Remy received a new cell phone from New Orleans with ten thousand pre-paid minutes. When he ran out or after three weeks, whichever came first, he threw the phone into a dumpster. They must have some sort of tracking device on it because he'd never been able to recover a phone once he dumped it. He tried, out of curiosity, to trace one of his phones. He got assigned to an accounting gig for a month.
Most of the time it was great. One call to base and he had access to every Guild in the world, completely free of charge. Well, free in terms of money. Remy had a feeling he was going to have to steal the freakin' Pieta to cover the number of favours he was pulling.
At the moment, he was wrangling a deal with a lady named Spat from the New York territory, a fellow Left. As high-ranking thieves and cons, Lefts were so much better to deal with than Rights, who managed money laundering. Rights had a tendency to look at the bank account before everything else, curtailing their creative part of larceny.
"You're asking me to peep into the vacuum brigade for, what? A couple lousy pieces of Venetian glass?" Spat scoffed. "I thought Gambit was supposed to be a high roller."
"High rolling doesn't equal stupidity," said Remy, automatically translating the code that made up Guild jargon. Venetian glass were coloured diamonds liberated from personal collections of the rich and ugly. Loose diamonds were called shards and those found in jewellery shops, just plain glass. Anything to do with a vacuum cleaner meant the FBI in reference to the J. Edgar Hoover building. "Glass is always good but things in the vacuum can end up being worthless."
"Glass I can buy around the corner."
"Not this kind." Remy licked his lips. "You checked your pad yet?"
Spat's palmtop beeped faintly in the background. He knew the minute she saw the specs on the diamonds. "Holy, ever-lovin', dick-chomping shit on a stick!"
Remy grinned. "Pretty, ain't it?"
"You're so shitting me. There's no way your scribble can grab this."
"I already have etchings in my room."
"Etchings, huh? I'll believe it when I see it," said Spat. "This'll take two people to shine. You got a partner?"
"Now if I tell you that, you won't be impressed," Remy said blithely. "So how about hooking me up with Ms. Manners, hein? We can six-two-two on the glass."
"Make it six-three-one and I'll guarantee it."
"In your dreams, Snugglepuss. I'm not deviating from the standard unless I see dirt from the vacuum."
"The vacuum's been real messy lately," Spat confessed reluctantly. "You know how it's like these days. They're all jumping at dust mites. If you can pass a cake, that might ease things a bit with Ms. Manners."
"Cakes I can bake. Just get me those dust bunnies," Remy said, already scanning his mental filing cabinet for an appropriate gift for the NYC Guildmaster. All the New England Guildmasters were called Ms. Manners by the rest of the world. Each territory had their own names for their Guildmasters, of course, but having a common name confused things a lot better for outsiders.
"All right," Spat finally said, "Let's do lunch at Starbucks."
Remy quickly checked his palmtop. Lunch at Starbucks meant nine at night at the safehouse in Manhattan. "I can do that. Just call me when you're ready."
Damn, now he had to find an offering. Guilds gave great pay-offs but sometimes the traditions drove him out of his mind. The offering would have to be representative not only of his skills but his promise not to interfere with territory business all tied up in verbal promises reaching up to the third generation. All these ties made Remy's throat clutch. As soon as he had Master status, he was giving over his tithe and going freelance.
Puttering around in the garage always helped him think. Remy got right back to his Ducati; the poor thing hadn't had a tune-up since he drove up to New York from New Orleans. He really needed the break after the whole mess that morning with Rogue in the closet and brawling with Scott and Alex. To think he almost broke a thousand-dollar antique with Alex's face.
He'd barely revealed the transmission for cleaning when Cyclops swung around the garage door. "Briefing in the meeting room in ten minutes," he said curtly.
Responding instinctively to his command, Remy straightened from his crouch and followed Cyclops' clipping pace back into the house. "Word on Adam?"
"Bobby and Jubilee, actually, in Ecuador. We pulled some strings with SHIELD and--" Cyclops paused, realizing his brother was no longer at his side. "What?"
