I Am Legion
Daisy huddled around the drink before her, secure in the form of an overweight man in an ill-fitting suit, red-faced, with a patina of sweat showing through his comb-over. It wasn't a comfortable shape by any means. All that extra mass made moving so difficult: not just the extra weight, but the bulging flesh that got in your way when you tried to bend or twist. She couldn't understand how anyone could let himself get that way.
Which wasn't fair, of course. Most people didn't her complete mastery of her form. She understood that, but even so....
Nonetheless, Bill--she called herself Bill in this form--was the next best thing to being invisible. She could sit at the bar as long as she liked, nursing a drink or two, and nobody would bother her. Even the thugs casing the bar paid her attention only long enough to dismiss Bill as a threat.
They'd arrived half an hour ago, one taking a seat at the bar while the other occupied a booth in the rear. They could watch the whole bar and bracket anyone who tried to give them trouble. She'd given them a casual glance when they'd entered, then ignored them.
One thug pulled a phone out of his shirt pocket to answer. He listened, spoke briefly, then put it away again.
Daisy pushed her drink away, dug a few crumpled bills from her pocket to cover the bill, laid them on the counter and climbed to her feet with a lack of grace that wasn't entirely feigned. She spent as little time in Bill's body as she could manage, so he remained awkward.
The door to the bar opened before she reached it. A tall lean man entered the bar in a swirl of cold, damp air, carrying an expensive laptop. Dr. Mann.
He glanced at Daisy--at "Bill"--for an instant, then dismissed him as unimportant. Daisy walked out as Mann lifted his head to acknowledge the thug at the bar.
Half a block away, Bill stepped into an alley. His gut dwindled and vanished as his shoulders broadened and muscle condensed around his bones. He gained almost a foot in height, and hair sprouted on his scalp like a time-lapse photograph, writhing into a shaggy dark brown mass. His doughy face thinned down to an angular composition of planes and sharp edges with dark eyes that looked nowhere in particular but saw everything.
Even Bill's clothing changed. The cheap suit and shoes transmogrified into camo fatigue pants, a black t-shirt with a faded heavy metal band logo across the chest, an olive drab army surplus jacket, and combat boots. Fingerless black leather gloves and faded prison tattoos visible on his neck completed the look.
Daisy checked the alley once more for witnesses and saw none. She walked back to the bar and stomped inside. She caught Mann's eye and twitched her head to indicate an empty booth before she slid into it and sprawled across the bench.
Mann's jaw tightened but that was all the reaction he allowed himself. He slid off his bar stool and walked over to take a seat opposite Daisy.
"You Dr. Mann?" Daisy asked. Her voice was a low rumble.
"I'm Richard Mann."
Daisy grinned. "'Rich' Mann?" She laughed. Her voice came out baritone. "Your parents really hung one on you!"
Mann grimaced. It probably wasn't the first time he'd heard that one. "Who are you?"
"That doesn't matter."
"It matters to me."
Daisy smirked. "You wouldn't be thinking about trying something stupid, would you?"
Mann stood mute.
"That would be a bad idea. First, because I can take both of your bully boys, if it comes to that." Mann's expression, which suggested that he smelled something unpleasant, flickered.
"Second, because you're not the only one with friends nearby." That was a blatant lie, but Daisy sold it well. "And third, because I'm just the messenger. I don't know what's on the thumb drive you want, and I don't care. You give me the money, I give you the drive. We both walk away happy.
"Try to fuck with me, and I'm not the one who will email it to the cops."
Mann didn't speak at first. The tension in his jaw spoke volumes. Finally he unclenched enough to say through clenched teeth. "How do I know your boss won't send it to the cops anyhow?"
Daisy shrugged. "Because he said he wouldn't. I know you've asked around, you know his rep. If he didn't keep his word, nobody would hire him. If you don't trust him, you can always refuse to pay."
She fell silent. The temptation to keep talking was enormous. For all her apparent ease, her arms sprawled across the back of the booth, this meeting was risky. When it came down to it, she was alone with an angry man and his two gorillas. Too much talk was a sign of nervousness. Better to shut up and let the silence work on his nerves.
Mann raised an arm to flick a finger at the thug in the rear of the bar. Daisy watched him slide out of his booth and walk up to stand by Mann. Mann nodded.
The thug pulled a fat manila envelope out of his jacket and laid it on the table. Mann slid it across the table.
Daisy schooled her nerves to open it without her hand shaking. Bundles of new bills still in their wrappers filled the envelope. At a glance, and assuming the bundles contained the standard number of bills, it was all there. She put the envelope down in front of her and glanced pointedly at the thug before meeting Mann's gaze.
He waved a hand and the thug retreated to his booth. He opened the laptop at his elbow and glared at Daisy. "Your turn."
She produced a thumb drive. Mann took it from her, plugged it into his laptop and studied the screen intently as he fingered the touch pad. Daisy slipped the money into her pocket and waited patiently. At last he looked over at the thug parked by the bar, nodded, and closed the laptop.
"Really?" Dais asked. Her pulse thudded in her temples and her fingertips. Her boast about being able to take both of his thugs had been pure bravado. She was a lover, not a fighter. She slid hastily out of the booth as the thug--both thugs--stood. "This is a bad idea."
Mann smiled thinly. "I'll risk it."
Daisy bolted for the door. She flung it open and ran out into the slushy mess that carpeted the streets, nearly losing her footing. She glimpsed the thugs through the open doorway as she leaped forward, running as fast as she could. And that was pretty damn fast. Faster than most, certainly.
She dodged around pedestrians when possible, but plowed through them when necessary. She crossed a side street, leaping up onto the hood of a cab that skidded in the slush at her sudden appearance. Her combat boots left dimples in the hood, to the furious horn blaring dismay of the driver.
A hasty glance over her shoulder revealed the thugs most of a block behind her. One of them had a gun in his hand now. Shit. Daisy kept running, then ducked into an alley. The gray slush on the floor of the alley had been churned by pedestrians and at least a couple of vehicles.
Daisy flung herself to the ground and willed another transformation. She lost height and mass, and changed gender. Her hair grew out, turning vivid purple in the process. The army surplus ensemble melted away, replaced by a black tank top and leather miniskirt, striped leggings and a pair of colorful sneakers.
The slush soaked into her leggings and her tank top immediately. Damned but it was cold--and nasty! Daisy struggled to her knees just as the two thugs rounded the corner behind her. She glared at the far end of the alley and shook her fist. "You asshole!" she yelled.
The thugs ran past, splashing through the slush. They didn't give her a second glance. Which was exactly the idea.
It was only as the thugs reached the far end of the alley and looked around for their quarry that Daisy spotted the manila envelope lying half buried in the slush against the alley wall. Shit. She'd been carrying the envelope in her jacket pocket--before the jacket had evaporated away. Thank god it hadn't vanished with the jacket.
Good thing the goons hadn't spotted it. Daisy checked on them. They weren't paying her any attention. She casually picked up the envelope, watching them to make sure they didn't glance back. She stuffed it under her tank top, cold and wet though it was, and left the alley.
Half a block away, she paused in the doorway of a closed shop, watching the street behind her in the window. When no one was in sight, she changed her appearance yet again.
Now she could go home. Tomorrow she'd return the money to her client, after taking her cut. And she'd drop a dime on Dr. Mann. He'd regret trying to cheat her when the IRS discovered how many other people he'd been bilking with his phony charity. If he'd just returned the money he'd stolen from her client, she'd have let the matter drop just as she'd promised. Not now.