about, Mom? I was just out there this past June for Grandma's eightieth birthday party. I'd have come out there for Christmas if you hadn't come to Colorado. The only place I ever go when I take a vacation is Long Island." He half-heartedly throws his hands up in the air. "What if I wanted to take a vacation to Utah?"

Ooh boy. This is going to be fun. He's going to actually make them admit they want to control his life. Fun times! Damn, I'm glad I have an awesome family who understands — at least to some extent — what I do, and support me in any way they can. But... oh, I can't help it. I'm a naughty person — and I have not corrupted Dennison with my particular brand of warped humor. Yet.

"Why in the world would you want to go to Utah?" I ask... ever so innocently.

Both Abe and Fox sigh. Dennison is pissed off enough at his folks, though, that he doesn't realize I'm playing with him. See? How can I corrupt him if he refuses to play along and be corrupted?

"I don't! That's not the point," he practically growls. "I'm expected to wait on their Majesties when I have time off... not — oh, I don't know — go see a part of the country I've never seen. Hell, I haven't even seen the Grand Canyon!"

I look at him, a little worried. "Dude. You totally need to see the Grand Canyon." I rub the back of my neck. "Hmm, you could do a long weekend, maybe. Of course, you don't drive like I do. You might need four days."

He looks at me; the set of his shoulders and the way his head swivels just a little faster than it normally does are ample enough evidence that he's really pissed. But I'm smiling my devilish half smile, and that makes him stop short of saying whatever it was he'd been planning to say. He takes a deep breath, eyes locked on mine, then nods very slightly.

"Right. You're right. Thanks."

I know he's not thanking me for the travel trip.

"You need to come home to New York, son. Permanently." The senior Dennison speaks to my colleague as though speaking to a small child.

Abe and I exchange a glance. As a cop, he's seen parents at their worst. He and Commander Gosage of the Boulder Police Department and Captain Papadopoulos of the CU Boulder Campus Police Department have certainly seen their share of overbearing parents. As the Protector of the Unfortunates, the poor, the marginalized, I've seen parents who don't deserve the right and privilege of being called parents.

Dennison throws his hands up in the air again. "You see? This is exactly what I'm talking about. Your condescending attitude is insulting, and your assumption that I'll drop my life here in Colorado to run back to New York, that I'm at your beck and call, is utterly..."

I can see he's struggling to not let loose a string of obscenities that would probably do me proud. Of course, that would give old mom and dad more ammunition for their argument that I've corrupted him.

"Try 'ludicrous'," I say softly.

He nods sharply. "Exactly! It's utterly ludicrous!"

His father's face is turning nearly as red as Brian's had earlier. His mother looks like she's going to turn on the faucet again. Or possibly pretend to faint. Hmm... with Abe here, I should be able to get a look at her meridians without having to worry that my reaction time will slow down considerably. And by considerably, I mean possibly as slow as Dennison is on an average day.

"But... but you're wasting your life!" Oh, my gods, how is it possible for a grown woman to sound like an ill-mannered, spoiled toddler?

Dennison drops his head into his hands and lets out something that almost sounds like... a sob? Damn it! I really do not like people who make my friends unhappy... and all my LEO contacts are loosely under the umbrella of friends.

"Ninja?" I can hear the pain in his voice; Abe's a damn good cop... he probably can, too. Brian's parents are oblivious, of course.

"I wish I could say something, Brian. I had a nice schmaltzy tribute to what a great guy you are all prepared, but they're not going to hear anything I say."

Abe clears his throat softly. "I have a piece to say if you don't mind, son."

Dennison looks at Abe... at the fierce pride in being a law enforcement officer, evident in the set of his jaw and the fire in his eyes. Sergeant Dennison straightens, almost coming to attention, and nods to Deputy Chief Goldman.

"No, sir. I don't mind at all."

Abe nods to Brian, then turns to the elder Dennisons. He regards them for a moment in that good old boy, country cowboy way of his before speaking. He shows them a side of himself few people outside law enforcement ever get to see.

"If you believe your son is wasting his life, you're sorely mistaken, Mr. and Mrs. Dennison. I've been a cop longer than he's been alive, so I know a thing or two about what it means to be a cop. I know what it takes for someone to be a good cop." Abe nods in Brian's direction. "It is never a wasted life that serves to protect the lives of others. It's not an easy job, and it's certainly not an easy life. If you'd sit down and listen to your son, he'd tell you how hard it is to stand for what's right, very often in the face of hatred and bigotry. Sometimes that hatred and bigotry is in the guise of well-meaning people who try to undermine his confidence... sometimes it's in the form of real people with real anger management issues holding real weapons. That your son wants to stand up and protect people and is standing here willing to tell you that, means he has what it takes to be a cop."

