Things to Do in California When You're On Vacation
"I would rather entertain people and hope they learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained." – Walter E. Disney
"Aaron. Hey. Can I talk to you for a second?"
The albino man nearly dropped the tomato he'd been examining. He wasn't used to people coming up to him at random, and while he cared a lot for the people he saw as his charges, he was generally a loner. So having someone come up and talk to him out of nowhere at a bodega was a shock. He turned to take in the young woman who had approached him.
"Alex. Been what... three weeks? How you been?" Aaron looked around behind the new arrival. "Where's Louise?"
"She's doing fine. Better than fine, really. Best she's probably been in years. She misses the old gang. Or some of you, anyway." He noticed that the girl wasn't focusing on anything. She kept her eyes moving, as if watching for an attacker. "I'm meeting her in Anaheim shortly. We're having an 'us' day today. Something special."
Though disconcerted a bit by Alex's seeming paranoia, Aaron grinned at the good news. He'd always liked Louise, and hated that she was selling herself on the street to survive. "Great. So, what's new?"
The question caused Alex to grin. "Well, we got hitched." Alex held up her left hand, displaying two silver rings, one obviously an engagement ring, the other a plain wedding band. "We filed the domestic partnership papers, had a ceremony. We had matching wedding gowns. Louise even had a bridesmaid. It was beautiful. Sorry we didn't invite you, but we were trying to keep it hush-hush."
"Hush-hush. Right. I saw the news. You kicked the government's ass and now you're public enemy number one or something. Not exactly hush-hush." That explains the paranoia, he thought to himself. It occurred to Aaron that it might be a good idea to get away from this woman as quickly as possible.
Alex smiled at him. "Yeah, I know. Not the smartest thing I ever did, but it was kind of necessary at the time. Anyway, I brought you something. Thought you could use it." He stared at the manila envelope she held out to him. Just a plain, tan-orange vanilla envelope, the same type used by offices to ship documents, and he stared at it like it was a poisonous viper.
"What's in the envelope?"
"Take it. Look for yourself. Its not dangerous. Trust me, I don't want to cause you trouble." Alex seemed to catch herself, then grinned. "Well, this might cause you trouble, but not the intentional harm kind of trouble. Its a good thing. I promise."
He took the envelope and stared at it, then looked at her again. "I don't -"
"No, its okay, I understand, you have people to look after. This should help." She nodded toward the envelope. "Go ahead, open it."
He gave her an aside glance as he opened the envelope and removed a small stack of documents and a pair of keys tied together with a piece of string. He read the top sheet, his eyes getting wider and wider as he did so. "What the hell! What is..." he looked toward Alex, wondering what was going on, but she wasn't there anymore. He looked around for her, but there was no sign. It was like she teleported away. Aaron flipped through the pages. It was... he had no idea how to describe it. What the hell was he supposed to do with all this?" How the hell did they accomplish this?
According to this packet of paper, he was now the president and chief executive officer of a charity that had been funded to the tune of fifty million dollars from "anonymous sources," and whose purpose was to help house and support the homeless, especially homeless teenagers who were mutants, or homeless families who had mutant members. There were offices... he had an office! The charity owned a hotel, the Hyperion Hotel, up on Wilshire, that doubled as a housing facility. He even had a room assigned, and a salary.
Aaron looked around again, desperate to find Alex or any sign of her, just to ask her what the hell was going on? How the hell did they accomplish this?
Aaron never saw either Louise or Alex again. But every day, from that day until the day he retired as the head of the Kent Foundation nearly fifty years later, he'd always thank them for their help.
"Tony, it's me."
"Happy." Tony Stark rubbed his eyes. He dreaded getting up, like all chronic insomniacs; as a group, chronic insomniacs fought for every second of precious sleep they could nab. "I want you to know I seriously hate you right now. I mean, seriously. It can't be morning already, I just got to bed like, an hour ago."
"Did you go to bed at 8 am?"
"Uh... something like that. Maybe, I don't recall. It's possible. Last time I looked at a clock it was like... I dunno, 7:45 or so."
"Well in that case, you feel like you've only been asleep for an hour because you've only been asleep for an hour. Its only 9 am now."
"Happy, do me a favor and remind me why I haven't fired you yet?" Stark yawned. He still hadn't opened his eyes. He was suddenly aware that there was someone else in the bed with him. A casual glance to his right revealed a head of brilliant red hair just barely visible under the comforter. He carefully lifted the blanket and peeked at the naked female back and derriere.
"Huh?" He cast his memory back, but simply could not recall going to bed with anyone. He didn't feel like he'd been all sexed up in the last several hours. "Huh? Now that's odd."
"You haven't fired me because I'm one of only a handful of friends that put up with you no matter how stupid you get, Tony. So what's odd?"
"Oh, nothing. So... you were about to explain to me why you're waking me up when I only just now got to sleep." Stark yawned. He still had no idea who this was in bed with him.
"Right. You remember that job you wanted me to handle for you? Well its handled. I didn't find anything for a Karen Starr, but I found something that was similar enough to that second name. Seems one Alexandra L. Harris and one Louise H. Fulford filed for a domestic partnership a few days ago. Louise H. Fulford has also filed to have her name changed to Louise H. Harris, and requested an expedited process. Anyway, based on their paperwork, I found them yesterday and have been keeping an eye on them in the mean time."
"Oh yeah? So where have they been hiding?" Tony sat up, trying to get a better angle to see who the redhead was. No luck. Her face was entirely under the covers.
"You're going to love this. They've been doing that 'in plain sight' purloined letter thing at the Beverly Wilshire since Tuesday, in the Veranda Suite."
