Friday, March 11th.

"Violet ?"

I don't pay attention.

"Vi-o-let ?"

Still don't reply, I don't even think I heard.

"Violet !"

This time I startle as if a bomb had blown into the diner and look directly at Brownie, sitting in front of me.

"Uh, yeah ? You just called me ?" I ask innocently, trying to hide how nervous I am. He gives me a shy smile, half-amused and half-annoyed, and says:

"You've been looking through that window for about ten minutes as if I didn't exist, and you haven't even touched your milk-shake yet. Is there something wrong ?"

"Oh !" I shake my heads and smile foolishly as if to chase my dark thoughts away. "No, it's okay."

Yes. Really, it's okay. How could it be better ? I'm having an afterschool date in a diner with Brownie Roarke ! Out of desperation, I asked my mom for advices and decided to follow her method: it took me two weeks of harassment to finally persuade him to come on a date with me, and now we're having a great time drinking milk-shake, so why the Hell am I so worried ? Because this date is a real disaster. We have not exchanged more than four phrases since it began, and it's not because I'm shy or something. I look at him and smile, but this smile is forced. Somehow, he doesn't make me blush like he used to. It's just like that drink, I take a sip from it, and it doesn't taste as great as before. I know exactly why, it's because all my mind is preoccupied by something I feel totally powerless against, and it's been haunting me for two weeks, reducing me to a nervous wreck that shakes all the time and startles at every loud noise like a baby. Gladly, my foundation base and contacts won't let him see my bloodshot eyes and wrinkles, because my nights have been increasingly short these days.

The sound of someone entering the restaurant gives me such a start that I cough swallowing. Brownie immediately reaches out to tap my back, but when our eyes meet, he freezes and, uneasy, withdraws and sits back down. I want to tell him something, but I feel so ashamed of my weird conduct that I can't find anything to say. So instead, I focus on the new costumer. Whoops ! A tall, burly guy in jeans and cow-boy boots, with a worn-out denim shirt, leather gloves, mutton chops, and a mass of hair so thick it should rather be called a mane. I tremble more and try not to show it as I keep observing this beardy dude. Looks like he could be one of the mafia's men... he comes closer and I notice his belt buckle is shaped like a hammer and sickle. Oh, shit, he is a mafia guy ! What's he gonna do ? Is he... he greets some friends of his and sits at the counter and orders a drink, and I let out a huge sigh of relief when I recognize a thick French accent. Safe ! He's not one of the Kazakhs. And it's been like that for two weeks, since the day I had that spooky encounter with Miss Shekochit, the silver-nailed lady... I didn't sleep at night because I had nightmares about the Kazakhs finding my house and breaking in to kidnap me. And the day, I would throw nervous glances around and startle at every minute, because I always expected a gangster to jump at me from every street corner, and at every noise, even the faintest like footsteps or the sound of a customer entering a diner, I believed it was one of them, following me. I've grown afraid of everything, and to be honest it's not all paranoia, because I know they are still following me: the black Mercedes. Who is parked at the exact same place on my way to school, in front of the Starbucks shop, every morning ? The black Mercedes. Who is driving around the school when I get in, every morning ? The black Mercedes. And who is always parked at the exact same place, along the sidewalk, some twenty meters from the school, every evening when I get out ? The black Mercedes. They're after me, I know that. They know my name, that's for sure. But they do nothing. This is a real torture for me. It's like when a cat looks at you with wide eyes and starts purring. When the cat does that, you know he's about to jump at your face. You can be sure he will do it... but you have no way to know when he will do it. That's a bit like the way I feel now. If I've been looking through the window since we sat down, it's precisely because I was expecting this car, and I actually saw it pass twice, and I even saw Red Devil pass.

Oh, Red Devil ! I almost forgot him ! He's been growing more and more terrible since that very day in the construction field. Before, he could be nice as well as a meanie. Now, he's just a complete asshole and there's no more Mr Nice Guy. Rumor has it that he's turning paranoid, claiming that he feels he's being followed by someone all the time. I never told him, but I must be the only one in town to believe him, though I still can't understand why the mafia would be interested in that guy. Maybe it's because he beat them at a race ? Anyway, he's overstressed, and because he "likes" me (in his own, fucking twisted way), he decided to make me his little toy to play with to relieve some pressure: everytime I bump into him, I have to pay, and if I don't have the money - and even if I do, depends on how he feels like - he and his henchboys always come up with new "penalties", like when they made me run a marathon barefoot in the snow and laughed when my feet turned blue (gladly, they all thought it was because of the cold), or when they tied me down on a street ludge that was itself tied on the back of Devil's bike - I'll let you imagine the joy ride that ensued - or, they all thought this one was funny, one day they hung me by my ankles to the basketball hoop just before the training began, and they took pictures when Brownie had to use a ladder to come and untie me. At least, this one allowed me to get closer to him, but God it was so embarrassing ! Oh, and guess what... remember Kevin and Bill ? Yes, you know, the two fat bastards Devil beat like crap a while ago ? They're part of his gang, now. Yay ! Someday, I shall take revenge on them, and God I swear, it's gonna be a bloodbath Charles Bronson is a Care Bear in comparison !

