CHAPTER TWELVE: A SMALL BREAKTHROUGH?
Taking another sip of his steaming hot coffee, Slade locked his vision on the terrified man sitting across from him. Slade maintained a charming grin on his face as he lowered the cup back onto the table, amused at the gentleman's visible fear as his hand rested on the gun; his index finger stroking the barrel.
"Do you know which country consumes the most coffee?" was all Slade said.
Confusion quickly swept over the elderly man's face. In a voice that didn't betray the look of fear on his face, he simply replied "I beg your pardon?"
Pointing at his cup, Slade reiterated, "The country that consumes the most coffee". He took another sip of his drink. "No idea?"
The elderly gentleman shook his head. What exactly does this guy want? He turns up on my doorstep brandishing a weapon, asks for coffee and starts this idle chat about coffee. Just what is this?
Slade chuckled before answering his own question, "It's Finland. Almost three times that of the United States. Everywhere you go, you cannot escape the scent of freshly ground coffee seeds. Nice country. Ever been?"
The elderly gentleman was now dumbfounded. What the hell did this guy want?
"I have to say, my favourite location has to be the Repovesi National Park. It used to be an area where it was used for forestry but now it's an open attraction. Very popular with climbers but the real attraction is the River Koukunjoki. I remember rented a small boat and spending hours on the waters; absorbing the scenery and the sounds. Personally, I do not believe that there is anything else in this world that is as beautiful as that place. The pure tranquillity is nothing like I've ever experienced before and the variety of animals that inhabit the Park is wonderful."
Slade took a big gulp of the muddy coloured liquid and sighed in relief; swirling the remainder of the cups contents before downing the rest.
"Thank you or your hospitality Mr Peters, I do appreciate it"
This had gone on long enough the elderly gentleman thought, "Just what is your business here? And how do you know who I am?"
Maintaining his grin, Slade answered, "Do forgive me Mr. Peters, my name is Slade"
"I know who you are. I said how do you . . .?"
"I know a lot about you Mr. Peters. Your name is Ernest Peters, born February 11, 1936 to William Peters, who tragically died on June 24, 1942 whilst serving for the U.S. Navy and Tabitha Groves, who worked as an Army Nurse during the Second World War; she died August 9, 1976 due to natural causes. You're a widower. Your wife, Hilda Kalinowski, whom you met when she and her family were one of the few fortunate families to come to America before the war commenced, was your first and last love. Married when the both of you were seventeen, alas, she perished five years ago to stomach cancer. You have three children, Mary, aged forty-eight, James, aged forty-four and Victoria, aged thirty-nine. Grandfather of five, soon to be six."
A stunned Ernest Peters looked on in awe at how much this man knew about him in such personal detail. Before he could ask any more questions, Slade stood up and said, "Now, whilst I would love to stay and talk, I must be leaving. For I am a very busy man and I have plenty of work to do. I really do appreciate your hospitality and you have been a fine host given the circumstances."
Slade dug into his trouser pocket and pulled out a silencer and began screwing it onto the end of the firearm.
Now trembling in abject fear and predicting what was going to happen, Ernest began to plead, only to be cut off by Slade who held out a flat hand and made a 'shh' noise, quieting the old man.
"You asked why I was here. Well, you see, I am here because you are an integral part of my plan Mr. Peters. You are probably very well aware that all of these attacks on Jump City as well as some of its citizens. Well, I can assure you that they are not mindless acts of violence and terror, nor are they senseless in any way shape or form. No, they are in fact leading up to something much bigger than anyone in this city could imagine. These attacks are all by my hand and for good reason. They have a purpose and it is my honour to tell you that you are to join those who have fallen before you."
As Slade raised the gun, aiming at Ernest's head, he noted a stream of tears rushing down the man's face as his fate was standing in front of him.
