He pulled out of the parking lot and got back on the road. "Sorry about all this, but a good sturdy vehicle with an extended tank is hard to buy. All the carbon offsets you've got to buy, compliance paperwork . . . this modern era has some stupid areas, but it still beats the past."
"I thought Super Bad Guys! had all sorts of fantastic equipment?"
"Once upon a time. But I retired twenty years ago. Stopped replacing damaged stuff years before that. Sold my secret headquarters. Well, I kept one, just in case, you know?"
She was sort of draped over the seat, a few inches away, nodding drunkenly.
I was utterly delighted that Scotch's drunk spell did not give its recipients bad breath, none-the-less, traffic was heavy and required attention.
"I think you should strap in and take a nap."
Drat. If I release them, the DSMD will have a pretty good idea where I'm headed, and that's much too soon.
Oh well. They're DSMD agents. It'll be educational.
"He's gone insane." Ernie looked around the master bedroom and shuddered. "Loopy. Mad as a hatter."
Scotch nodded. "And leaving only the screen in here working was Not Nice."
"I'd like to know what's in those two bedrooms upstairs." Ernie glared at his phone. And how he blocked calls from inside the house."
"It's the walls. Steel plate? Good grief. And I want the lab to examine these windows. Some sort of microgrid sandwiched between bullet-proof glassite."
"Every single window." Ernie shook his head. "Must have cost millions. I wonder when he had it built? . . . what's that noise?"
"Someone's knocking?" Scotch led the way to the front door.
Police. Multiple. Faint voices demanded they open the door.
Scotch stepped over to the window beside the door and pulled out his badge. "We're locked in! Can't get out!" he yelled back.
The cop in the lead reached out and turned the knob. The door swung open. the police charged in, helmets, body armor, armed to the teeth. A lot of guns aimed at them.
Scotch ground his teeth. "When I get my hands on Doctor Inferno, I am going to wring his scrawny neck!"
Ernie nodded. "I'll help."
They got patted down, Ernie teetering but on his feet as they checked his wheels.
Most of the cops came back.
The head cop eyed them. "I am Senior Detective Cody Noland. I know the DSMD agents in town. And you are not them. Try again."
Ernie snorted. "Scotch, Scott Armand, is out of the DC headquarters. I'm retired, living in Bakersfield, coincidentally in the same retirement home as William Furnace, AKA Doctor Inferno."
All the cops stopped and eyed him. A young one at the back grinned. "Inferno? Cool!"
Everyone turned and glared.
"Well . . . I mean . . . That would explain what happened to Sanders and Saqqaf, right?"
Ernie eyed the cops. "What happened? And Scotch? Call Paxton. Where did this happen? When?"
They all wound up at the downtown police headquarters.
"We found the off-roaders, brought them in a few minutes ago for formal statements." A uniformed cop met them at the door, and they trooped in to listen in on one.
"There was this little crater, we figured someone had been playing with fireworks . . . then about ten feet on, there was another little, it wasn't really a crater, just like something heavy was dropped there and rolled."
He squirmed. "And there was this thing like a, a orange prrl, if you peeled it like a banana, from the top, with these sections all still connected at the bottom. And we wondered if maybe someone had stuffed fireworks in a round metal thing and this was the casing that had blown out of that crater . . . except it was scorched and burned on the outside, not the inside."
He hunched his shoulders. "Then the tentacle thing came . . . and we realized it was a Space Alien, and that was it's capsule . . . and we jumped on our ATVs and got out of there, and it zipped past us and this police car came flying over the edge and almost landed on me. I was in the rear, and we got up to the upper path and . . . kept right on going!"
The cop nodded. "Did you see any one else?"
"Up on the top path? There was an old Black guy. I yelled at him to run . . . and about a mile on, there was one of those stupid little electric cars. Pink. Then we got to the trailer. Loaded up and got out of there." He looked down and shuffled his feet.
"We knew we'd sound stupid, talking about a space alien flying robot with tentacles. that's why we didn't call right away. . ."
Scotch snorted. "Got to give him that."
Ernie pulled up a picture of Will and held it out. "Is this the Black guy?"
The boy frowned. "Nah, the guy was younger than that, with a buzz cut, not bald. Looks a lot like him, though."
SD Noland nodded. "Sanders and Saqqaf both had body cams. The guy's old, but not that old."
Ariana Paxton pinched the bridge of her nose. "Damn. The rejuvenation is working. And he's testing equipment. So. We have a major problem. Let's take a look at the body cams recordings, and then this flying robot."
The body cams were . . . frightening. The robot hovered, zipping around dodging bullets, but not the cane wielded at super speed.
"Speed. And from the way the cane bent, super strength as well." Ernie muttered, and watch the whole thing through twice, once from each body cam.
The robot itself was even scarier. And stranger.
"We still haven't got it open. We don't want to damage the stuff inside."
"Finger prints?" Ernie asked.
"Yeah. They've been sent to the Feds."
"Show me on the machine where the fingerprints were."
As he suspected, they were right where the body cams has recorded Will touching it.
Ernie pointed at the robot. "Don't touch it again. I need to make some calls."
He started with DSMD HQ, and branched out. NASA, and Spaceforce. He left them all arguing over who got the robot. Spaceforce got to Vegas first, and nabbed the "orange peel" reentry capsule, still down in the Wash.
NASA took the robot.
Two days later it exploded in an "Intense radiation event."
Two hours after that, a kill on sight order went out for Doctor Inferno.
Still no word from agents Mike Hynes or Kelly Winter.