"You musta pulled a right bargeload o' strings to get SHIELD hoppin' to your tune like that," said Remy.
"Great, the drunken drawl is back." Cyclops crossed his arms, unknowingly mirroring Remy's pose. "I don't have time for this. Are you coming or not?"
"Well, now I ain't sure I mentioned a smidge of trouble I got into last time I visited Ecuador. Something 'bout a brick or three of Incan hieroglyphics. Besides, I got me a sweet li'l bit of sugar in designer jeans a little later on tonight."
With a sigh, Cyclops said, "It figures. Fine. Stay here. Sleep your way through Manhattan. Have a great time."
"You know it."
As soon as Cyclops disappeared around the corner, Remy snarled at his bike. Picking up a rusted lugnut, he charged it as quickly as he could, feeling a pins-and-needles sensation behind his eyes and forehead as he did so. Then he tossed the nut as far into the lawn as he could. A branch snapped off a bordering evergreen as Remy's impromptu bomb exploded at the edge marking the wild pasture.
"Can't find the seven-eighths wrench?"
Remy spun around slowly upon hearing Rogue's voice. An idea caught hold of his head. "Couldn't find you, Stripes. We're going to have our first lesson."
"Why not? You got your running shoes and your exercise gear on. Let's go."
Rogue pulled at her yoga pants. "But the Danger Room--"
"Forget the Danger Room. We're going to be doing some real life practice." He held a helmet out. "You ever ride one of these?"
"Sorta," Rogue replied, taking the helmet as she tentatively approached the motorcycle.
"That like being a little bit buzzed." Remy winked. "Come on. Put that on, hop on up, and hold on, Sugarplum. We're going to Manhattan."
For the lack of anything else to do, Alex holed up with Hank McCoy in the medlab. Despite his brave words to Scott earlier that day, he didn't have enough money to get back to California. Milbury had given him a plane ticket and a firm warning to stay away from government types in bad suits and mafia types in good suits. Helping Hank screw around with his weird collar was fun anyway.
"Hold this, if you please, Alex." Hank placed a small syringe in his hand. Viscous pink liquid sloshed in its tube.
"It's pretty thick," said Alex. "Maybe it's a lubricant for the organic material."
"A distinct possibility," said Hank. "The solution bag is attached to the chip boards by connective tissue and the wiring seems to be grown nerve cells which would require submersion in an electrolytic solution to function. Ingenious, by the way. I still see a few metallic components but I can't be certain until I dismantle it completely. I am loathe to do so before we test what this contraption is."
"I thought you said it was a just simple electrical circuit," Alex said.
Hank straightened, fixing his glasses. "Yes, it is but with a few more fuss and furbelows around it. See these two pads?"
Obediently, Alex came over to examine them. No larger than his thumb they protruded from the collar on a length of covered wire an inch long. Behind the collar, the wires continued into the pink solution, its plastic cover melting into the solution bag with only a ring of reinforcement breaking the smoothness.
"Okay," said Alex, his forehead wrinkling. "If that's an electrical circuit, where's the battery?"
"This right here." Hank prodded a black tube swimming in the liquid.
"Okay, so that means those two prongs are there to complete the circuit."
"Exactly. However, even taking into account the possibility that these people are truly amoral, there are much simpler ways to electrocute someone."
His own research momentarily forgotten, Alex pulled up a stool. "What about the placement of the pads?"
"That would depend on the position in which one wears the collar," said Hank. Carefully, he snapped the two sides of the collar back together and placed it loosely around his neck. "If the buttons go in the back, the pads will go just under the mandible, likely affection the facial nerves. Unless we are speaking of a dentist more sadistic than that paranoid ex-Nazi in Marathon Man, this makes the collar inherently useless."
"And if the buttons are in the front?"
"Then it will send the shock at the third cervical vertebra--"
"-- into the brachial plexus definitely, the whole of the spine with enough energy. So again, this is essentially an overly complicated albeit very portable way of giving someone an electric shock." Then Hank sighed. "Of course, there's no way to test it."