"Soon enough, there will be such a grand spectacle, that Jump City, the United States of America, the entire world will forever live to fear, the name Slade Wilson. It's a shame that you will not be there to witness it. But don't worry Mr Peters; your death will not have been in vain"
There was so much activity occurring on the cameras, that she didn't know where to look first. One moment she was hooked on the fire-fighters finally quelling the fires at Caspar's, the next she was to the fire-fighters attempting to bring an end to the apartment explosion that Neiva Campbell's body was now a charred husk, then she was drawn to the commotion over Adrian Ellis's corpse where Robin and some police officer were, then to the park where forensic officers were dealing with Hannah Young's corpse and who could forget old man Stimpson, whose body right now was being brought out in a black body bag.
Each and every section of the city where she and Slade would strike had been covered meticulously. So many months of planning, every conceivable angle researched, revised and covered, making certain that no mistakes had been made and that they would be rumbled. Of course, it would've been nearly impossible to do everything in one day, so they had to prepare in advance. This included finding their victims locations, studying their movements and then making their plans in how they would carry out their attacks.
To the outsider, the people who had died were "innocents", just some random people who were being picked off one by one. But this wasn't the case, they were chosen for a particular reason. They all had one thing in common and they would soon reveal the grand plan and if the cards had been played correctly and the Titans were smart enough to follow the breadcrumbs, they would be witnesses to history in the making; a dawn of a new era; the beginning of the end of everything.
Checking the clock that hung on the wall to her left, she saw that the time was coming up to quarter-to-midday, fifteen minutes until the next piece of the puzzle slotted into place. Her eyes turned to the screen that showed the image of detached house, situated in a much more affluent area of Jump City. It was the home of twenty-eight year old Tazmin Ripley; who was at this very moment, pulling into her driveway. She watched as Tazmin, got out her car, opened the trunk of her Mercedes Benz and removed some grocery bags, shut the trunk and made her way to the house.
As much as she was anticipating the moment the house went up in flames, her eyes began to give up on her – she had been awake for well over twenty four hours and she knew she had to get some sleep. Weariness would lead to mistakes and she couldn't afford any of those. Cursing that she was unable to keep her eyes open longer than five seconds, she finally retired to a nearby mattress.
She covered herself up with a blanket and laid her had on the pillow, feeling the hairclip press against her skull ever so slightly.
A shrill of exhilaration filled her body, the tips of her toes all the way to the top of her head. Remembering the brief contact of Slade's hand against her hair warmed her more than the blanket that covered her body.
Strictly business is what he said. Straight from the beginning, it had always been 'strictly business' and nothing would get in the way of the ultimate goal. At first she agreed to help him, more than happy to keep everything professional and not allow any personal from creeping up inside and blindsiding the end result. But having spent day after day, night after night, hour after hour in his company, rarely, if ever, leaving his side, the relentless hour upon hour of planning, researching, setting up the cameras, acquiring the materials for the explosives, the notes, the identities and the down-to-the-tee movements and personal information on their victims. There was no way on heaven or earth that they could spend so much time with each other that nothing was going to come of this. No way that he would use her, then abandon her after all of this was over. Would he? Surely not. No! No way. She knew that his could demeanour, his demonic intent in achieving his ambitions, his goals, would not cause him to be so cold to the point that he would turn her away. She was in too deep now for him to throw her away.
Yes, of course. I'm in too deep. There's no way that he would do something like that to me. He's a monster, but so am I. we're perfect for each other. He knows we are. He can't act the way he has and not feel anything. If I feel something, surely he does? He must know.
These thoughts lingered with her up until the very moment she drifted off to sleep.
The house that Tazmin Ripley lived was now engulfed in flames.
Chloe estimated that the original crowd that had surrounded her and Robin moments ago had quadrupled in size, making the situation she was facing rather claustrophobic and testing. Have a swarm of people closing you in, bombarding you with a myriad of questions, pushing and shoving just to grab a glimpse of what had happened was a part of the job that aggrieved Chloe the most. Of course it was instinct for people to clamber in and stick their noses in situations like this; situations where respect for the casualty had completely evaporated. Despite constant pleas to the crowd to back off and give some space for the approaching ambulance was near impossible. The hordes of people who kept pushing, she was tempted to shove back, but she dare not and risk being charged with some trumped up assault charge; despite the situation itself, there was bound to be some prick who would do exactly that. Those who had got their phones out and were either taking photos or videos of the corpse; the desire to rip them out of their hands and reduce them into a thousand pieces was tempting. Bu she knew that she had to show restraint, remain calm in this situation and not exacerbate the situation even further.