Tony stopped and stared into space. "Huh. Remind me again what the per day rate is at the Beverly Wilshire for the Veranda Suite, Happy?" Tony had stayed at that hotel, in the Beverly Presidential Suite, and if he remembered correctly, the Beverly Presidential was close to ten grand a night.
"According to the front desk reception guy, its almost $6000 a night. Let me guess what your next question is?"
"How do a couple of teenagers, neither of whom have jobs that leave records, afford staying in a hotel room that costs six grand a night." Tony rubbed his head again. The redhead lying next to him was momentarily forgotten. "We haven't heard about any bank robberies or an invasion of Fort Knox or the Federal Reserve lately, have we?"
"Nope. No bank robberies. But I'm telling you, not only are they in the Suite, they're driving a 2014 Mercedes. Looks like they've upgraded the wardrobe, too. Some accessorizing as well, and maybe a spa treatment."
"How come nobody whose been looking for these kids has noticed any of this?" Tony turned and put his feet on the floor. He ran his hand through his hair and yawned again. "You'd think they'd be sending out a lot of 'find me' signals."
"Yeah, well, I've been checking their paperwork, and its all legitimate. With, like, years of background history to it. As for how nobody's noticed, everyone's looking for Karen Starr. Nobody's looking for Alexandra Harris and her blushing bride Louise."
"Blushing bride. They look happy together?"
"Boss, they look like two kids in love, is what they look like."
Stark stood up and walked into the bathroom. He was awake now, and the prospect of getting any more sleep for at least a few hours was ruined. "Hold on, I'm going to put you on speaker." He set his phone down and punched the right buttons. "Okay, so where are they now?" Stark ran some water and splashed his face a few times, trying to become more alert.
"They're at the happiest place on Earth, Tony. Celebrating their honeymoon. You should see these two kids. They're holding hands and being all shy when they kiss. Its pretty cute."
"Disneyland?" Stark toweled his face dry. "They're going to Disneyland?"
"Yep. They checked into the Disneyland Hotel last night. From what I can tell they're planning on doing the main park today and the California park tomorrow. Oh hey, the gates just opened up. Which reminds me. I'm going to be using the corporate credit card a bit. Hope you don't mind."
"Let me guess..." Tony laughed at the thought.
"Hey, you're the one who wanted me to find them and keep an eye on them. I can't keep an eye on them if they're inside and I'm not, right?"
"You just want me to pay for you to get into Disneyland." Stark chuckled again. "All right. Try not to have too much fun. Talk to you later."
"What in the Hell are you doing in my bathroom."
At the sound of the voice behind him, Tony Stark nearly leapt out of his own skin. He whirled, ready to defend himself, only to stop. "Uh, Pepper? What are you doing here? Your room's across the hall."
His former personal assistant (and former girlfriend) turned business associate just stared at him with the look he recognized as her 'you are being an idiot' face. Their relationship had remained close after the breakup, but she'd told him multiple times that she wasn't interested in restarting it. "No, Tony. This is my room. This is my bathroom. Your suite is the one across the ha – wait. How long have you been here?"
"Oh, not long at all." He somehow couldn't force himself to meet her eyes. "So, uh, what brings you to New York?" As a corporate officer for Stark Industries, she had every right to use one of the room suites, but he didn't recall her actually being scheduled to do so.
"Tony. You're in a wife-beater and a pair of boxers. You sleep in that ensemble, when you're not with someone. Did you... were you in bed with me just now?"
"No, not at all. Just, um... just got the room wrong, is all. You know, insomnia."
"Tony... you realize that when Happy hears about this, and he's absolutely going to hear about this, he's going to beat you into unconsciousness, right?"
Stark just nodded. "And rightfully so. I had absolutely no right to climb in bed with his wife."
"Good to know you understand the gravity of the situation." Pepper smiled at him for a moment. "Now get out!"
"Really? You've lived in California your entire life and you've never been here before?" Louise held Alex's hand as the walked past the giant flower garden that featured the word 'Disneyland' written in yellow and white blossoms. They soon passed through a short tunnel that went under the railroad.
"Nope. You've got to understand that my... Xander's... folks spent most of their money on getting bombed and laying around the house. He knew about it, of course, but since he knew it was unlikely he could ever go, he never got his hopes up. Kara could have afforded it, but was never really interested." Alex shrugged, then found she had to hitch her purse up on her shoulders. "Me, I'm just jazzing all over the place. I feel like a kid, I'm so looking forward to it."
They stepped back out into the sunlight of Main Street Square. To their left was the City Hall, a street vendor selling popcorn, the Fire House, and some storefronts that Alex could tell were fake. Across the plaza, to their right, were several large buildings the purpose of which she couldn't discern.
"Come on. Let's go over here for a second. I see something." Louise tugged on her hands and Alex naturally followed. They walked up the steps to City Hall, where a young lady with a cart was handing out various buttons. She was in a pert outfit of red tartan, and her name tag read "Victoria."
"Good morning! How are you today?" Victoria's smile was genuine.
"Morning!" Alex responded. The good feeling was infectious. Of course, it was early in the day. "We're doing just fine. How about yourself?"
"I'm good this morning. Can I help you find a button?" She gestured toward the cart as if she was Vanna White showing off the letter-board, allowing Alex and Louise to browse over a selection of buttons. Louise grabbed a small handful, two 'Just Married', two 'I'm Celebrating', and a 'First Visit'. Alex shook her head, but had to smile at her partner's enthusiasm.