But so far, I've been basically spending my time being worried about the mafia and going to and from school by the rooftops as much as I can, to avoid bumping into Devil, and when I can't sleep at night, I try to persuade Matt to come along for a run, or I go alone when he doesn't feel like it. I put on my dark suit and my woolen mask and I run on rooftops, the way I was taught, until I reach East Atlanta. I go there to look for the mafia. They scare me, but somehow I'm fascinated by them. It's quite logical, I think. It's like "know your enemy". They're not easy to spy. First, the neighborhood is wide, and they're fast and they seem to be constantly moving, that makes them very hard to spot and follow. I haven't progressed much in these researches in two weeks. Even when I'm with Matt and we try to follow them, we lose them too quickly and get lost in some mazy network of alleys with not a clue on where they've gone. We didn't find any mansion or even any kind of big house they could use as a headquarters, but we've noticed they seem to be spending a good deal of their time in a restaurant called The Sun Of Orient, or in a drugstore or in a sex-shop. Ew, a sex-shop ! I don't wanna know what they're doing inside. That's about all we know, so far. We don't try to investigate further - we're not crazy enough to rush into the wolf's den - and reporting to the police without proofs is no use. So we're kind of stuck now, and I don't know what...

"Well," Brownie says, bringing me back to reality, "it's getting late, I think I'd better..."

I blink. Dang ! We've been staring at each others silently for how long ? My milk-shake is almost empty and it's getting dark outside. Oh no ! This was supposed to be my dream date and my mind was completely out of it all along ! He puts money on the table for the drinks and begins to say goodbye, when I suddenly reach out in panic and grab his arm.

"Wait ! Ya know, Brownie, it's just early, we've got all the time."

"No, I'm sorry, but I really have to go home now."

"Okay, then, maybe some other day we could do it again, or maybe we could go to the ice rink or the movies..."

"Listen, Violet, I don't want to hurt you. You're a nice girl, really, much nicer than I thought, but you're just... too weird for me. Sorry..."

He begins to walk away, and I feel like I'm standing dead.

"No, wait !"

He turns back at me and says:

"Good night, Violet."

And he goes out. I fucked up my date. Completely. Missed it all the line. I can't believe it... I still stand paralyzed between the counter and the table, with some of the customers throwing amused looks at me, the girl who was dumped by her date in the middle of the restaurant, when the French dude in denim shirt passes beside me and comments:

"Jeune fille, that must be the lousiest flirt I've seen in a while... and believe me I know quite a lot about this."

I say nothing. If I open my mouth now, I know I'm gonna cry or throw a tantrum or something, so I just walk silently out of the diner and on the way home. On the other sidewalk, I see Penny go in the opposite direction. We've been avoiding each others since the construction field incident. I wave at her. She doesn't see me. Oh, whatever. I just go on my way.

Indeed Penny had not seen the girl, and was just walking her way to where her driver was supposed to be waiting for her to take her home. The street was dark and oddly lonely. There was not a sound ! The young girl shivered as if she predicted something would happen. She didn't like that, so quiet, so desert... if only there were a few people. Oh, well, her driver would arrive in a few minutes, anyway, it's not like something could happen to her in so little time...

"Dammit ! Oh, shit I'm tired of those German pieces of scrap they call cars !"

Penny, who had been staring at her feet all along, looked up to that screaming fury and saw, a dozen meters from her, a redhead woman in her twenties who was standing alongside a black Mercedes and apparently cursing at it in English and in another language that was unknown to the girl. The effect was pretty comical and gave Penny a relief, and she immediately felt a sympathy with the woman.

"Hi there, Miss !" she called out. "Having a problem ?"

The woman sighed with exhaustion and forced a smile at the girl:

"Yes ! My car... broken ! It won't start again !"

Penny stepped closer and gave it a look.

"That's odd... I mean it's such a gorgeous car ! Is there anything I can do to help ?"

"Not unless you're an expert in mechanics..."

"Oh, wait !" she took out her cell phone. "I'm gonna call my driver, maybe he has some stuff."

"I already got a tool box. It's on the back seat, would you go for it ?"

"Sure."

Her phone still in hand, the girl willingly opened the back door, looked inside, and jerked back in fear with a gasp when she saw, instead of a tool box, two gleaming yellow eyes staring at her. She turned round and was about to scream at the woman that there was a monster in her car, when quite unexpectedly, the woman gave her a karate kick on the chest that cut off her breath before she could utter a word. With eyes grown twice their size out of surprise, the young girl practically took off and dove backwards, straight into the car. What exactly happened next, she didn't know, for she was already unconscious when she landed on the back seat. Her cell phone fell on the wet sidewalk and remained there, forgotten.

My arms are on fire. I breathe loudly, and pull. Eleven. The metal bar in my hands gets heavier by the second, I'm sweating all over and grimacing with pain, but it makes me feel so much better ! I breathe, bring the bar as close to my chest as possible, and pull again. Twelve ! Worn down but relieved, I put the bar back in place and get out of my weight training bench to stretch. Wow ! That was some good work-out ! Everyone finds it incredible that the garage is large enough to contain the bench and all the work-out stuff and the car, but Mom has a small car on purpose. It's not only because of me, it's her job to sell all this equipment, after all. I look at the weights I put on the bar and count. And I count again just to be sure, but no, that's true. 74 kilograms. Oh my God ! Two weeks ago, I couldn't lift more than 60 kilograms for twelve reps. And today, my, 74 for twelve reps ! That makes one more kilogram per day ! I don't know if you're into weightlifting, but let me tell you this progress is huge. Especially considering that I didn't train more than usual. So that was not an impression, I'm really growing stronger and stronger without knowing why... I've got to ask Charlie about it. Good thing is, with all the sweat I let out, I don't even think about Brownie anymore. Nevermind, I'm too good for him anyway.