Calling from over her shoulder, Chloe tried beckoning Robin to give her a hand, "Robin, you think you could give me a hand over here?" A brief glance saw Robin's back turned, ignoring the pleas from her, face nigh-on buried in his communicator.
"Yo, Robin, a hand. Please." No reply still.
" . . . I will look forward to meeting you in due course; that is, of course, if you ever find me. Goodbye, Titans".
The screen on Robin's communicator cut to black and was instantly replaced by static. The grip he had on the communicator was almost strong enough to break the device in half. Hatred, pure and unadulterated, filled every inch of his body. Slade was sitting in the shadows, like the coward he was, watching, loving every second of what was going on, plotting his next move, waiting to reappear, do his work, then disappear again, taunting Robin at any opportunity he had. Knowing that he was not able to do a damn thing about it was what made Robin angriest of all.
You just keep on gloating Slade. I will find you, and I promise, even if it's the last thing I do, I will make you pay for what you've done.
Her words may not have bought Robin out of his state of concentration, but a slight shake of his shoulders did. He did a double take (and almost struck out at her, but managed to restrain himself) and looked at Chloe's worn out face as she said, "The ambulance has just arrived Robin. I have to get some perspective to what happened here. I'm going to need your help in getting some witness statements . . ." Robin drew his eyes to what must have been at least a hundred people swarming around paramedics, attempting to put the young man's body on the gurney despite the swarm of people sticking their noses in their business, " . . . so could you do that for me Robin? Robin? Hello?"
Stuttering, Robin replied, "Huh?"
"Reinforcements. The two of us aren't going to manage these people alone, we need more officers down here. I know we're stretched as it is but we need help. I'll call reinforcements and you start with finding out any persons here who can tell us what happened."
But helping Chloe was not his first priority as far as he was concerned. Chloe had made her way to the police car and was already calling for assistance. Once she had finished she saw the Boy Wonder walking away from the crowd of people . . . no, actually, it was more like limping away.
"Robin, where are you going? What are you . . .?"
"Slade. He's killed another person. I have to go."
Looking in bewilderment, first at Robin then turning her around back toward the crowd and did this two more times before calling out, "Are you serious? Robin, I can't deal with these people on my own."
Trying his best to start some sort of jog, Robin yelled back, "Your colleagues are coming. You said they'd help you."
That was not what she said, but was not going to argue with Robin right now, she was too frustrated to be bothered to argue, and that's not what was needed right now.
"Robin, you can't just . . . where are . . . get back here . . . Rob . . ."
But he was gone.
"Oh, well that's just . . ." She pressed on her communicator button, "This is Sergeant McAdams, where the hell are those reinforcements?"
Cyborg and BeastBoy stood peering through their respective window pane, watching Dr. Eric Lloyd trying to coax Starfire into staying in her bed and fully recuperate. When Raven had left to collect some food for the group, Cyborg noticed that Starfire was out of her bed, slightly uncoordinated and stumbling about her room. He and BeastBoy both went in to tell her to remain in her bed and that Raven would be back with their food shortly. Despite their pleas, Starfire insisted that she was fine, that she was no longer hungry and that she wanted to leave the hospital and find Robin. After some time, the doctor came back into the room and took over proceedings. He talked to her for a while, performing a few tasks which included shining a torch in her eyes and a few other optometry tests.
Some more time passed and from the looks of things, the doctor seemed to give into the Tamaranian's stubbornness and accepted her request. Eric turned his eyes towards the window panes and beckoned her teammates into the room, minus Raven. Once the two males entered the room, the doctor started to explain, "Well, despite my pleas, your friend said that she doesn't wish to stay here any longer, that she's thankfully for our help but that she's fine and wants to re-join Robin. I've explained to her that she would be better off resting a little longer, but if she wishes to leave gentlemen, I have no power to keep her against her will."