This enthusiasm seemed to carry over onto the act of pinning buttons to Alex's shirt. Louise attached the 'Just Married' and 'I'm Celebrating' buttons to Alex, then affixed similar buttons to herself. She then handed the 'First Visit' button to Victoria. Louise gave Alex a quick grin and said, "Her name is Alexandra, but she likes people to call her Alex."
Victoria pulled a sharpie marker out of a nowhere and carefully wrote "Alex" on the button, then handed it back to Louise with a grin. "Congratulations on getting married! So where is your..." Victoria stopped when Louise held up her left hand and wiggled her ring finger. "Oh! Sorry! My bad! Congratulations, anyway!"
Alex couldn't help grinning again. "Thanks." She gave Louise a quick hug. "I guess you could say this is our honeymoon."
Victoria nodded. "Do you have any dinner plans yet?"
Alex and Louise exchanged glances. "Um, not really. I think we were just winging it."
Victoria nodded again. "Okay, next question, this is a bit more personal. Are you on a budget?"
Louise snorted, then started giggling. "Ah, um... no, not exactly." Alex suppressed her own laughter. "We're... um... sorry. No. We're... no, just... not on a budget."
The giggling caused Victoria to look at them a bit funny, but she had probably seen weirder so she went along. "Okay, then. Might I suggest the Napa Rose? Its at the Grand California Hotel. Its a little pricey..." Her voice trailed off; both Alex and Louise had started giggling. "I think I missed something."
"No, its not your fault, I promise." Alex forced herself to straighten up. "The Napa Rose. It sounds wonderful. Where do we have to go to get reservations? I'm sure we're going to need some reservations."
Victoria nodded. "Just inside. They'll help you out." She pointed them toward the door behind her with a smile, then turned to the next people to approach. Feeling as if they'd dismissed, Alex took Louise's hand and the pair went inside. The difference was immediate; despite having three sets of double-doors open to the outside, the air inside was crisp and cool, like entering a walk-in refrigerator. A tall, thin young man behind the counter greeted them. "How may I help you today?"
On Wall Street today, the news is grim for Oscorp. The munitions giant recently reported record-losses in its hard currency reserves that might drive the corporation into bankruptcy. Dennis Harding, a spokesman for the company, explained today that stock prices had been dropping the last two periods, but that there was no way for anyone at the company to foresee the sudden and unexplainable loss of nearly six billion dollars in corporate value.
On the heels of that story is news that Oscorp founder and Chief Executive Officer Norman Osborn has disappeared. Family members and friends have told us here at Fox News that the business giant, who most recently had been working to assist President Bush with the problem of unregistered super-humans, vanished while on the way home after a late-night meeting with the President and Vice-President last Monday night. Company representatives had consistently denied the rumors that the executive has fled the country in fear of embezzlement charges.
In other news, there has been a report of a break-in at the secure holding facility at the Port of Los Angeles. Several armed men reportedly stormed the facility. Two guards were killed during the attack, and six people were injured, including four dock workers. One of the witnesses said that the men were armed with automatic weapons and were, quote, 'Dressed like they were part of a SWAT team,' unquote. The FBI and the Coast Guard have begun an in-depth investigation.
When we come back, the story of a woman who narrowly escaped death when a hatchet, of all things, came flying through her car windshield, right after the commercial break. I'm Jerome Keyes, you're watching Fox 18 News.
After the fifth time they were asked whether or not they were their with their husbands, Louise pulled Alex into a huge shop, called the Emporium. "Trust me, I've seen these before and we're buying them. We just need to locate them." 'Them' turned out to be a pair of mouse-eared hats. Louise's hat was white, and decorated to look like a bridal dress. It even had a tiny veil. Alex's hat was made up to look like a tuxedo, and included a miniature top hat.
"You seriously want me to wear this?" Alex looked at the thing from all angles. In her opinion, it wasn't getting any less tacky.
"Look, I know its sort of childish, but I'm getting tired of explaining. So for me, would you, please?" Louise leaned in and gave Alex a quick peck on the lips.
Alex rolled her eyes, but complied. "Fine. Anything else you think we need while we're here?" She looked around for a moment. "That register isn't as busy."
"Yep." On the way to the indicated checkout, Louise stopped at a rotating stand. "Pins for trading, and a lanyard. One for each of us." She grabbed two packages and handed them to Alex. "What do you like for your lanyard? I'm thinking something with the princesses, 'cause I'm the girly one."
Alex stuck her tongue out at her partner. "Right. You're girly all right." The label read 'Disney Pin Trading Starter Set'. "Hey, this says each of these comes with a lanyard. Why do we need more than one lanyard?"
"The lanyards in those starter sets are sort of like the pins. They're cheesy and suck and get replaced as fast as we can replace them. Here, try this one." Louise handed Alex a cloth strap that was fastened on one end with a plastic buckle, and ended with a heavy medallion on a metal clasp. In this case, the medallion was the Pirates of the Caribbean film logo. The lanyard was similarly festooned with the skull and crossbones.
"Oh, I want this one bad!" Pirates had become Alex's favorite movie almost as soon as she saw it.
"You're such a geek. I married a geek, I swear to God." Louise found the princess lanyard she was looking for. "Come on, let's pay for this. Oh! And then let's go across the street!" Louise pointed out the open door.
"What's on the other side of the street?" Alex was digging into her purse for some cash.
"You're going to take me through every single shop and store this place has, aren't you?" Alex wasn't really as annoyed as she sounded. She thought it was all pretty cool. And as Louise said, she was a consummate geek. She turned her attention back to the register clerk, whose name apparently was Barbara.
"Good morning! Is this going to be all?" Barbara began ringing up their purchases. She glanced at their buttons, then at the hats, and nodded without saying anything. After having every Disney employee greet them with a 'congratulations', Barbara's reaction was interesting. Still thinking about it, Alex almost missed Barbara's question.