I go back into the house, Mom is cooking dinner. I head to the bathroom for a good, relaxing shower, and then go to my room. I love evenings, when I just had my shower, cause I don't have to stand all this paint on my skin anymore, and I can finally feel like myself. I sit on my desk and take a three-page letter I'm writing for Charlie. Of course, the first point of these letters was to ask for candy, but for me it's much more than that. I write everything in my letters. How my life is going, how I feel at school, my new friends, even "girls' problems", everything. Maybe he doesn't give a shit, but I'm sure it's not the case. I mean, even during the Tour, I never saw such a sweet, caring person, and it's a shame I bullied him. The kind letters he sent me afterwards made him my favorite confidant. Like a diary who actually answers and gives me advices. I think he likes that I trust him and is glad we could become friends, even if he won the contest. Apparently, I'm the only one of the four to do that. Last week, I even received a sweet letter from Mr Wonka himself where he told me not to lose hope, that he was about to find a cure for my skin, even if his researches were still not very satisfying - the last Oompa Loompa who tried needed a whole three days to have his skin stuck back on his flesh - and, now I tend to think I misjudged the man. There's no reason to hate him, after all... anyway, I take a pen and add a new paragraph to my letter:

Charlie, would you ask something to Mr Wonka for me ? It's quite hard to explain, I mean, maybe you'll think I'm crazy or something, but, since I've had this, you know, since I'm as flexible as a rubber strip, I got a feeling that I'm also getting stronger, physically. It began when I was rooftop-running with Matt, and at first I thought it was just my imagination, but right now as I'm writing, I've just done a work-out session and discovered I can lift much more than usual on a bench. So I was wondering if it's like another side effect of my incident at the Factory, because I don't have any other explanation. I also think I'm getting tougher, I feel less pain and...

"Violet ! Come here, please !"

I startle on my chair. Mom just shouted from the living room as if she had seen a ghost. I put down my pen and go to see her, a little worried. I have not done anything wrong, so what's going on ? She's here, standing in front of the TV, the remote control in her hands, and she's looking at me with wide, concerned eyes.

"Uh, Mom ? Is there anything..."

"Dear... do you happen to know a little girl named Penelope Senorm ?"

"Penny ? Why, yeah, she's in my class..."

"Then you'd better watch... I turned on the TV to watch Desperate Housewives, and I saw this..."

I come closer with apprehension, and Mom puts her hands on my shoulders, as if to comfort me. I already don't like what I'm about to see... there's a picture of Penny on the screen, and I hear a journalist's voice say:

"Penelope Senorm, aged 13, daughter of district attorney George Senorm, has mysteriously disappeared this evening, on her way home from a café where she had a drink with her friends. As of now, no serious explanations have been found about her disappearance, however the possibility of a kidnapping is not to be ignored. Her family refused to comment on the situation for the moment, but we are calling for witnesses: according to her friends, the girl was walking home alone, and she was wearing a pink and light blue dress, a blue leather blazer, white stockings, and red shoes with hearts on the toes. If you have seen a girl matching with the picture or the description in the last few hours, please contact 911 immediately. Even the slightest details could help retrieve this girl before it is too late."

I stop breathing. That is... that is just too much ! No, not Penny ! It's not the first time I see such a report, but before, it was always a kid I never heard about. Here, it's much too close to me ! And I think I know who kidnapped her. After all, they've been passing round the diner quite often, just before I saw her. They were... hey, wait ! Penny was with me in the construction field when that Kazakh woman showed up. And Matt gave her name to the police so... they're discarding the witnesses ! That's why they've kidnapped Penny ! And then it's my turn, this time I'm sure of that ! I begin to cry out of despair, and Mom has a hard time stroking my hair and kissing my forehead and saying reassuring words until I finally relax and let myself being soothed. She gently picks me up and lies me down on the sofa. I've stopped crying, but I'm still tearful and shaking.

"It's okay," she murmurs, "Mommy's there, don't worry. I'm sure your friend is okay and she will sleep in her bed tonight. You have nothing to be afraid of..."

Sweet words, I think somberly, but they won't have any sort of effect in front of a leather-clad card-carrying psychopath from the mafia when he comes for me.

"Just relax, I'm gonna make some tea, and then we'll have dinner..."

She gives me a last kiss and gets up, leaving me alone in the room. Oh, my, what kind of trouble did I get myself into ? I notice a newspaper on the coffee table and reach out for it, maybe some reading will change my mind. I stop shaking all at once. Oh, yes, it did change my mind. Just reading the four-word title of an article did change my mind for good:

Kazakh Couple On Trial.

I read the whole article carefully, and suddenly, I'm not afraid anymore. Now I understand !

"Gonna see Matt, Mom !" I shout as I put on my shoes and rush outside without giving her a chance to reply. I'm on speed ! I run for the next house and burst in without even knocking, arriving straight into Matt's living room as the young man startles and drops his dinner on the carpet.

"Got something to tell you !"

He sighs. "Whatever it is, Violet, I really hope for your personal safety that it's worth wasting that splendid piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken ! So what is it ?"

"Check this out !"