Consigned to the fact that Starfire would not take no for an answer, Cyborg and BeastBoy nodded their heads in acceptance to Starfire's decision. Both went over to her to help her stand, but she held up a flat palm, indicating that she could stand on her two feet without their assistance. She wobbled slightly as she tried to do so, all three males in the room coming to her aide at once, but again, she rejected any sort of help. After a couple more moments, she began moving reasonably well, a slight stumble here or there, but eventually she managed to maintain a stable stance.
"Star, are you certain that you want to leave?" BeastBoy asked the doctor, some uncertainty tinged in his voice.
She nodded slowly, clearly in some discomfort whilst nodding.
Eric piped up, "She should be alright in the next few hours. Her visions not impaired, blurred or hindered by bright lights. She may be slightly off balance for a little while and movement might not be as rapid but that'll pass eventually and she should be able to move more freely. Thankfully, she hasn't suffered anything too major, no convulsions, speech seems to be good, shes able to maintain attention well enough, and no cases of vomiting . . . all in all, she got away without any severe damage being caused. In fact, she's recovering quicker than most humans do after suffering concussion; must be in her genetics", he said that last piece with a heavy hint of amazement and astonishment.
Before he left the room, Leo turned backed and added, "Oh, I think you should know that news reporters and paparazzi have been hanging around the reception since it was announced that you four were here. I figured you'd want a heads up."
All three Titans showed appreciative glances before thanking the doctor for his work and asked him if he could give their thanks to Leo, Melissa, Angela and Matthew for their work as well. Eric thanked the Titans for their appreciation, promised to relay their thanks onto his colleagues and wished them good luck with finding the person responsible for putting their friend in hospital and who was responsible for the many other deaths. And with that, he left the room.
The three Titans did not need to wait long before Raven made her way back to them. They were slightly on edge when they saw the empath sprinting back to them. Before any of them could ask what was up, Raven spilled the news; that there had been more attacks in the city centre and that Slade had moved onto the rural area of Jump City.
The pained faces etched on the three Titans immediately; just how the hell is Slade doing all this in such a short amount of time? And over a vast space of city?
Cyborg broke the silence, "Where did the recent attack take place Raven?"
"Park Avenue" Raven replied.
"Okay, looks like we'll have start there"
"Has Robin contacted you guys yet?"
Raven did not need a reply from the guys, the sour look on their faces said more than words could. This was when Raven noticed Starfire being supported by BeastBoy.
"Starfire, what are you doing out of bed?"
BeastBoy answered, "She said that she didn't want to be here any longer. That she was fine and she wanted to go find Robin."
"Starfire, are you sure that . . .?"
Starfire broke of Raven mid-sentence, "Raven, I am fine. The nice Doctor Eric told me that I have not suffered anything major, nor am I as badly injured as I could have been. In fact, he said that I should be fine in a short while."
Raven was not totally certain that the Tamaranian should be on her feet, but from the look Starfire gave her, she was not going to argue with her.
"Umm, Raven, do you think that you could teleport us to Park Avenue?" BeastBoy asked.
An incredulous look filled Raven's features as she looked at the green teen and asked, "Why?"
"Eric told us that news reporters have been filling up the reception ever since it was announced that we were here. I think it best for all of us, Starfire in particular, that we avoid them all" Cyborg said.
"Friends, I am fine. I do not mind to . . ." Starfire began.
Raven interrupted, "No Starfire, it's okay. I'll be able to teleport us there."
"Are you sure Raven? You're not too hurt from . . . well . . ." BeastBoy stuttered.
Truthfully, Raven was feeling more emotionally stable now and she had been able to recover from her injuries much more efficiently. "I'm fine BeastBoy, I wasn't hurt that badly. A few scratches won't affect my teleportation abilities."
"I know that, I'm just concerned, that's all."
Raven was touched by BeastBoy's concern, but was able to subdue these feelings – despite her 'Happy' roaming gleefully inside her – before acknowledging his words, "Thanks for your concern BeastBoy." Before she formed her black aura, Raven told Starfire, "Starfire, you may feel a little dizzy from this. Slight brain damage can sometimes cause some side effects because of teleportation."