The clerk was holding out Alex's change. "That's all right. I asked if you wanted to wear your hats and lanyards out of the store? I'll leave them out of the bag if..."
"Oh, yeah, I guess so. Thanks."
"My pleasure. Have a great day!"
Shortly thereafter, bedecked with their 'Just Married Mouse Ears' and their pin lanyards, they directed themselves toward the candy shop. Alex could smell the cooking sugar from across the street.
This place is fantastic! I am so glad Louise suggested this as our honeymoon!
"... after the meeting with President Yudhoyono in the oval office."
Scott McClellan, the White House Press Secretary, shuffled his note cards for a moment before looking up at the assembled White House press corps. The action was hidden by the podium at which he was standing, but he knew the reporters were wise. Most of them were on their third or fourth Press Secretary and had long learned that when the person at the podium stared at it for a minute and their shoulders flexed, the note-cards were being shuffled. It told them that some important announcement was being moved down in priority, while a lesser announcement was suddenly being moved up.
"So, let me open it up to questions." At that announcement, several reporters started shouting.
McClellan ignored the noise and pointed. "Sam?"
The reporter from CNN remained standing while everyone else sat back down. "Yes, Scott, is there any official comment from the White House on the disappearance of Norman Osborne?"
"Only that we hope he hasn't been victim of some accident." Internally, McClellan smirked. This was going right where he needed it to go.
"A follow-up?" At McClellan's nod, the same reporter continued. "What about rumors that the Justice Department is opening an in-depth investigation into Norman Osborne and the actions he took while working for the Department of Homeland Security?"
"It is my understanding that such an investigation has begun." McClellan was actually keeping his poker face in place.
Another reporter, the one from MSNBC, piped up. "So is there any truth to the rumor that the President demanded Osborn's resignation before he disappeared?"
"There is no truth to that rumor, no. The President has not requested that Mr. Osborn resign, and as far as this administration is concerned, the man still has a job here. Though that may change, pending the results of the investigation."
"How about the rumor that Osborn fled the country just ahead of an arrest warrant charging him with the embezzlement of the money Oscorp now claims it has lost precipitously?" The reporter from the Washington Post asked.
"I cannot comment on an ongoing investigation." McClellan again smirked internally. That was a nice non-answer answer that would lead people to make appropriate if inaccurate conclusions.
"So there is an investigation into these rumors?"
"I cannot comment on that, Joe. I've already said that." Everyone quieted down as they all wrote in their notebooks.
"Scott, what can you tell us about the situation with Karen Starr?" MSNBC asked.
"In the last week, the president has met in closed discussion with the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney-General over Ms. Starr's case." McClellan cleared his throat." "A special prosecutor is investigating how Homeland Security mishandled her case, and is looking into allegations that her civil rights were violated."
"Are SHIELD and the FBI still pursuing her, Scott?" The reporter from Fox News, who had basically been painting the Starr girl as the new Osama bin Ladin up until the blow-up south of San Francisco led to revelations of how she'd been mistreated, tossed in. He really didn't care about the answer; he was planning on continuing the "teen super-terrorist" angle, but he felt he should participate in the press conference at least once.
"While technically there are still warrants out for Ms. Starr's arrest, they have been stayed by order of Judge Marsha Friedrich, who is on the Federal Appeals Court for the Ninth Circuit." McClellan shuffled his cards again, just to keep his hands busy. "Until such time as a conclusion has been reached regarding Homeland Security's treatment of her, no Federal law enforcement agency is actively pursuing Karen Starr."
McClellan took a deep breath and pointed to the reporter from the Washington Times. The newspaper, whose ultra-conservative mandate came from its owner, the Christian cult-leader Sun Myung Moon, could always be counted on when the Bush administration needed someone to ask the questions they needed asking. "Mr. McClellan, is there any truth to the rumor that the government's pursuit of Karen Starr was part of a personal vendetta against Ms. Starr on the part of Normal Osborn?"
"I cannot comment on an ongoing investigation, naturally, but I can say that, according to some personal papers, apparently Mr. Osborn did harbor some animosity toward Ms. Starr."
That caught everyone's attention. MSNBC shouted, "What would be the source of this animosity?"
McClellan shrugged. His work was done. "I have no idea."
"In the tikki tikki tikki tikki tikki-room, in the tikki tikki tikki tikki tikki-room, dah dah dah deh dah deh dee dah dah doo, in the tikki tikki tikki tikki tikki-room!" Alex danced around Louise while singing. All Louise could do was watch her. "Hey, I got an idea! Let's go again, that was fun!"
"Oh sure. We go back in there, you're going to be singing that song all the way until we get off of 'Small World,' and then you'll be singing that song." Louise chuckled. "I've got a better idea. Jungle Cruise."
"You're no fun." Alex pulled Louise in close and gave her a kiss on the back of her neck. "What about this tree-house thing? Isn't it next?"
"Bite your face! You might have super-endurance-powers but me, I get tired. I've got no interest in walking up and down stairs to see a diorama."
Alex stopped and looked at the tree, her head cocked to the side. "Really? That's all it is?"
"Yeah. Boring, huh?"
Alex continued staring while Louise walked toward the boat ride. "Whose idea was it that stairs and a diorama would be fun?" Noticing she was all alone, she hurried after her partner.
Tony Stark used his remote to turn the television off. He sat there in silence for a moment, ignoring the other person in the room.