Alex tapped his finger on the table. "Why don't you test it on me?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Test it on me," said Alex. "I've got nothing better to do and I haven't toked up in a while. Kidding," he quickly added when Hank's eyes narrowed. "Really, Hank, it'll be a change of pace. I've volunteered as a lab rat plenty of times in school. Just zap it on for one minute, record reactions, let me record mine and we're done."
"And this is only a hypothesis.," said Hank. "I'm really not comfortable testing it on a live subject until we run a few more tests on the voltages generated at any given time."
"I'm not afraid of a little electrical tickle," Alex said. "And I've played enough football to callus my brain so you don't have to worry about that. Are the batteries juiced?"
"Yes, I checked that as soon as I discovered their..." The doctor shook his head. "Scott would not approve."
"Scott is busy with school, Adam, Bobby, and Jubilee," Alex retorted swiftly. "Really, Hank, where else are you going to find a reference male to test this on?"
He could tell that Hank was quivering with curiosity. The doctor stroked the top of the collar like a beloved pet. Alex unleashed his final weapon.
"Very well," said Hank, almost hiding his glee. "After you sign a contract absolving me of all fault should you experience any adverse affects with an addendum preventing Scott from tap-dancing on my spleen."
Alex snorted. "Are you kidding me? Scott'll probably break out the champagne." Seeing Hank's discomfort, he added, "It's okay, I'm used to it. It'll be weirder if he started sobbing over my supine body or something."
"Surely, you exaggerate," said Hank as snapped on a fresh pair of gloves.
"Since I'm the only Summers who can actually take a beating, I don't mind." Alex lifted his chin to allow Hank to fit the collar around his neck.
Hank swabbed the back of Alex's neck with alcohol as well as the pads. The pads felt like two ice cubes. After Hank fixed them in place with some tape, Alex barely felt it at all. "So, which button do we want to play with?"
"Guinea pigs' choice," Hank said with a minute bow.
"Let's go with door number one, Bob." Releasing all the air in his lungs, Alex willed his body to relax in preparation for a shock.
Pressing the record button on his voice-recorder, Hank tapped on the first button. "You might feel a pinch when the collar is turned on," he warned.
The collar's two sides clicked open.
Alex peered down at the collar. "Well, that was anti-climactic."
After scribbling in his memo pad, Hank asked, "Shall we proceed to door number two?"
"By all means." Less wary now, Alex was not at all prepared for the jolt of electricity that fired from his neck. His breath caught and his vision blurred.
"Are you okay?" he heard Hank say as the last of the buzz faded.
"Yeah," Alex bit out. "That's... a bit of a rush."
"To the last button then."
To their disappointment, the last button appeared to be a dud.
"There must be something I'm missing," Hank muttered. "All this innovation just to deliver a shock?"
"Some people like their gadgets," said Alex, retreating back behind the computer. "I'm sure there are some S&M fans out there who'd love to get a piece of this. Kind of like space age S&M. Trekkie S&M."
He heard Hank mumbling to himself as the computer kicked on. Hank cleared his throat. "You have a lot of training in a research lab," he said when Alex looked up.
"Would you mind recording reactions while the collar is on me?"
Alex blinked. "Uh, why?"
"Call it a hunch."
He didn't know why he agreed. Call it his deep-set scientific curiosity. Alex's hands shook only slightly as he followed Hank's instructions. Hank's fur would undoubted skew the effect but he managed to clear a wide enough area of skin.
"Is it attached?" asked Hank.
He turned his voice recorder on. "All right, Alex. Press the third button."
"Dude, you are crazier than I am."
"So I've been told."
Crossing his fingers behind his back, Alex pressed the third button.
Hank's back stiffened. His mouth dropped open for air. Alex moved to press the button again but in his fit, Hank slapped him away rather harshly.
"Hey!" Alex yelped in reaction.
"Sorry," Hank gasped. "Whatever that was produced an epileptic fit, I think."
"But you're okay now?" asked Alex, still hovering warily.
"Other than a vague weakness, I'm fine," Hank answered cheerfully before his eyes rolled up and all three hundred pounds of him slumped to the floor.