Starfire smiled at Raven before trying to assure her, "Believe me Raven, I will be alright"
"Yeah, besides, look at grass-stain, he hasn't suffered from your teleportation Raven . . . much" Cyborg joked.
"Hey!" BeastBoy exclaimed.
All four Titans – minus BeastBoy – laughed before being enveloped in the black aura.
Once Slade had shot Ernest Peters, he opened up his briefcase and pulled out one of the many explosive devices inside (an insurance policy) and timed it to go off in two minutes; plenty of time for him to leave the house and work his way to the entrance to his hideout that were scattered around town. Throughout the course of planning today's events, Slade had to make sure that he and his accomplice had a sure-fire way of getting back to the hideout unnoticed, undetected and with efficiency. There were twenty-five overall and he had them all memorized. Once he left the house, he turned right and went down until he reached the end of the block. He began to cross the road and that was when the house exploded. He didn't even turn around, he just grinned as the people around him ran past him, gravitating toward the inferno behind him. He did however look over his shoulder to see the combination of orange and yellow flame dance over the top of the surrounding buildings.
A short walk later, Slade left the rural area and reached the edge of the city. Panic was not as rife on the edge of this part of the city since nothing had happened here, but it was quite desolate, since the people here were herded like sheep in one of the many diners, restaurants, pubs and coffee shops, all of them transfixed by the events that were being shown on the televisions, or they were in their homes, or they had left and gone into the more central part of the city so they could see the events for themselves first hand. This made Slade chuckle slightly under his breath; how even in the city's most vulnerable and terrified state, the people here would happily go towards the apparent danger, just to get a front row seat of other people's misery. And they had the nerve to call him 'sick'? How ironic.
Slade made his way down an alleyway, towards a dumpster and slinked behind it. Giving a quick glance around to make sure that no-one was in the alleyway at the time or was staring down the alleyway, lifted up the loose drain cover and moved it to one side, briefcase in one hand, he lowered himself in the system using his free arm to hold himself onto the concrete and dropped deftly onto the narrow concrete walkway below; making sure he got a good lungful of clean air before he ventured into the underground. He walked a short way before stopping, crouching and began tapping at the walls. Once he tapped he area where the bricks were loose, he removed many of the bricks before he revealed the hole that had been burrowed many months back – one that the news reporters put down to one of the many 'unusual earth tremors' that were happening at the time – that was connected to the hideout. He pushed his briefcase through and shortly he followed, placing the bricks back in their place before leaving. Feeling for the briefcase, he unclasped it and began gently feeling around before his hand landed on the small LED torch. Removing the torch, is turned it on closed the briefcase, picked it up and began to make his way down the smoothly burrowed pathway.
When Slade arrived at the hideout, he was welcomed by the sight of the dimly lit area, the series of television sets that showed the numerous goings on all throughout the city and his accomplice, who was huddled up in the makeshift bed. The sight of her made Slade smile. He was proud of her. When he first recruited her, he was uncertain that this would ever work, he was uncertain that she would comply or, when she did agree that she would be able to carry out her part in this plan. But so far, she had, and she had done so better than he could have imagined. Her tenacity, determination and force of will, combining all these elements made her a dangerous yet reliable force . . . and a rather frightening one to boot.
He slowly walked over to the bed, taking careful steps, making sure that he did not wake her; she had already had a long day and she needed as much rest as necessary. Once he reached the head of her bed, he lowered himself down until he was on one knee. Gently as he could, he removed a strand hair away from her face and tucked it behind her ear. He drew back when she stirred slightly; a small smile slowly rose from the corners of her mouth.
'Strictly business', that was what he told her straight from the off and that's exactly how he felt from the beginning. However, the relentless work that they put into creating this plan, preparing it and making sure that every detail, no matter how trivial was addressed and dealt with, with a fine toothcomb inevitably bought the two of them closer than he first envisaged. Naturally he knew that emotions were going to play a part in their 'relationship' and he knew that as the months went by and she was thirsty to prove that she was capable to performing any task he entrusted her with, over time she began to feel something for him. Initially he saw this as charming but inconsequential since he only had one objective in mind. Nevertheless, he would be lying if he said that over time, he didn't entertain the idea. Of course, he never let on and would tease her about this – the incident in the café and apartment for example – and her reactions would always be amusing to him.