I throw the newspaper on the table in front of him, he doesn't even give it a look and says, annoyed:

"Oh, funny. Really funny."

It takes a few seconds to remember. "Whoops ! Sorry, I forgot ! Anyway, I just learned that Penny, the girl who was with me at the construction field, she just disappeared and nobody knows why."

"Yes, and then ?"

"This paper says the two mobsters who were captured a while ago during the robbery at the bank will be put on trial tomorrow. Don't you get what that means ?"

"Not really, I'm afraid."

"Penny's father is the district attorney ! It's obvious ! The mafia kidnapped her to pressure on him for he releases them during the trial ! That was all about Penny, all along ! When they kept following, when they were always around the school, it was because of Penny ! When the woman showed up at the field, it was for Penny ! Not me ! I got nothing to do in their business, I was just at the wrong place at the wrong place ! The mafia was after her, not me !"

"Okay, okay, I got it. Listen, I'm glad for you but I don't see what..."

"Matt, we've got to save her !"

"Excuse me ?"

"We know who kidnapped her, now we've got to save her before it's too late."

He gives me a weird look and says:

"No way. That's the police's job, not ours. Call the cops and tell them what you know, they'll handle it by themselves."

"Matt, you've never seen any gangster movies or what ? It's the Number One Rule, they kill the hostage if we call the cops ! But if we act alone, they won't expect..."

"No !"

He shouts so harshly I shut up immediately and begin to blush in shame. I feel like I've hit a very sensitive spot.

"It doesn't matter, what you think," he says, more softly. "What you propose to do has a name. Doing justice yourself. It's called vigilantism. And I cannot do that, I don't want another girl to get killed."

I raise an eyebrow: "What do you mean, another girl ?"

He sighs. "I... I know what I'm talking about. I did vigilantism a while back, in New York. Yeah, I did. I got the guy I wanted to get, but... it cost the life of an innocent girl. That's when I understood the inherent wrong there is in wanting to take the law in your own hands. I study laws to punish criminal in a civilized manner, using a fair and balanced judicial system created by society. It's maybe flawed, but there will always be more justice in it than in the first gun-toting redneck who thinks he can do his own justice, no matter the cost of it. I refuse to do that."

"Matt... I'm sorry, I so didn't know that... but... then what about the dojo ? And the turd bomb ?"

"You can't compare these things."

"You said you did all that because you thought it was fair ! That is a form of vigilantism !"

"No, because even if there were a few ribs and a few noses broken in the process, no human life was at stake. Here, anything we do will endanger the life of an innocent person: Penny."

"She's even more in danger if we don't do anything ! Listen, Matt: what you did for me, the dojo, the bomb, you did all of it because you thought there was no other way to help me. That's exactly the same for her ! We can't count on your system to save her, because these guys out there are a real mob that don't give a crap about the law, and even if they get arrested, they will have killed her before. That's why we can't count on the cops ! There's only the two of us who know about the situation. We're the only ones who can try to save her. And if you don't wanna try because of your principles, then I'll go there myself, no matter what it takes. I've let these guys scare me for way too long, anyway. I wanna fight them. Good night, Matt, maybe I'll never see you again."

Quite a theatrical performance. I should be an actress. But my audience doesn't seem so impressed, because his only reaction is to sigh. Fine. I begin to walk away, stomping very loudly on the carpet like when I threw a tantrum, but he still won't move. I'm getting closer to the door. No, he won't let me go there alone ? Or will he ?

"Violet ?"

I turn round, my heart beats so fast I'm sure he can hear me.

"Don't be silly," he says. "Of course I'll come with you. There's only one condition: we investigate and find out where she's being held, but we don't act, we don't interfere. We just collect infos and give them to the cops, right ?"

"Sure." I'd be ready to accept anything at this point.

"Then go home and have a good dinner," he says. "Come back here in an hour, with your dark suit and mask. And most of all, don't forget to say your prayers."

Penny tried to open her eyes, only to find out that she couldn't: she was blindfolded. What was going on ? She tried to move, to stand up from that chair she was sitting on, but there were so many ropes tied up tight that she couldn't move a muscles. She was bound to the chair like a fish in a net. Kidnapped ? Oh, God, why her ? What did they want from her ? She didn't know where she was nor how she arrived there. She only remembered the yellow eyes into the car, and how the woman had knocked her senseless for no reason. Now it was all darkness, but she was not alone, she could hear a few people talking, very close to her, chatting in a foreign language she couldn't identify, save for the fact it sounded very much like the language spoken by the redhead woman. Judging by the echoes of their voices, the place was indoors, closed, and very large, quite like a cave. It was also cold like a cave. But, there were no caves in Atlanta ? Listening with more attention, she recognized faint sounds from the streets, cars, sirens, things like that, but these were hard to distinguish. Then it had to be a warehouse. But why, and what would these people do to her ? She startled and froze when she heard quite loud footsteps drawing closer to her, accompanied with a male voice, this one talking in English, and apparently in a phone conversation:

"No, don't tell the cops anything about this conversation, don't let them know we're involved. I dunno, just tell them she's probably got kidnapped by some random pervert and you're very worried about her, invent something, it's your problem. Just don't try to mess with us, or the only thing you'll get from your daughter is her fingers in your mailbox. Got it ? Good. You already know what we want, it's pretty obvious. Here is how things are gonna go from now on: you are very worried about your daughter. You have no idea who abducted her, but you trust the police to check on the sex offenders registry to find her and bring her back safe. Meanwhile, you try to change your mind, you still have a job and you have to do it. So tonight, you take a Valium and a glass of whisky, and you go to bed. Tomorrow, you drink a large cup of coffee, comb your hair, put on your best suit, and go to attend the trial of our comrades Sultan and Jamila Nassiliev. There, surprise ! You find they're innocent ! I don't know, mistake in the procedure, lack of evidence, I'm sure you'll find something, it's your job after all. You should call the anti-racist leagues, they're very good at this. Anyway, our two friends are found innocent, and walk free from the courthouse at noon. At five in the evening, another big surprise ! Miss Penny is found safe and sound, sleeping on the sidewalk near her school. She doesn't remember anything, but she's not harmed and goes back to her daddy and they all live happily ever after. Nice story, isn't it ? I quite like fairytales that end well. Just remember: don't try to double-cross us, or else... fingers... mailbox. Call you back in an hour."

There was a beep when the phone was hung up, but Penny didn't even pay attention, her mind was still ringing with the incredible things she just heard. Cutting her fingers ! That's a thing she had seen so much in mafia movies, but she never imagined some people would really do that ! So these guys were really of the mafia, and they had kidnapped her to pressure on her dad ! Penny was usually not a very clever girl, but this time she was quick to realize what was really going on, and her heart beat with anguish and the rag before her eyes got wet with cold sweat, for she had seen enough movies to know how it would end, and she knew she would never see her parents again. Overcoming her dread, she opened a trembling mouth and dared murmur:

"You... you're not gonna hurt me, are you ?"

"Sure not," the man she couldn't see answered, "but as long as your father believes it, he's more motivated for his little mission."

"So you're gonna let me go ?"

"Yep, as soon as we get our friends back."

"But, why me ? I'm innocent, I don't even know your friends !"

"Your father the attorney is holding two of ours prisoners, I thought it was only fair if I held one of his in return."

"But your friends are prisoners because they're criminals ! That is only fair, that's justice !"

The man, who she guessed was their leader, only laughed at this and replied:

"My poor little, innocent child... you're an American, that's obvious. Raised in the purest tradition of kapitalist propaganda, to believe without question that your society is the best of the world and all is fairness and justice. You look around and all you see is happy, honest, hard-working citizens that make the pride of your country, and when you see, in the news, acts of violence, you just shrug and tell yourself these are just a few misguided people who will never reach you anyway, because you're safe within the womb of your community. You believe it so much indeed, that you are totally helpless when misfortune, one day, comes to reach you without warning, just like tonight. Don't you feel pathetic, now ?"

He paused for a few seconds during which the terrified girl dared say nothing, then he went on:

"In our homeland, we have a word of wisdom: Ot trudov pravednykh ne nazhivesh palat kamennikh. A honest job doesn't bring a solid house. I and my men have taken this as a personal motto. We don't give a damn about honesty, justice, or any of your so-called virtues. We are Zmeya Armiya ! Raised for the fight, for it and nothing else, we know of no love, no morality, no compassion or no mercy to our enemies. While you were playing jumprope in the schoolyard or watching your Saturday cartoons sucking a lollipop, we were training to kill a man with our bare hands. We abide only by the values and codes that were transmitted to us by our wise fathers, and we live and fight only to perpetrate them and achieve the very destruction of that corrupted society you cherish so blindly, even if it means death for us all, we don't care, we are ready for it ! Nechayev said it: we are doomed men by our very nature. You cannot change us, you cannot fight us. So don't you dare come and tell me about your justice. Your justice has messed with us, we strike back, and in the end, we are gonna win. Hear my words. Now, if you please, I got a phone call to give."

She didn't have the time to reply, and even if she did, she wouldn't have said anything. He walked away. And she began to pray for someone to come and save her from those heartless maniacs. Anyone, even folks she hated like Violet Beauregard or Terry Phillips, she just wished someone would come and save her from this nightmare !

"This is here !" I say through my mask as we finally arrive on the roof of a building right in front of the diner where I had my lousy date with Brownie. "That's where I saw her last."

I look at Matt's also masked face and I see him take a few long smells around, to finally say he found nothing. I sigh and look down at the street: to the West, where we came from, there's the school and a few shops and cafés, there's quite a small activity. But to the East, after the diner that still has a few customers at this hour, it's all a street of old-looking appartment buildings, pretty dark and quiet at night. That's where Penny was walking to the last time I saw her, and I get to think this desert-looking street is the perfect place for an ambush.

"We should try this way," I say, "to the East. I think it's where they've kidnapped her... somewhere close by."

We climb down to the street level, careful not to be seen by the diner's customers and not to slip and fall. Now that winter's ending, the snow has melted down and, added with a few heavy rainfalls these last days, made every sidewalk, every rooftop, phone pole or billboard, slippery and wet, and it's quite a challenge at the beginning. At least, the air's a little warmer and you don't risk no more to chill all over as soon as you poke your head out of doors. We walk normally down the lonely street, opening our eyes - I mean, myeyes and his nose - to the faintest clue that could tell us where they've taken Penny. Then suddenly, I notice something abandonned in the middle of a puddle, and I kneel down to take it. It's a cell phone. Doesn't look broken. It's already turned on and the battery's almost full, meaning it's been left here not so long ago. I quickly scroll through the contact list: Mom, Dad, Driver, Amy, Anne... no doubt this is Penny's phone. So it happened here !