Finally, he said, "I've got to hand it to McClellan. He's a master." Tony Stark turned in his chair to take in Henry Peter Gyrich. The two of them were in Tony's office, watching the press conference. "I especially love how he implied that it was Norman Osborn's fault that the government overstepped their bounds when it came to the Starr girl."
"Osborn is convenient. He's a nutball and everyone knows it, and we can pin whatever we want on him." Gyrich shrugged. "Better than having the public doubt the Registration Act."
"Should I assume that you haven't actually let up on your pursuit of the girl, then?"
Again, Gyrich shrugged. "We're keeping an eye out, but at the present moment, that's about all we can do. Most of your team is out injured, and SHIELD is down several dozen agents. And as you've repeatedly pointed out, we might not have the resources necessary to control her. My people have been discussing out-of-the-box ideas, and some of them might actually work. None of them are very legal, mind you, and some of them are truly despicable..."
Stark face-palmed. "How are you defining truly despicable."
"Don't worry about it."
"When it comes to you, Henry, I always worry." Stark leaned forward in his chair. "Look, she's just a kid. Leave her alone and let her be a kid. I doubt she's a threat to anyone."
"Sure. That's what we used to think about the New Warriors, up until the moment they blew up a town in Connecticut." Gyrich folded his hands together, the perfect picture of uncaring righteousness. "We're going to bring that girl under our control because by existing at all she's a danger to everyone on the planet."
"Right. Henry, tell me, are you expending as much energy on figuring out a way to bring the Silver Surfer or Doctor Strange to heel as you are Karen Starr?"
Gyrich seemed to smirk. "Of course we are." Gyrich looked at his watch and stood. "I've got to catch a connecting flight back to DC. So, as fascinating as this little talk has been, Mr. Stark, I really must be leaving."
Tony Stark nodded. As soon as he knew for sure that Gyrich was out of his office, Stark pulled the cell-phone from his pocket and punched in some numbers.
"Happy, are you still trailing them?"
"Yep. Right now their feeding each other bites of a caramel apple. It's adorable. Makes me remember being that young."
"We need to send them a message. Warn then that they're not as in the clear as they think they are." Stark leaned back and put his feet up on the desk. "But we need to do it in a way that doesn't panic them, you know?"
"I hate that guy. He's such a prick. Okay, I have an idea. You got any specific wording or just want me to warn them?"
Tony thought about it for a while. "Tell you what... just let them know that they need to be careful and keep their heads down. I'd hate to see Gyrich Guantanamo the two of them, you know?"
"Yeah, well, maybe you should have thought of that before you started tossing people into Reed Richards space prison without a trial."
"Hey, now wait a damned -"
"I'm just saying. You really don't have a lot of room to complain about someone else doing it to the girls when you've done it to dozens of people."
"It is necessary for public safety to -"
"Sure. That sort of thing always is. I'll send your message. Do you want me to sign it for you, or is this an anonymous gift?"
Stark sighed. He wasn't sure he liked the way the conversation had been going, and was glad his friend was letting him off the hook. "Use your best judgment, Happy. I trust you."
"Good to know. Talk to you later."
Stark sat there, looking at his darkened television. "What the hell am I doing?" he asked the air. There was no answer, naturally.
"Your attention, please. We do not allow cutting in line here at the world-famous Jungle Cruise. Anyone caught with a pair of scissors will be asked to leave."
As jokes go, Alex thought to herself, that one wasn't all that bad.
She'd been offhandedly listening to the comedy routine coming from the loudspeakers. The jokes, along with strategically placed props, fans, and the occasional mister kept people in the line from rebelling and scalping the employees. "I'm beginning to think that Disney employees are experts at moving people around quickly." Alex smiled at the little girl in line ahead of them. She got a wave in return.
"They're called cast members, not employees." Louise looked up from the park map. "And how do you mean?"
"Well, according to my watch, we've been in line for about 10 minutes. Has it felt like ten minutes? I mean, we're almost to the boat already."
The voice over the loudspeaker sounded. "Ladies and gentlemen, your attention, please. Would the party that lost the roll of fifty $20.00 bills, wrapped in a red rubber band please report to the turnstile ... we have good news for you." Louise and Alex looked at each other, grinned, and along with the voice completed the joke. "We found your rubber band."
They eventually loaded into the boat. Even the guy driving the boat was a comedian. "Come all the way to the front- up by me, folks!" He said over the boat's internal PA system. "Trust me, there's no truth to the rumor that you get a longer ride in back. That's it. That's it. That's the way. Slide all the way forward now... slide forward... Good. That's the only way we have of keeping the cushions clean!"
Alex groaned and put her head together with Louise. "Is this going to go on for the rest of the ride?"
"Oh, absolutely. Isn't it great?"
"Just as a note for you people in the back seats, there's no dancing in the back there, folks... no dancing... you will have to be seated throughout our cruise. Dancing is only allowed on the promenade deck."
They began pulling away from the dock, and Alex gave Louise's hand a squeeze.
"Well folks, welcome aboard the S.S. Leaki Tiki. My name is Allen and I'll be your captain – unless we run into trouble, that is, in which case your new captain will be taking over. I'd like to take a moment to introduce our emergency back up Captain... " The captain pointed toward a middle-aged woman whose sunburned face matched her red shirt. "Sorry... What did you say your name was?"
Henry Peter Gyrich leaned down and pulled a Doctor Pepper from the office refrigerator he kept behind his desk. It wasn't strictly a part of his doctor-ordered diet, but he couldn't resist the taste of the soda. Never could, really, not since he was a boy. His grandfather used to take him on long walks, and inevitably they'd stop at the neighborhood grocers and share a bottle of the soda. Nearly sixty years later, it still brought back pleasant memories.