But he knew that he could not afford to be sloppy now. There was so much at stake and any form of distraction could be fatal to the plan. He would have control over this situation and would not allow it to go any further. After the plan comes to it conclusion, all the authorities under the sun will come looking for the two of them and would not stop until they were either put in prison for their actions, or were killed. But before they had the chance to do so, Slade and his accomplice will be long gone from Jump City and would never be found, that was a guaranteed fact. After the plan succeeds, he and his accomplice . . . well, who knew what would happen after that.
She stirred again and Slade decided that it would be best to leave her to sleep. He would have to wake her up in the next few hours, but until that then, he would change his outfit and observe the screens and watch his . . . their work, unfold.
Robin did not need to keep referring back to the disc to find the place where he needed to go, the billowing black smoke that lingered in the air beckoned him towards his destination. Although it couldn't have been any more than a mile away, what felt like an hour for Robin to get there – when in reality, it was actually slightly more than ten minutes to effectively limp to the location – Robin sighed a breath of relief when he eventually arrived on Park Avenue; he cursed himself mentally, one for his twisted ankle and the other for not having the foresight to bring his motorcycle into the city.
He was welcomed with the sight of a pyre, bright yellow and orange flames danced delicately around the construct of a detached house as fire-fighters fought the flames; although not having as much difficulty with this fire like they did with the one at Caspar's and the apartment complex in the city centre, the fire put up a decent fight. He also noticed that the fire-fighters were joined by a small herd of people, all aghast to what was happening, few of them shielding their eyes from the intense heat, some shed tears, but the majority just stood in awe, probably stunned that the events that had occurred in the city had spread to their idyllic rural space.
The sound of a blaring vehicle horn caused Robin to jump out of skin as it tore right past him and watched as the driver slammed on the brakes hard; smoking rising from the wheels and several people came bundling out of the van. Robin didn't recognise any of them until one particular person climbed out. The middle-aged woman with hair that was as black as the night sky but tinged with hints of grey, wearing an all-black suit, the infamous Hilary Jenkins. Robin had his fair share of run-ins with the news reporter in the past, concerning the illusive Slade – bile rose in his mouth again but resisted the urge to spit, so instead swallowed it bitterly – and his numerous disappearances whenever they came close to capturing him; especially after the Trigon incident, the disappearance of the Titans during the pursuit of the Brotherhood of Evil and how the Titans just left Jump City vulnerable to attacks at any time, day or night, a whole laundry list of things that gave Robin a headache just thinking about coming face-to-face with Jenkins. He watched as Jenkins and her crew began setting up their equipment to record, sickened that they lacked any consideration whatsoever; surely they could have waited until the fire had died down or something.
Since he Robin could not do anything until the fires had ended, he hung back, checked that no one was around him (he was quite some distance away and didn't think that anyone had seen him arrive) and replayed the second disc that Slade left for him.
The disc finished rewinding and he hit the play button.
"Greetings once again Titans. I do hope that are not too distraught from today's events, nor that you are too tired. It would be a shame should any of you suffer any unfortunate injuries that prevent you from reaching me before sunrise tomorrow.
"For you see, I want you to find me. I want you to witness what I have planned; the countless months I have spent in perfecting what will be the most memorable event in American history. And I want you to see it for yourselves. All those times where you have failed to stop me will pale into insignificance by the end of the day.
"Come and find me Robin, my former apprentice. Once the wheels starting turning in your head, only then will you have a chance to end this.
"I will look forward to meeting you in due course; that is, of course, if you ever find me. Goodbye, Titans".
Static filled the screen. That was it. Unlike the last disc, this one did not show any location to go to, who the latest victims were, or what their names were and no cryptic message or hint to where Slade was or where he was going to strike next, just a taunt. That last sentence specifically directed at Robin. Robin seethed quietly, the taunt that Slade made about him being his ex-apprentice, how he was so far behind Slade regarding his location or what Slade's ultimate plan was. It was something that would be the most memorable event in American history? What on earth could it involve? Who could it involve? Obviously being Slade it would only lead to destruction and chaos. Was this to do with the Titans only? Was there something much bigger he was striving for? What could be bigger than destroying the very team that has thwarted him on countless occasions?