He glances at me and then at Dennison, a smile on his craggy face. "I only just met your son today, but I've known Ninja here for going on eight years now." His eyes lock on the Dennisons again. "I'm gonna go ahead and guess you and I are contemporaries; my daughter's a couple of years older than your son. In all my life, I've never met a person — man or woman — more dedicated than this woman is to protecting the people of the Front Range. That's from up here in Boulder County all the way down south to Douglas County, from Jefferson in the west to the far side of Arapahoe on the east. Pretty sure she'd hike herself all the way up to Fort Collins if need be. You want to go ahead and call her a freak... well, that's your right. And unlike some of the miscreants we have in these here parts, she ain't gonna crack your skulls for it, either."

Abe pauses though he doesn't take his eyes from the Dennisons.

"That's your cue," Brian whispers... and softly enough that even with my acute hearing, it's awfully darn soft.

I shrug. "Nope. I get called names all the time. It's not worth the trouble it would cause you or Commander Gosage to even Gibbs slap them."

"There aren't many people outside law enforcement and the specific communities she keeps a watchful eye on who even know she exists. But you're not likely to find anyone in law enforcement or any of those communities who'll have a negative word to say about her," Abe continues. "Well, not since she single-handedly purged the Denver Police Department of the Aryan Knighthood members and closed down their local chapter."

"Dag nabbit, Abe, I did not do that single-handedly, and you know it!" I protest, glaring at him for good measure. "I had plenty of help from other Supers, from local civilians, from all the Counties and the Cities of Denver, Aurora, and Thornton. For gods' sakes, Abe, I even worked with the ARMY!"

Abe chuckles at my mini-tirade. "You hear that, Mr. and Mrs. Dennison? That's the sound of the most powerful person along the Front Range..."


"...demonstrating just how much humility she has. She's here able to admit she needed help from her team — of which your son is an integral part, if I don't miss my guess. And then giving out credit where credit is due."

The Dennisons do look calmer, although Mrs. Dennison is looking a little paler that she probably should. Well, what do I know? She not my mother.

"I expect she might even have a thing or two to say about the role your son plays in helping her do a darn difficult job." He looks at me, hooking his thumbs in his belt loops, which means he's said his piece and it's somebody else's turn to have their say.

"Well, sure. That's why Brian invited me up here today. But the impression I've gotten here is that the Dennisons aren't interested in hearing anything about him that conflicts with their vision for his life." I shrug, looking first at Brian and then at Abe. Brian's folks are still quiet, just standing there. When I look at them, just using the normal sight ordinary people have, I see an angry man and a woman who might be on the verge of hysterics. There are more nuances to their auras, but they have self-centered stubbornness as an overarching quality both individually and as a couple. It kind of makes me want to tell Dennison how great my parents are... show him what supportive parents look like. Of course, I think there are already way too many people who know that, until recently, this tough and stubborn Super spent most of her time in a library.

"He can make as much difference in the world as a lawyer," Mr. Dennison says defensively. "And he'd be a lot safer, too."

Brian just sighs. "No, Dad. I make more of a difference as a Deputy Sheriff than any army of lawyers you have in mind. Don't you get it? If I go back to New York and become the kind of lawyer you want me to be, who's going to benefit from that? What difference am I going to make in someone's life? I'll save them some money on their taxes? I'll get their corporation, their kids or themselves out of trouble they got themselves into in the first place?

"I can't do that. Out here, I make a difference in the lives of people you wouldn't acknowledge on the street if you saw them. You wouldn't give them the time of day if they asked. And I help Ninja save lives. Maybe they're the lives of people you don't think are important... but they're important to me. They're important to all the men and women I work with."

"He's going to die, Garrett!" Mrs. Dennison wails. "You've got to do something!" She really does look like she's going to faint.

For an instant, no more than a fraction of a second, a look of worry that snuggled close to panic crosses Garrett Dennison's features. And for just an instant, my brows draw together. No, no... act first, analyze later.

I lightly tap Brian's arm and nod to his parents; his father is helping his mother to sit down again. Brian's expression is one of puzzlement, but I just wave him over to the sofa. Then I take a step back. This would be a lot easier if I stood closer to her since she's essentially a stranger... but at this point, I don't think that's a very good idea. Unless...

"You have a theory." Abe's voice is nearly as soft as Dennison's had been earlier, and he's definitely making a statement as opposed to asking a question.

"Hmm. Well, still a hypothesis, but if I can get some data I might have a theory." I step back again and then to the side... so I'm standing behind Abe.

"I assume you'll tell me why you're square dancing around me," he says wryly.

"I'm just going to disappear for a few minutes."

As I look at Fox and begin pulling qi from Mother, I notice once again how it feels more like I'm simply allowing the energy to flow through me, to fill me. Yeah, life is getting weirder by the day. Fox nods, though I suspect it's an acknowledgment of my plan rather than verifying the immense weirdness of my life.