He had just finished pouring the liquid into a glass with ice when his computer bleeped. He tapped a few buttons and a face appeared on the monitor. "Ah, good to see you again, Ms. Walker."
Mary Walker, called Mutant Zero by her colleagues at the Initiative and formerly known as Typhoid Mary, bounty hunter and assassin, nodded at Gyrich through the webcam. "You wanted to talk to me, sir?"
"I have a task for you. It's not going to be easy, but I think it might be right up your alley." Gyrich clicked some links on his computer and a picture appeared on the screen next to the livestream call.
Walker studied it. "Isn't that Karen Starr?"
"It is indeed. I want you to find this person. I want you to capture her and bring her in for processing."
"Wasn't Norman Osborn run out of Washington with an arrest warrant behind him for messing with this girl? I thought the president said hands off." Walker was still studying the file.
"Yes, well." Gyrich shrugged. It was a fair enough question. "Let's say that what the president orders in private is sometimes different from what the president says in public and leave it at that. The president wants this young woman brought in."
"Starr brought down the Avengers and a truck-load of SHIELD agents. What makes you think I'm not going to get my own ass handed to me on a plate?" Walker shuddered. "I'm not looking to get my head torn off my shoulders."
"Because, Ms. Walker, I expect you to be subtle. You're a precision instrument and they are blunt axes." At Walker's continued look of disbelief, Gyrich continued. "Plus, I think the nature of your abilities might give you an edge."
"The nature of my abilities? How do you mean?"
"Karen Starr is a physically dominant specimen, its true. But so far we've not seen her deal with someone whose powers are, shall we say, more cerebral."
Walker was silent for a while, then nodded. "Okay, but I expect hazard pay for this."
"You'll get it."
"And do we have any idea where she is?"
"As a matter of fact, we do. The first voice you're about to hear is that of Harold Hogan. He's a trained boxer and investigator, and works occasionally as a trouble-shooter for Tony Stark, doing personal errands that Stark can't trust to anyone else. In this case, Stark wanted Hogan to track down Starr. We weren't able to decrypt all of the call, but we got some of it. The second voice is Stark himself." Gyrich pushed a few buttons on is keyboard, and suddenly an electronically recorded voice sounded across the link.
"There at the happiest place on Earth, Tony. Celebrating their – the recording dropped into indistinct static and electronic whines – … ng hands and being all shy when they kiss. Its pretty cute."
"Disneyland? They're going to Disneyland?"
"Yep. – again there was nothing but static – Which reminds me. I'm going to be – the message drops into static and does not recover.
"All right. It'll take me about four hours to get to Anaheim. Hopefully I'll be able to pick up their trail once I'm there." Walker nodded.
"Good. Call me when the mission is done." Gyrich closed the connection. He pulled a notepad from a pocket and crossed off an item from his to-do list.
Alex leaned in and hugged Louise to her. They held their heads together, both grinning and happy as they watched a Disney cast member named Andy fiddle with an expensive-looking camera on a stand. Andy was giving the two girls directions and waving his hands a lot while he lined them up for the perfect photograph. Behind them was Sleeping Beauty's Castle.
"Okay, get closer. Smile big." He lifted his head from the viewfinder. "Wave to the camera, and... there. Let me get one more... perfect!" Alex and Louise relaxed. Andy dug a white card out of his fanny pack and held it in front of a notebook computer, then handed it to Louise. "You can pick those up at the camera shop in Main Street square. And if you want someone else like me to take your picture, just hand them that card and it'll be added to the database automatically."
"Thanks, Andy!" Louise gave Alex another hug.
To recount today's top story, several local charity organizations are reporting anonymous cash donations being received over the past seventy-two hours. Roving reporter Todd Brushwood is on the scene at the Saint Bridget's Convent in downtown Los Angeles, where the sisters there apparently found a gym bag filled with hundred dollar bills on their stoop this morning. Todd...
"AH!" Alex yelled in shock. She put a hand over her mouth. "Oh... golly..."
Louise put her mouth right next to Alex's ear and whispered, "Oh come on, ya big scaredy cat! Calm down! Its not that scary." They were sharing a Doom Buggy in the Haunted Mansion, taking advantage of the darkness to sit as close as possible and engage in some elicit necking. At least that was the plan. Alex was finding it difficult to concentrate.
Alex blushed, embarrassed and slightly annoyed that Louise was laughing at her. She gave her partner's thigh a quick squeeze and whispered back, "Its not the ghosts. Its when those shrieky things jump out at us all of a sudden."
It did nothing to keep Louise from laughing. "I thought you could see in the dark, and see through walls and such. Can't you see the scares coming?"
Alex stared at her, a look of mild outrage on her face. "What? No... that's cheating!" She was thrown off guard as the car abruptly turned around backward and leaned. Louise took advantage of the imbalance by 'steadying herself' by putting a hand on the nearest of Alex's breasts.
"Getting comfortable, are we?" Alex grinned at Louise as the car righted itself. She looked at her partner's hand, still sitting where it was on her left breast. Louise didn't even attempt to hide the grin. "You've got until the end of the ride to move that. Before someone sees what you're doing."
"Oh, I'm sure someone's already seen. They've got cameras everywhere, watching to make sure no one gets out of the car." Louise's grin got wider.
Alex abruptly whipped her head around, keying her vision to penetrate the darkness. She spotted four different cameras pointed in their general direction just within the nearest twenty feet. As gently, but at the same time as swiftly, as she could she grabbed Louise's hand and pulled it away.
"You're no fun." Louise began to pout. Alex couldn't tell if it was serious or not.