That must be it. The Titans were the constant thorn in Slade's side and removing them once and for all . . . what could be bigger than that? The total annihilation of The Teen Titans. Nothing was bigger than that as far as Slade was concerned.
Robin was so deep in thought that he did not notice the person standing behind him. Quietly breathing in his ear was the thirty-something, dark haired female news reporter that was the last person Robin wanted any interaction with.
"That sounded interesting"
Robin spun around to see Hilary Jenkins peering over his shoulder, staring intently at the yellow device he was holding in his hand, before she brought her milk chocolate coloured eyes onto Robin's masked ones.
"So Slade has something else planned that he says is going to be the biggest event in our history. Well, that's going to have to be something big, right Robin?" Hilary said in an almost cheerful tone.
Tucking the communicator into his belt, Robin replied, "Ms Jenkins, taking a break from bumping up your ratings?"
Not breaking her smirk, Hilary answered, "Freedom of the press is something I hold dear to me young man. In this game, nothing should hold you back. Plus, the public have a right to know anything that would no doubt affect their lives, health and wellbeing. No holds barred."
Robin smirked in retaliation, "Aspirational, Ms Jenkins. Julian Assange was aspirational too and look what happened to him". He watched as her face dropped slightly.
It was common knowledge that Hilary Jenkins was one of the very few in the journalism industry in Jump City to come out and vocally support Julian Assange through the WIkiLeaks scandal and what he did. Naturally, the hostility she faced was relentless, receiving threats and hate mail on a constant basis; even to this day she still received these on a daily basis. Even with the threat of being fired from her journalism occupation, not once did she falter, apologise or switch her stance. Robin could at least respect Jenkins on that level and the fact that she still turned out to do her work despite such hostility was admirable; something that Robin could relate to, but the fact that there were people who were willing to risk lives in order for the truth, well . . . sometimes in order to keep stability and equanimity in a society, it was necessary to keep the truth hidden from Joe Public as far as Robin was concerned.
Choosing to rise above that comment, Hilary said stoically, "Look, my job is to report the truth to the public, whether you agree with my beliefs and methods or not. Right now, Slade is planning something. Don't you think that the public have the right to know so that they can prepare themselves? Hell, maybe they could help you . . . I could help you, if you help me."
"I'm not going to argue ethics with you right now Ms Jenkins, but surely you know that the public's best option is to not apprehend someone like Slade. He isn't the kind of person who's going to be sloppy and reveal his location, nor would he allow anyone who sees him let the authorities know of his whereabouts; we've seen already what he'll do to them if they try that. As far as helping me, I recommend that you stay out of my way, and let me do my job."
Hilary expected that kind of cold, detached and self-important response from the superhero. She did not doubt his abilities as a hero (he had been trained by Batman for Christ's sake) but his way of dealing with this scenario struck her as being wrong. Where were his teammates? Why was he on his own? Was he going all Lone Ranger? She had reported that Starfire had been taken to hospital with Raven in tow. All five were practically family, all inseparable, yet Robin was here on his own. Where were the other four? Why was he not at the hospital with Starfire? Where were the other two male Titans? Hilary thought of this as rather odd. Robin's sense of duty was apparent, but she always thought that ever since the incident in Tokyo, his severe tenacity had been toned down, especially after he and Starfire became an item. Clearly that was not the case.
Hilary let Robin's words sink in before responding, "Well, if that's the way you want it, fine with me"
Robin retained eye-contact with the news reporter up until the point she turned to walk back to her van. He breathed a sigh of relief that he got the woman away from him. Did she not realise that the last thing he needed was for ordinary citizens getting in Slade's way? He had already showed that he has no regards for human life already and anyone who got in his way today was just a sitting duck as far as he was concerned. She would be thankful that he turned her away by the end of the day. Besides, in what way would she be of any assistance to him? He knew her too well to trust anything she had to say. He was familiar with that type of news reporter, someone who was willing to step on and over people in order to bolster her position in the industry she was in. the fact that she managed to make her way to almost every single incident and almost every location Slade had struck showed a tenacity for glory and reward.
