Osmium’s Corvette screamed across the city like a barely-tamed tiger with Susan clinging hopefully to the seat, not trusting to her harness given the Doctor’s erratic driving and devil-may-care approach to the rules of the road. She didn’t really want to distract him, but things were nagging at her.
“I still barely know anything about you.” She screamed over the guttural roar of the engine and the whipping of the wind about her face, streaming her hair out behind her.
“Do you really need to?” The Doc shouted back, turning left suddenly, throwing her body back and forth. One of his eyes was on the road and another on his lap where a map of the city and a business directory jostled for primacy.
“If I’m going to keep helping you, yes!” Susan yelled, leaning back to him and gripping onto his arm to hold herself steady.
“If?” The Doc turned and grinned to her, taking his eyes off the road and steaming past a parked car with barely an inch to spare. “I think you’re going to be with me a while, we can get to know each other after the mystery is solved. Alright?”
“Over dinner at the Lamb’s Grill Cafe?”
Susan’s mouth fell open. He still wasn’t paying attention to her questions but the tone of his voice. That was the first time he’d treated her as a woman, rather than a colleague or someone just along for the ride. Her mouth opened and closed several more times but he’s completely derailed her with a simple comment.
The Corvette screeched to a halt in a downtown side street, right in front of an old shop that had definitely seen better days. Without waiting the Doc scrambled out of the car and strode into the shop, the bell chiming and the door slamming shut before she’d even gotten out of her harness. Damned, impulse, great, galoot that he was. She slammed the door turning from surprised to annoyed on a dime before she followed him in.
The bell above the door chimed and she found herself surrounded by a wonderland of boardgames and old wooden toys. The kind of thing nobody gave a damn about any more, at least not the kids. The Doc was deep in conversation with the grey-haired owner at the counter, gesturing with the little plastic dominoes, so she took a little time to look around by herself.
There were boxes of finely crafted wooden bricks, imported sets of Mah-Jong, chess and chequers, there were puzzle boxes, play-chests, rocking horses and all manner of carved toys from nodding ducks to spinning tops. She was too young for much of this to mean much to her, but she ran her fingers over the smooth wood and admired what she saw, though her hands came away with a thin coating of dust. Business can’t have been good.
The old man shuffled into the back, disappearing from view, leaving the two of them alone in the store for the moment.
“So why are we here?” Susan asked, drifting up behind the Doc as he leant over the counter.
“Those weren’t just any dominoes. They might be cheap plastic, but they’re also old. You can tell by the yellowing. More modern plastics don’t age like that. Wherever they came from also had to be old and there aren’t that many places that can be selling old sets of dominoes can there? Not in a modern city like this. This seemed the most likely place and if our missing ‘friend’ is as clever as he seems to be then he would have anticipated that this would be the place I’d come to.”
Susan baulked. “So… the one who caused the crash and set the police on us… knows we’re here?”
“Or at least knew we would come here.”
“Is it safe?”
The Doc opened his mouth to answer but was interrupted by a sudden and terrific crash from the back of the store. Without pause he vaulted over the counter, Susan not far behind, as they rushed to find the old man.
There was a smell of smoke as the Doc smashed through the door into the back room. The room was lit by flickering orange light, no bulb, just a length of flex hanging from the ceiling. The old man had tumbled from a ladder, candle in hand and the dust and papers strewn about the floor had caught almost immediately. He lay, his leg twisted, close to the flames, a box of old, cheap, imported dominoes still clutched in his hand even as he writhed and twisted in pain.
The Doc gathered the old man up in his muscular arms as the flames leapt from shelf to shelf. Susan took off her jacket and tried to beat out the fire, but it was moving too fast. Sweating and blackened she tried to keep the flames away from Osmium and the old man, beating them back though they were spreading so damn fast, almost unnaturally fast.
The Doc stopped at the entrance, silhouetted by the flames that were already spreading through the front of the store and turned back to her. “You pick, which way out?” The old man was limp now in his arms and his face was a mask of frustration and annoyance.
Susan blinked, pausing a moment from her beating of the flames. The Doc was normally such a take charge guy and suddenly he wanted her advice? She shook her head, they couldn’t afford to think about it, to wait. “Out the back, less fuel for the fire there and the fire’s not going to be as hot.” The Doc nodded and let her lead the way, beating out the patches of fire spreading across the walls as they scrambled for the back door.
It was locked, she put her shoulder to it and then gave it a kick but didn’t have the strength. “Doc!” She cried. He was their only chance and she’d seen how strong he was. Without even putting the old man down the Doc slammed his foot into the door, propelling it off its hinges and out into the street, smoke sucked out with it as they emerged, coughing, into the light.
They lay the old man down, Susan’s scorched jacket as his pillow. The Doc prised the scorched domino set from his hands while Susan checked him over. “His leg’s broken, at his age…”
“The paramedics can deal with him.” The Doc showed little compassion, tearing open the domino box and dumping the little pieces onto the ground with a clatter, triumphantly hauling out a folded pamphlet hidden behind the pieces.
“What? You didn’t know how to play before?” Susan looked up angrily from the injured man and waved to the paramedics and firemen that were running into view. “This man’s hurt!”
The Doc thrust the pamphlet into her face, it wasn’t instruction, it was a flyer for the Utah Museum of Natural History. “He’s one man and he isn’t dead. Whoever is behind all this has killed at least once, hurt this man and put both of us in mortal danger. They’re a danger to far more people than one old shopkeeper. The greater good must prevail.” He actually sounded irritated and she couldn’t argue with his logic when it came to it, but she could argue with his lack of compassion.
“Every single person is valuable. That shouldn’t have been in that box sure, but why do you think this is part of this master mind’s scheme? If there even is a master mind.”
Osmium tore open the leaflet and stabbed one gloved finger down at the page. “There’s a display about genetics. I believe that’s where we need to be, after closing.”
“How can you know that?” Susan moved away, leaving the paramedics to deal with the old man, the firemen starting to do their work as she and the Doc began to pace back around the burning building, back to the car, which was in the way of the fire department.
“Because,” the Doc said with a sigh as they clambered back into the Corvette. “I think this whole thing is about me somehow.”
Susan snorted at his ego and arrogance.
“About you? It might be about me for all you know.”
“No, I’m not normal Susan. My parents were scientists. Far ahead of their time. The museum, the display, it’s a clue that this person knows my secret. I was my parent’s greatest experiment.”
The Doc sighed and pulled his heavy gloves from his hand, stretching them with a groan of palpable relief. “Look.”
Susan frowned and looked down at his hands. Like so much of the rest of him they were tattooed.
“Look closer, read.”
She read, each finger and thumb was tattooed with a letter. When he held his fists up two words could be seen.
Wait… he had an extra finger on each hand. No, not fingers, an extra thumb, in opposition to the other one. Thumbs that functioned. Susan’s head swam looking at him, this was impossible, even mutation, even freaks of nature… the odds of such a thing happening to someone were astronomical.
“Not just the thumbs. My intelligence, my lifespan, my strength, my immune system. I was made, not born. My parents uncovered the secrets of human germ plasm and they used that knowledge to make me the best I could be.” He gripped that strange steering wheel and she understood now why it was the shape it was, his strange hands fit the grip perfectly, tighter than any normal person could manage.
“Our enemy knows. They’re sending me a message. Let’s go and say hello.”
The Corvette roared anew, the blazing shop left in their wake as the grim-faced Osmium and the stunned Susan sped across the city to, finally, meet their foe.