"I'm just not into giving people a show, baby. Save it for when we've got some privacy, okay? Please? I mean, I don't mind kissing and all, but ease up on the groping."
"Fine." Alex winced. Now she was getting huffy. "Louise, please don't make a thing out of this. I'm just not as... as..." Alex searched for the right word.
"As big a slut?"
"What? No. I'm just, you know, shy about it. Sex, I mean. I don't want to be watched. I mean, other than you." Alex blushed.
"Okay. I get it. No free shows for the public. Let's finish the ride." Alex was gratified that Louise leaned in and hugged her despite being annoyed.
They were quiet for a while. Louise wasn't looking at Alex anymore, but didn't seem to be noticing the end of the ride. As they were leaving the Haunted Mansion, Alex grabbed Louise's hand and gave it a squeeze. "Love you, you know."
Louise smiled, but it was limited somehow. "Love you too. I worry sometimes that you're going to suddenly remember what I used to do for a living and decide that you can't stand me."
"Well, that's not going to happen." Alex put herself in front of Louise. "Here, hop on." She caught Louise as the other girl jumped up on her back. "Besides, I've got a lot more to worry about. Technically, I'm not even human, remember? Strange visitor from another planet and all that?"
"Oh, please..." Louise giggled. The sound of it made Alex feel better. "You forget, I've seen you bare-assed. You might have been born on another planet, but you're as human as any other Playboy magazine centerfold."
"I'll have you know there's some important physiological and anatomical differences between Kryptonians and Humans." Alex feigned offense. "Very important differences indeed!"
"Yeah? Name one."
"Uh..." Alex hurriedly searched Kara's memories. "Oh! No appendix. Kryptonians don't have an appendix."
"Really? An appendix? That's it?" Louise was chortling at this. "Wow... I'm married to a monster from outer space, cleverly disguised as a human by pretending to have an appendix."
"Don't tease." Alex bounced Louise for a moment, getting a better grip. "I'll have you know that our hearts are also on the other side of our bodies, and humans have one more set of molars than we do."
"I think I read somewhere about the heart thing happening naturally in a small percentage of people."
Alex just smiled. "So, what next?"
"Critter Country. Let's hit Splash Mountain. And then lunch. I'm getting hungry." Louise kissed Alex on the side of the next. "Onward my faithful steed! Hi-yo Silver, away!"
Alex made a horsey noise and skipped down the path, all the while avoiding slamming into other people. They turned the corner into Critter Country, only to come to a complete stop.
"Wow... that's some line." Alex looked at the advertised line. 75 minute wait on standby, 30 minute wait with fast-passes. Splash Mountain was beginning to look like a slog. "So... uh, we got any idea what time it is?"
Louise held her wrist out in front of Alex's face. "About twenty after twelve. You want to just skip directly to lunch?"
"I guess so. We should have thought about fast-passes."
"Probably. So... what do you want to eat?" Louise asked. "If I remember correctly there's some great barbecue over near the roller coaster."
"There's a barbecue roller coaster? I'm so there!"
"Sister Mary Rose! Sister Mary Rose!"
"Calm down, Alma. There's no need for you to be bouncing around like a pekingese puppy. Take a deep breath and tell me what you need to say." Sister Mary Rose carefully pruned another dead stalk from the rose bush as she looked over her spectacles at the convent's youngest initiate. The bush was a violet Elizabethan rose, a gift from a woman who was now wealthy and influential but who had once been a terrified street kid. The blossoms were much simpler than the common roses, but the simplicity suited Rose's nature. It stood alone in the center of the convent's back yard, surrounded by the vegetables the nuns grew to feed themselves.
The bush was also the personal domain of the head of the convent. The other nuns could look, but they knew better than to touch.
"Sorry, Sister. Sister Mary Clarence is in your office. She says you have to come see what got left on the stoop last night!" Mary Rose sighed. The young nun was devout, and studious, but she had too much energy for one person.
"All right, give me a moment." The elder nun climbed to her feet with the slow grace that being in your seventies and maintaining your health gives you. She took the gardening gloves off and tucked them into her belt, and dusted herself off. Satisfied she wasn't going to track dirt into the areas that she knew other initiates were cleaning, she headed for her office.
When she got there she was greeted by the sight of three of her more senior nuns, Sister Mary Clarence, Sister Mary Patrick, and Sister Mary Robert, clustered around her desk with their heads together.
"Harum-hmmm" Mary Rose cleared her throat, causing the other nuns to separate enough for Rose to see the athletic bag. "What's all this."
Mary Clarence grinned at her. "You're not going to believe this at all. It was left on the stoop. Mary Lazarus found it when she went out to sweep. Take a look."
Mary Rose leaned over the bag and opened it. She blinked, looked at the other nuns, and blinked again. Then she turned her attention back to the bag.
"Who... who..." It occurred to her that she was doing a fair impression of an owl. "What..."
It was too much. With no warning, Sister Mary Rose fainted. Mary Robert caught her before she could collapse across the gym bag, which had been stuffed full of hundred dollar bills.
"So Fantasyland is where they keep the kiddie-rides?" Alex looked askance at the Circus Train. "I mean, kiddie rides are cool and all, but I'm more of a roller coaster-fun house type of person."
"Aw, come on. Some of these are fun." Louise tugged on Alex's hand. "You'll see. I mean, look... Dumbo?"
"Riding around in circles in a car shaped like an elephant? Pass."
"Okay, how about the Carousel." Louise said. "I know, its still just going around in circles, but its a classic. And I want to see you on a wooden horse."
"There's a dirty joke in there, you know." Alex smirked. They both glanced at a nearby man who'd fallen into a coughing fit. Alex turned to him in concern. "You okay, sir?"