"The Mercedes again," Matt says, and I turn to him to see he's been studying tyre prints on the road. "Headed straight ahead..."

"Where exactly ?"

"I dunno, I'm not a psychic."

At this moment comes a female voice, addressing us directly:

"You're here for the girl, I suppose... and what are you exactly, Batman and Robin ?"

I turn round to face the stranger, and I am much surprised to discover a girl of about my age, dark-haired and clad in a schoolgirl uniform. Cute, you would say... but I don't know why, this girl creeps me out. There is just... something wrong with her. First her voice, an unpleasant, cruel voice, sneering with sadistic glee. And her eyes, she must be wearing contacts but still... such unreal, doll-like green eyes that feel so wrong on a living person ! They're so green I can see them in the dark ! And finally, the weirdest, she's standing in the middle of the road, dancing softly, dreamily, playing with a strange toy composed of a heavy iron ball at the end of a very long chain. It's not a toy, it's more like one of these weapons from kung-fu flicks, the ball that can crack your head in three in a single shot, and the girl is playing with this dangerous thing like a jumprope, swinging it fearlessly over her shoulders and between her knee-socked legs in slow gracious moves. I look at her, and I immediately know this girl is insane.

"What do you know about Penny ?" Matt asks. I want to whisper to him not to pay attention to that cuckoo chick, but I don't want her to hear. If she gets angry with that thing in her hands, things can go pretty gory.

"That's the girl who was there," she answers with an eerily confident voice. "The girl who lost her phone. Yes, I was here. Saw everything. Was quite a show, but a little too short for me."

"What happened ?" he asks. I'm not even interested in that. To me, it's obvious she's talking bullshit.

"There was a redhead chick in a black car," she says with that same monotonous voice. "Pretended she had a breakdown. That's a classic. Not very original, but always effective. They talked a little, and when the red chick had the girl's trust... kicked her inside the car."

"That's all ?"

"That's all."

"But... you saw what type of car it was or something ?"

"Sure I did. I saw everything."

"And you didn't call the cops ?"

"Wanted to... but Evil Me wanted not. Must always listen to Evil Me."

No way ! This time it's way too much for me and I can't hold back a hiss of disdain.

"All bullshit !" I declare. "Evil Me ? What next, you're Dr Jekyll and Miss Whore ?"

She throws me a glance that could freeze Hell still, her doll eyes penetrate straight through my eyes and into my soul to spoil it with fear and confusion. I immediately regret what I said, but I try to act tough. If I am to play the vigilante tonight, I must at least act tough.

"I don't know who you are, masked girl," she tells me, "but don't make me angry, or I drink your blood."

"What ?"

"Nevermind. It's alright, little girl, it's alright. Just don't forget to look under your bed at night..."

She gives me the spooks ! Usually, when someone speaks to me like that, I make sure they have my sole printed on their forehead, but here, my God, there is no way I come too close to that freak !

"What is your name ?" Matt asks. There is no doubt, Matt is the most psychologist of the two of us. He never gets nervous and always find the right things to say.

"Rose will be just fine," the freak replies.

"Alright, Rose, listen to me: this girl, Penny, was a friend of us. And we have reasons to believe she has been kidnapped by the mafia."

"So you mean the Kazakhs ?"

"Yes ! What do you know about them ?"

"I might tell you where to find them. Yes, I might."

"So ?"

"But I have no reason to tell you... or have I ?"

"What if Good You decided to tell us ?"

She lets out a shrill laugh that makes my spine tingle. "Good answer ! Very amusing... alright then... if I had to kidnap someone, which I already have, there is one place I would use: go to the far East of East Atlanta, in the factory parts, Paper Street. You'll get to it by following State Route 20, but it's far from here. Once there, look for Hangar 18."

"A hangar ? Wait, how do you know it's this one ?"

"Used to dwell there. An abandoned hangar. That's where I hid the bodies of my... forget it. Just, I had to leave the place a while ago, when some crazy gunmen came round and began to use it to store their stuff. I'm quite sure it was them, it's the language, you know. It's the best place I can think of to hide a hostage."

Matt then addresses me: "You know where it is ?"

"Yes, I think I can find the place."

"Then we'd better get going. Thank you, Rose."

"My pleasure."

Back on the rooftops. Quite a relief. I couldn't stand that girl any longer.

"Matt, you're really gonna listen to her ? She's nuts, that's obvious !"

"Perhaps, but we have no other lead. Besides, it's according to what we already know about them. They're in East Atlanta. Let's hurry."

It takes us about an hour to get to the neighborhood, and another twenty minutes to find Paper Street, and when we arrive in the dirty street of abandoned factories and dark, sinister-looking warehouses, I'm exhausted. Standing on the roof of a factory, leaning against a chimney, I look around, panting. And I see it. A hangar, with the number 18 printed in big characters on the front gate. Right in front of us, on the opposite side of the street. From here, it looks so empty and dark I dread the crazy girl told us lies. But then, Matt speaks:

"Mark Knopfler ?"

"What ?"

"I hear some music... Mark Knopfler... coming from this way."

"It's the hangar ! But it looks empty."

"No, it's not. People inside, I can hear them. About a dozen. I can hear crates... metal... I think they're loading trucks."