"Well, I know better than to ask," Abe says, keeping an eye on the Dennisons. Brian and his father bracket Mrs. Dennison on the sofa; Brian looks a lot more worried than his father does.

I turn to Thomas and put a finger to my lips. He looks quickly at the hotel guests and back at me, then nods.

I call Fox's magic. Today is definitely not a day for camouflage; it's a day for invisibility. I hear Thomas' soft but sharp intake of breath, but I can't take the time to do more than simply note it. I think I need to move quickly; it's more of a gut instinct than anything else. So I move as rapidly as possible without causing a breeze in the lobby over to the sofa to stand behind it and look down at Audrey Dennison. Fox leans against my leg, Cobra is wrapped around my waist, Opossum has taken its usual place on my shoulder, and Bear's large paw rests on my other shoulder.

Oddly, this is one of the few times I've had all four of them with me at once since...

Dang, since I had that little snark session with them at the beginning of the month.

I've never tried scanning someone's meridians while also — essentially — doing magic. However, Mother seems more delighted with each passing day to share as much qi with me as I'm willing to hold. And the amount of energy I can hold with each passing day is growing to amounts that are beyond the point of freaking me out. Thank the Gods, Buddhas and Spirits for Moira!

And if I understand what Mother is saying to me — even the Spirits are more than a little spooked that I actually do understand Her — She's sharing Her joy of motherhood with me.


As I look beyond Mrs. Dennison's surface aura, I have to consciously stifle a gasp at the number of blockages in all her meridians. I could probably spend ten minutes deciphering the mess and translating it to the medical terminology of the West, but she's got so much wrong... and there'd be no point anyway. In addition to the blockages, she's probably on more medications than any dozen people I could name.

Besides, I have a suspicion about the cause of the woman's unusual behavior. I look for a specific pattern of qi that outlines the flow of blood, particularly the blood flow to the brain. It's considerably more subtle than the qi that flows through the meridians, even fainter than the qi that makes up the nervous system. Unfortunately, after a minute or two of studying the tiniest of the energy branches and the apparent misfiring of neurons in her brain — places where qi simply isn't moving — my suspicion is more or less confirmed. Dennison wasn't wrong when he suggested a CT scan.

I step back away from the Dennisons, shaking my head, and walk toward the concierge's desk, dropping the invisibility about half way there. Thomas is less surprised this time; his eyes just widen a bit.

"I've heard of things like that," he said quietly as I approach, "but I never thought I'd live to see the day!"

I give him a quick smile. "Well, there you have... but that doesn't give you leave to shuffle off this mortal coil."

"No, ma'am. I've got two grandchildren already and two more on the way."

"Good! And congratulations." I glance back at the Dennisons and Abe... Brian looks confused, his parents are ignoring me — excellent! — and Abe is just waiting to see what I'm doing. "Call an ambulance, please, Thomas," I say softly. "I suspect that Mrs. Dennison has been having small strokes. But just mention the erratic behavior, weakness, clamminess, and anything else you might have noticed over the past couple of days since they've been here. Doctors don't like non-doctors suggesting any particular diagnosis."

"Yes, ma'am," he says, reaching for the phone on his desk. "I should tell them to hurry?"

I shrug. "With this kind of thing, it's hard to tell if she'll be fine for a few more days, or will fall off the sofa unconscious in the next minute." At his look of fear, I lightly rest a hand on his arm for a moment. "I didn't see her energy patterns moving in the latter direction, but I would impress upon them a sense of urgency. Even if she'll be fine for a few days, she ought to be watched closely." I give him another smile. "Thanks."

Walking back toward Abe, I note Dennison's puzzled look and Abe's nothing much surprises me anymore expression. Ah, now wouldn't it be handy to be able to communicate telepathically with Normals right about now? But that's not an option. I crook a finger at Brian as I stop beside Abe. While neither of his folks sees me motion to him, his mother does attempt another banshee imitation when he stands up.

She's really getting on my nerves.

"Mom, I just need to talk to Sheriff Goldman for a minute. I'm not going any farther away than that, okay?"

His mother practically flings herself on her husband, sobbing. I close my eyes and start counting to ten. In Mandarin. Dennison is staring at me when I open my eyes.

"What the hell was that?"

"Mandarin. If the ambulance doesn't get here soon, I'm going to need to go through Japanese, Diné Bizaad, Spanish, English and then desecrate French." I roll my shoulders to loosen them up. "Or maybe we'll get lucky and your mother's piercing wails will stop assaulting my sensitive ears."

"Yeah, don't count on that. And why do we need an ambulance?" While it's easy to hear the worry in his voice, there's an underlying current of fear, as well.

"Based on what I could see of the energy movements, I'd hazard a guess that she's been having mini strokes, what the medical folks like to call TIA or transient ischemic attacks. Well, lack of movement, really, particularly in her brain but the blockages are widespread.