Remy always thought riding on a motorcycle should be like glugging a two-four while riding a never-ending zipline wound around the world. Rogue's whoops coming through the helmet speakers told him that she felt the same.
"You're gonna yell my ear off, Peaches," he told her.
"Well, if you'd stop popping wheelies, I might not have to," she retorted, the built-in microphone making her voice slightly tinny. "Hey, did you know that those lines on the road actually separate the lanes?"
"You don't say."
"Yup. They're not bike lanes after all."
"Imagine that bit of cleverness coming from a bunch of Yankees."
Opening the throttle a nudge more, he popped down on his front wheel. Rogue smacked against his back, her hands flailing for purchase. He laced her fingers through his belt loop; she needed a secure hold but couldn't quite lock her fingers together. He didn't usually do tricks the first time riding with someone but Rogue seemed like the kind of person who'd appreciate what a tricked out Ducati Monster could do.
The bike roared past Harlem then deep into Midtown where Broadway's neon, paints, and LCD faded in the sticky August sun. Drivers and pedestrians alike threw expletives at them as they whipped around an obstacle course of cars, fire hydrants, curbs, and an occasional hot dog stand only veer into the cooler climes of Central Park. Remy skidded the bike into a parking space that most people would mistake for a crack in the sidewalk. He prided himself in seeing diamonds in the rough.
"You drive like a nutball," Rogue accused him as soon as the helmet went off. But she was smiling as she did it.
He took her helmet and locked it with his under the seat compartment. "One thing you gotta learn about parkour, Peaches: there ain't no such thing as boundaries. No such thing as walls, no such thing as barriers. No fences, gates, cliffs, alleys, paint lines, strings, ropes, or anything else that keeps you from where you want to be. And if anyone ever tells you any different, you know what you gotta do?"
"Flip 'em off and keep going?" answered Rogue.
Beaming, Remy said, "You're gonna be a star, Peaches. A sweaty one though. Get ready to run."
They ran around Central Park. They ran through Central Park. They ran out of Central Park, up and down the surrounding streets, wounding through suits, leather vests, more suits, a flock of miniskirts, and an odoriferous basketball jersey. Then when they'd run through the entire Eastside, Remy led her right back into Central Park and ran some more.
She finally threw in the towel as they passed by the cool shadows of Belvedere Castle. Remy U-turned a second later and jogged back to where she leaned against the wall, chest heaving like bellows.
"Ya think?" She bent over double, hoping air two feet from the ground would not be as humid and would, therefore, give her poor wrinkled lungs some relief. No such luck.
Remy slapped a hand between her damp shoulder blades. Rogue started but Remy kept his hand there for a few more seconds, letting her get used to his touch. "Walk it off, Sugarplum. You can have a sip after that."
She nodded. They walked into the castle gardens, sipping from insulated water bottles as they searched for a bench to commandeer.
"You know, there's a perfectly good track in the school," said Rogue.
"What fun is that?" asked Remy. "Besides, tracks make you all soft. You want to get running on different types of terrain for parkour."
"You still haven't explained what parkour is."
Again, Remy flashed his incorrigible smile. "Better I show you. Watch everything I do, Stripes. There's going to be a quiz later."
Being a Prime Left in the Guilds required a certain amount of cockiness but Remy would be the first one to admit that his one great failing as a Left was his love of the spotlight. He did best when he had an audience. Maybe it was because his pride was at stake. Hell, it just could be because he had a lot more of his mom in him than he cared to think about. The only time she was ever happy was when she was on stage; whether it had velvet curtains or a steel pole, it didn't matter to her.
Starting in a crouch, Remy sprang up to catch an oak branch seven feet from the ground. He swung up, jackknifed his legs and popped on top of the branch. From there, it was easy enough to hang from one branch to another, climbing higher and closer to the cloister walls with an alternating series of three-sixties, twists, and balancing tricks.