"Hey, wait a second !"

I look more closely at the front gate, and I see two shadowy figures I recognize as men, two men in long coats. I look more closely, and when a small wind makes the tail of a coat fly, I can see the silvery gleam of a revolver.

"Uh-oh... there are two armed guys at the gate !"

"Yes, and one more on the roof. I can hear his heartbeats."

I look up, and I see this third guy, patrolling on a narrow bridge around the top of the hangar. Quite a good surveillance.

"We need to go inside and see what's going on," Matt says. "You're sure you still want to do it ?"

"Sure, but how do we pass the guards and get in there ?"

"You stay here, and don't follow me until I told you."

What ? My God, he's taking himself for James Bond or what ? He points his cane at the bridge and, when the guard has moved far enough, he launches the grapnel that grips fast and solid on the balustrade. I just have time to wish him a worried good luck before he rewinds the grapnel, that propels him so fast in the air he almost flies, until he finally lands on the bridge without a sound. Waw. A real ninja ! I see him sneak behind the guard. My legs start to quiver. He's not gonna... yes, he does ! He jumps on the man who has no time to make a sound before he begins to choke him with his cane ! A very short struggle ensues, and the guard collapses like a rag doll. Unbelievable ! All of this in a few seconds and in perfect silence ! I'm still in shock when launches the grapnel at me and helps me rejoin him, and I now stand before the unconscious body.

"Is he..." I begin, hesitant.

"Dead ? Na, just brought him to sleep."

"How did you do that ?"

He gives me a mysterious smile. "You learn a lot from action movies."

We move, follow the bridge until we find a door, and sneak inside. It's looking good, so far ! The inside is dimly lit but I can now hear the music, so there are people in there. I'm tensed and each step is an intense effort. These guys used to creep me out outside, and now I'm into their lair ! The second floor only consists in a steel platform loaded with rusty barrels and other abandoned stuff, overhanging the main room. I can't see much from where I am, so I begin to move on to have a better view, and suddenly I freeze, a rush of adrenaline creeping up my spine to my head and making my eyes almost pop out of their sockets: there's another guard right in front ! Gladly he's looking away and has not seen us, but still, he's standing hardly a dozen meters from us !

"Matt !" I whisper.

"Yes," he replies, "I felt him too. Where is he looking ?"

"To the left."

He pauses, raising his head like a prairie dog, and I realize he's "looking" around. The music must be helping him sense his surroundings or something.

"This way," he murmurs, and we creep to the right edge of the platform from where we leap to a catwalk and climb up to another catwalk, the one that supports the lighting, so that we can move in the shadow, unseen by the men.

"We can say anything about the Americans," a voice declares, below, "they still have darn good music !"

I recognize this voice: the leather-clad freak. Snake. We stop where we can have a clear view on what is going on.

"Tell me what you see," Matt asks.

"It's pretty large below... full of stuff. Crates, drums... I think it was used to store cars or something, cause there are old wheels and pieces of engine. There are three white vans parked here, all look-alike. And people are packing crates in one of them. Only one, that's odd..."

"The two empty vans must be used for a decoy, just in case. I bet the stuff in the crate is not all so licit."

"Drugs ?"

"Maybe. Or weapons. How many are they ?"

"About a dozen."

"You see Penny ?"

I look and see her, she's almost right under our place. Tied up like a sausage in a butchery, and blindfolded, but she doesn't seem to be hurt or anything.

"She's there, she looks okay. The Snake guy is there too. That's weird, he's dancing around her..."

"Okay, so it's definitely the place. We know enough, let's get out."

Fortunately, we're quick to find a rooftop window and we don't have to do all the way back. Once outside, I don't stop. I don't even ask where we're going, I don't even wait for Matt, I run away, I just run, in a state of anguish, I want to be as far from these freaks as possible. When I think I'm at a good enough distance (meaning, when I'm so tired I have to sit down and breathe), I stop and suddenly feel horribly sad for Penny. Even though I hate this girl, she's my classmate and I can't leave her at the mercy of these men ! Matt finally arrives, breathless too.

"You should have waited for me !"

"Sorry. I... I was afraid."

"Nevermind. It's time we call the cops, now. You got a phone ?"

"What ?" I'm taken unawares by his question, and suddenly I realize I haven't thought of bringing my phone along. Shit ! I tell him, and I think I can guess a frown behind his mask.

"What about Penny's phone ?"

"Sorry, I... I turned it off. A reflex, I wasn't thinking. And I don't have the code."

Another frown. I guess I'm not as good a vigilante as my heroes, the Shadowgheist or the Wolf. I look around, and suddenly...

"This way !" I point out to a small general store in the street, with light coming from it - thus making it the only place that looks alive in this unpretty suburb - and the light reveals a phone booth just in front of it. We hurry down there and I ask Matt for a quarter before I go into the booth. I take off my mask. My fingers tremble and I have a hard time typing 9-1-1.

"Emergency services ?"

"I know where's Penny !" I shout straight in the receiver without any sort of introduction.

"Excuse me ?" the cop on the other side of the line asks, surprised.

"Penny ! The daughter of attorney George Senorm ! She got kidnapped this evening, and I know where she's being held !"

There is a horrid blank of a few seconds during which I believe they're taking me for a dirty joker and hang up, but eventually the cop asks me to wait a moment, and then it's another, deeper voice that speaks to me:

"Captain Smith, APD. Who are you ?"