"She's got a lot, but not all, of the signs. Do not — let me make this perfectly clear, Dennison — do not mention any of that to either of your parents or the nice paramedics when they arrive. Just describe the symptoms in as much detail as possible. After they run some tests, and hopefully get an honest medical history from her, the medical folks can add two plus two and come up with four. She's probably got quite a pharmacy with her if she's being treated for any of the dozens of things some of those blockages indicate. Could be some bad drug interactions, too, if she has different doctors and doesn't get all her prescriptions filled at the same place."

"How the heck do you know that kind of thing?" he asks suspiciously.

Ah. Yes. There is that, isn't there? I can't very well tell him that I'm a librarian. Was a librarian?

"I have friends. Lots of friends who know lots of things." I shrug. "Besides... you know me. I'm nosy. I'll listen in on interesting conversations. Hospitals are fascinating places."

And that's true! As long as you or your grandmother are not there as patients, that is.

"Well, what should I tell them? My folks, I mean." Brian glances at them for a second then back to me. "They're nuts, but they're not stupid... they know I have no idea what any of that is. And they sure as hell aren't going to listen to anything you say, no offense."

"None taken..."

"But they just might listen to me," Abe says in his quiet, calm and reasonable way. "My brother went through something similar a year or so back, so I know some of the signs." He regards Dennison for a moment before nodding at the elder Dennisons. "I can express concern for guests in my County who happens to be parents of a colleague." Abe looks at me; his expression is professionally neutral, but his eyes hold a glint of humor. Turning back to Brian, he says, "They'll accept advice from me long before they listen to anything this one says." He tilts his head in my direction. "Even if she's been on her best behavior."

Dennison looks more indecisive than I've ever seen him. But I nod in agreement with Abe's recommendation. "If you let Abe talk to them... and you just keep stressing your concern about the uncharacteristic mood swings — though that might not be how you want to phrase it — and I get the hell out of here..." I shrug. "Well, I think you stand a fair chance of getting her to the nearest hospital to be checked out. Maybe it's nothing. You hope it's nothing, although I know better. But maybe she'll humor you on this just because you're so worried."

He nods slowly. "I don't think this is going to solve the underlying problem... the reason I asked you to come up in the first place. But if I can get her admitted, maybe the Sheriff will be good enough to pay her a visit in a day or two," he says with the stirring of his usual good humor. "Just to check in on her, of course."

Abe chuckles. "Of course. If I can help keep a good cop out here where he belongs, I'd be happy to drop by." He looks at me. "That's your whole plan, isn't it?"

"Well, yeah," I say in that way the younger generation has of stating the obvious. "I've got Dennison trained up right. I don't want to start fresh with Passeri and some newbie in Adams County." I grin at the two of them. "I'm going to mosey along now. I can hear the sirens, and I should be polite and get my bike out of the No Parking zone for the ambulance. Try not to have any problems up here before the kids get back for the new term in January, would you, Abe?"

"Do my best, Ninja," he says laconically. "You might want to stay out of trouble yourself."

I snort... softly. There's no need to antagonize Dennison's mother with my obvious unladylike behavior. "Trouble chases after me, Abe. The best I can do is outrun it until I'm in an advantageously defensible position." I look at Dennison and pretend to glare at him. "I suppose I'm going to have to make sure I don't get you killed when you're working with me."

"Gosh, that would be swell, Miss Ninja," he replies.

While Abe tries not to laugh, I say, "Watch it, Dennison. I'm the smart ass on the team. Don't make me smack you." I glance quickly at his parents; the Normals can probably hear the sirens by now. "Call me if you need anything."

I turn and head for the door, sketching a salute to Thomas, then waving him off from getting the door for me. I'm not completely satisfied with the way the afternoon played out, but I suppose if Dennison's mother gets the appropriate medical attention and looks after herself, I'll have done something at least. I hope Abe can sweet-talk the woman into allowing that maybe — just maybe — her precious baby boy is helping to save the world... or this small part of it, at any rate. Well, if anyone can do it, it's Abe. And if he needs to exaggerate monumentally or even outright lie to keep a good cop in Colorado, I have a feeling he'll do it with a smile on his face and the deepest of sincerity in his voice.

I have my bike started up just as the ambulance is pulling into the curved drive in front of me, and I get out of their way probably a lot faster than they expect. The valet looks confused, but Thomas is walking quickly across the courtyard to meet the paramedics. I know I started the brouhaha, indirectly at any rate, that's about to make his lobby look like a scene from a movie. But I have confidence that between Brian and Abe, they'll cajole Mrs. Dennison into taking a trip over to Boulder Community Hospital.

There's nothing more for me to do, so I head back up Walnut Street toward 28th, and then down to the Turnpike. I'm sure I can find something to do at home.

And that thought makes me smile.

© Kelly Naylor