"I could help you, if you help me"
How could she help me in any way? She'd have to have something of some worth that could be of assistance. What though? Does she know something that I don't? Did she find something out at one of the places Slade struck? Does she know something about the victims? Wait a minute . . .
Robin remembered something. Back at the police station, when he was being directed to Chloe's office, they passed through the stations cafeteria, he remembered the television set hanging on the wall; it was showing the broadcast of the explosion on Steinhouse Avenue, the street where Saira Thurman once lived. He froze as footage showed the scene where Starfire and Raven were sent flying after the explosion, including the moment where Starfire went head first into the fire hydrant; Robin could still feel the impact of that blow hit his stomach, making him feel sick.
Didn't Jenkins say that the footage was recorded on a camera phone? Someone caught the footage before the explosion. Someone was there. Waiting? They knew the explosion was going to happen. Slade!
Oh my god, Robin thought.
Hilary and her crew had long packed their equipment back in their van and were already moving away from the almost extinguished fire. She was angry about Robin's impertinence toward her. Okay, she would be lying if she said that she wanted the kids help and not benefit from it career-wise, nevertheless, bringing down a criminal like Slade, especially after what he had done today, would be a moral victory above anything else; regardless of any reward o perk that would undoubtedly come after it. She truly was there for the people despite how they felt about her and her beliefs or whatever disparaging articles were written about her. She lolled her head onto her shoulder and her eyes focused on the wing mirror. She perked up at the sight of a young man in a traffic light costume limping rather pathetically, trying to catch up to the van.
"Andy, Andy, stop the van. Stop the van, now" she called out to her driver, who looked at her with a confused expression before complying. A smirk drew on her face as the young Titan caught up to the vehicle, panting, clearly in some form of distress due to his apparent injury. She leaned on the van door and said, "Ah, young Robin, yes?"
In between pants Robin wheezed out, "Hilary, the explosion on Steinhouse Avenue. The victim was Saira Thurman."
Hilary raised her eyebrows and replied, "Yes?"
"Someone took footage of the explosion on a camera phone. Remember?"
"Ah, yes, I do."
"The person who gave you the footage, what did he look like?
"He? Oh no, it was a young woman who gave me the phone. I had only been there . . ."
This made Robin stand up straight. A young woman? No, it couldn't be. Slade was behind this. Surely Hilary was wrong?
". . . after a short while, we transferred the footage onto our computer and broadcasted it. Robin? Hello? Are you there?"
Robin returned to the present moment, "A woman gave you the footage? Are you sure?"
With a quizzical look on her face, Hilary replied, "of course I'm sure"
A young woman? That didn't make sense. Slade was responsible for these deaths. Surely Hilary was wrong. There was no way that . . .
The old woman's house.
He remembered now. Back at Iona's house, BeastBoy noted the faint scent of a perfume, one that was not distinct to the elderly woman, nor a perfume that she owned.
Was Slade being helped? Was it the same young woman who took the footage?
"Do you still have the phone Hilary? Is it in this van?" Robin asked, anxious that he finally had a breakthrough.
"Uh, no" Hilary saw Robin's face immediately drop, "after that report, we left and went back to our office. The phone will be there."
This was it. This was the breakthrough that Robin needed to find Slade. The phone could give him something to work with.
"Hilary, I need that phone. Could you take me to your workplace?"
Now it was Hilary's turn to smirk, "So now you want my help? I thought you said that you didn't . . ."
Robin lost his cool slightly as he cut Hilary off, "I know what I said, I know okay. Hilary now isn't the time to be screwing me around. The city is in danger and this phone could be the difference between Slade being stopped and more people suffering by his hand. Please, I need your help. I promise I'll help you with whatever you need or want."
It was impossible for Hilary's smile to be any bigger than it already was. She just simply opened the door, slid over and said, "Hop in superhero".
END OF CHAPTER