"Yeah, sure, no problem. Soda..." the man held up a drink cup. "Went down the wrong pipe. But thanks for asking. The man vanished into the crowd.
"Glad he's okay. Now what did you mean about..." It obviously took a moment for it to click with Louise, but when she did, she blushed. "Gutter mind. And where did Sweet Polly Purebread hear about riding wooden horses? Hmm?"
It was Alex's turn to blush. "Let's just say that some of Kara's tastes in, uh, personal interaction weren't as vanilla as you might think."
"Really? We're going to have to explore that aspect of your memories, baby." Louise looked at the map of the park. "Okay, so we do the carousel and then we can do the Mad Tea Party after. You'll like that; you can watch me get so motion-sick I puke!"
"Oh, I'm for that!" Alex sniffed, suddenly. "What is that I'm smelling?"
"No idea. Good smell, bad smell?"
"Good smell. Smells like roses." Alex sniffed again. "Wonder where that's coming from."
"Anyway, as I was saying, if you'll ride the carousel with me, we'll do the Tea Party, then Pinocchio's and Mister Toad's. Then we'll do Small World and the Matterhorn. Maybe head to Toon Town and do the roller coaster there."
"Sure. Sounds good. Let's go ride the wooden horse." Alex couldn't stop joking about it, but the thought of it made her blush every time.
"What do you mean, its all gone?" Norman Osborn screamed into the phone. "I want you to explain to me how a forty ton shipping container gets hijacked out of the secure yard, taken to the parking lot of some abandoned greaser shit-hole, and then cleaned out without someone noticing the fucking crane needed to load the crate onto the fucking semi-truck needed to haul it away! Explain that to me, Desmond."
"I got no answer for you, Mr. Osborn. I'm just telling you what I know."
Osborn forced himself to start breathing normally. There was no point in screaming at Desmond Arsuba. He paused in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows of his suite, and took in the site of city. Dubai at night was a beautiful place, especially when seen from the penthouse suite of the Burj al-Arab. They didn't call it the most luxurious hotel in the world for nothing. "Did anyone sweep the container for prints?"
"All kinds of prints. Many on the inside. So far we've eliminated most of the bonded dock-workers who were on shift that night, and couldn't have left with the crate."
"Good. Just in case the people who robbed me left their fingerprints on my cargo container, do me the courtesy of removing everyone you can identify." For emphasis, Norman added, "Just in case."
"I'll get a team on it."
"You do that, Desmond. And while you're at it, find me a replacement for the car, the computer, and the big screen television. The money I'll call a loss; wasn't my money anyway, so its not like its coming out of my pocket. But I want my toys." A sudden thought occurred to Osborn. "Oh, and Desmond? Look at the super-human angle. I can name at least four super-human criminals who could have toted that crate right out the front gate with it slung across their shoulders. If one of the merry men took my container, I want to be able to express my great displeasure to them personally."
"No problem, Mr. Osborn."
Alex hugged Louise. "I love my wife. She takes me to all the neatest places!"
Louise hugged her back, but had a funny look on her face. "You want to go back to Space Mountain, don't you? Alex, you rode the thing five times already."
"Not necessarily." Alex's face was perfectly deadpan. "Can't I hug the love of my life and let her know how precious she is to me without having an agenda?"
"Yes, you can. But are you doing it right now?"
"Hey, want another piggy-back ride?" Alex turned around to let Louise jump on. Louise sighed, rolled her eyes, and did as was asked.
"Okay, Silver, so where is the Lone Ranger off to now?" Louise kissed Alex on the ear and lay her head on her wife's shoulder.
Alex stopped joking around. "You okay?"
"Just a little tired, is all." Louise snuggled in and closed her eyes.
"You want to go back to the hotel room?" Alex checked her watch. "We got about four hours until dinner. We can go back to our hotel room, take a quick nap, get cleaned up, change into some good clothes, and make it to our reservation. That sound okay?" She felt Louise nod slightly. The sight of Louise's face relaxing into sleep made Alex smile. "Okay, hon, I'll take us back to our room. You just hold on."
Happy Hogan almost choked on his ice cream when he heard the 'wooden horse' joke. And they looked like such sweet kids. He thought his cover was blown when Alex Harris spoke to him. "You okay, sir?"
"Yeah, sure, no problem." He desperately searched for an explanation. Right. Got it. He held up the near-empty soda cup he'd purchased to help his cover. "Soda went down the wrong pipe. But thanks for asking." He made a swift getaway, moving to the other side of the carousel but trying to keep them in his eye-line.
It might be time to drop active surveillance. Happy knew where they were going to be later, after all. When the pair had made their dinner reservation, Happy had been right alongside them, setting up a reservation for him, his wife, and their two kids. It was a decent enough cover story and he paid enough attention to the two girls to know they were having dinner at the Napa Rose at 6 pm. They'd most likely return to their hotel room before going to the restaurant.
So he had a plan. He's meet them at the Napa Rose, and deliver the message.
Author's Note: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the property of Warner Brothers in conjunction with Mutant Enemy Productions. The Marvel Universe is the property of the Walt Disney Company. Power Girl is the property of DC Comics, which itself is the property of Warner Brothers. Sister Act is the property of Touchstone Pictures in conjunction with Buena Vista Pictures, which are both divisions of the Walt Disney Company.
Author's Note the Second: Again, for those confused by the update before this one, all I did was add a new chapter three. Sorry for the confusion.
Author's Note the Third: I continue to have trouble with transitional chapters. Future chapters will feature some more fight scenes, a chance for Alex to really let loose, a meeting with a powerful wizard, and Magneto. I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to it.