He went fancy on the switch from the tree to the wall: a vertical double twist on a cat leap. The wall knocked the air out of his lungs and his fingertips screamed at him but the chorus of "ooohs!" made it worthwhile. Remy frog-walked his feet up to the castle's curtain wall. Once he had a good sense of balance, he launched into half a dozen hand-flips, a couple hands-free ones, some cartwheels.
To dismount, he decided simplicity would be best. Again, crouching low to get as much power as possible in his legs, Remy leapt at a forty-five degree angle. The moment, his right foot took off, he knew it was going to be one of his highest jumps. He spread his arms wide, as though he were flying and at the climax of the jump, he arched down face first, his arms pointed over his head like a diver. He completed the flip at the last minute, landing on his legs then going into a shoulder roll immediately afterwards to take the force off his knees.
He got to his feet and bowed to Rogue who led the laughing and clapping audience. As the crowd came over to ask questions and give praise, he turned to her and said, "It's your turn, Peaches."
Rogue gaped. "What?"
He nodded at the wall. "You and me on that wall in two minutes."
"Don't I need ropes or harnesses or something?" She cuffed the ground. "A yoga mat at least to break my fall?"
Remy scoffed at the idea. "That stuff'll make you get sloppy. C'mon, Stripes. I won't let you fall, I promise." He held his hand out then, quickly realising the faux pas, turned the reach into a grab for her lightweight jogging shirt while he tugged at her white bangs with the other hand.
With a little more wheedling and a gelato bribe, Rogue soon faced the cloister's outer wall, a foot above ground by way of four very precarious outcroppings of stone. "If I fall, I'm suing for an automatic A."
"If you fall, you get a fail," said Remy. He placed a hand at the small of her back. "I'll be right behind you, Sugarplum. As soon as you get high enough, I'll start climbing, too."
She started off tentatively, sighting possible handholds before reaching for the wall. She had a good sense of technique: keeping her body close to the wall and choosing holds that would keep her centre of gravity controlled. As soon as Rogue's heels cleared three feet, Remy got on, making sure to cup his upper body around hers as a make-shift safety net. She stiffened just the tiniest bit, her shoulders bowing away from him even though she wore an elbow-length shirt.
"I'm gonna have to teach you to trust me a bit more," Remy said, half to himself. "What if we have to do another mission in close quarters?"
Grunting with exertion, it took Rogue a few seconds to reply. "What are you planning? A couple more broom closet incidents? Which, by the way, I hate you for. Do you know what it's like to get a sex-ed talk from Ms. Vardalos?"
"I was thinking dance lessons." At her puzzled expression, Remy elaborated, "Latin dancing. Parkour, salsa, a little aikido, practical securities-- I'm all about a well-rounded education."
Rogue laughed curtly. Or it might have been a snort.
They ascended slowly but steadily. A few times, Rogue swung her leg out instead of flagging it underneath her body, making her wobble a bit but Remy quickly corrected her when she looked like she was about to fall over. She caught onto that trick pretty quickly, too.
A foot from the top, Rogue came to a dead stop, pressing her face against the wall and breathing deeply. Her arms shivered with tension.
"Bet you're tired now, huh, Peaches?" Remy asked, a chuckle hidden in each syllable.
Rogue stiffened up her jaw. "You wish."
Grappling with the edge of the wall, Rogue found another foothold. Then a handhold three inches up. And another foothold. In another second, she was up and over the top, grinning to the sound of cheers. Remy swung up on a handstand beside her before collapsing down on his rear.
"You're a natural, Sugarplum."
Rogue grinned in all her teeth, swinging her legs on either side of her perch. The air wasn't as thick and hard to breathe up here. "Let's stay here a while before we go down."
Remy studied her face. Her cheeks were flushed from accomplishment and, if he looked a little closer, a touch of recklessness that was so necessary in his line of work. Christ, she was so... fresh. She reminded him of Saturday mornings, the ones where everyone crowded around the TV at the crack of dawn to watch cartoons and eat cereal out of the box or swimming in apple juice. With everyone either yelling at him or ordering him around, having Rogue looking up to him was real nice on the ego.
"Whenever you're ready, Stripes," he said, keeping the teasing smile on his face. "Last one down buys sloppy joes."