"Sir, it doesn't matter who I am, it's Penny !"

"Yes, I've been told. So what do you know about Penny ?"

"She's been kidnapped by the mafia ! I saw her !"

"The mafia ?"

"Yes, the Kazakhs, you know."

"That's ludicrous. Why would they waste their time kidnapping a little girl ?"

"Because two of their members are gonna be tried. Read it, it's in the news ! So they want them back, and they've kidnapped her to pressure on Mr Senorm !"

Another blank. I'm scared. He won't believe me, that's for sure. But then I hear a worried whisper, a Shit! and Captain Smith answers:

"How do you know about that ?"

"I had suspicions... so I went to check. There's about a dozen men, maybe more. They're in Hangar 18 of Paper Street, East Atlanta. It's near State Route 20."

"And who are you ? What is your name ?"

I don't want to tell him, and I don't have the occasion anyway: because as I look up towards the store, I startle, drop the phone, and my heart makes a somersault in my chest when I find myself face to face with the shiny and intimidating tube that happens to be the barrel of a shotgun.

"Get your fucking ass off that booth !" the shotgun guy groans. "I wanna see you in the light, and your friend too !"

Sweating cold, I slowly get off and walk to him with my hands raised over my head, like I've seen doing on TV. The guy must be the shop owner, a rather small, fat, bald middle-aged man with his wrinkled face distorted by a grimace of murderous panic. I imagine this guy has seen his shop robbed before, and he turned paranoid because of that. So of course he was afraid, when he saw two teenagers in dark suits appear in the night in that suburb !

"You !" he shouts at Matt. "Drop your weapon ! And raise your hands !"

Matt obeys and drops his cane. I give him a look and am surprised at how calm he is, as if he had already lived that before. The man lets out a nervous giggle:

"So you thought you could fuck with me ? I know what little tramps like you two are capable of, but I make the rules this time !"

"Sir," Matt begins with his low voice he uses for negotiating, "excuse us, but..."

"You shut the hell up ! Don't you dare imagine that just because you're polite you're gonna... hey, wait a minute !"

He looks at me. He gives me a look that I know just too well, and though I should be used to it, it still feels like a stab in the heart. He just noticed my blue face, my blue hair... and he looks at it, anguished, and disgusted.

"Holy shit !" he lets out. "What are you, a junkie ?"

"Sir, please, listen to me," Matt interrupts again, softly but with authority. "We have no intention to rob you or anything else."

"That's right, and I'm Harrison Ford ! Look at you, boy, you're all dressed up and masked, and your girlfriend's all blue with LSD or I dunno what."

"I don't do drugs !"

"Sir, we came to call the cops for..."

"Oh yes, we're gonna call the cops, young boy. Now, come inside, we'll find a nice place to lock you in, and then we're gonna call the cops."

"What ?" I yell, losing all my remains of self-control, and I lower my arms without noticing it in my anger. "You jackass, you're not listening ! We told you we..."

He aims straight at me, so brutally I really think he's gonna shoot and I shrink in fear.

"I said don't move !" he shouts, growing more nervous by the second. At this very moment, Matt moves... not an important move, just a swift step forward, but more than enough for the panicked shopkeeper who immediately turns his aim at Matt and shoots ! I can't believe it. The shot, it's like a sledgehammer strike into my mind that is shattered, turned to pieces, and I lose touch with reality. I turn my head to Matt, and this move feels like it's taking hours. My vision begins to blur, and all I can hear are the panicked drumbeats of my heart. I open my mouth to scream, but no sound will come out of it. I already imagine my friend's skull exploding, splattering blood and bone shatters and grilled flesh on the sidewalk. But it's not what I see. I just see him, his feet spread to give him a good balance, his head and upperbody bent sideways so as to dodge the shot. It takes me still a moment to fully understand: he dodged the shot ! What happens next is equally incredible, as in a movement almost too fast to be seen, Matt kicks his cane to lift it from the ground and jumps and spins like Jet Li to kick the cane again, in the air, throwing it whirling like a boomerang to hit the man on the forehead, knocking him senseless !

He retrieves his cane and makes sure he hasn't hurt the man too badly. I don't even realize I'm still standing there with my mouth agap.

"You..." I begin, but he interrupts me to tell me we should go back to the hangar. Only when we're back on the rooftops do I begin to regain my wits and I yell:

"You know kung-fu !"

"Not exactly, Violet. This is ninjitsu."

"But why didn't you tell me you knew ninjitsu ?"

He gives another of his mysterious smiles and just says: "You never asked."

We go back to our observation point on the roof of the factory in front of the hangar, and watch. For a moment, nothing happens. The two guards in front are still there and the one on the bridge didn't wake up yet. So far, everything is eerily normal. I'm tensed. Will the police arrive ? Did they take me seriously ? Then suddenly, the two guards at the front gate collapse without a warning.

"What the !" I exclaim, surprised and confused.

"I heard the hiss of a suppressor," Matt explains. "A police sniper, on the roof of the next hangar. Brought them down with tranquilizer darts."

"The police ? They're here ?"

"Yep, several of them. And a big bunch of them, all around the hangar. Looks like they took you seriously."

I look carefully, but I see nothing. Is Matt having hallucinations, or is he just kidding me ? Then, as I wear out my eyes trying to distinguish something, it comes to my sight. First, that's very faint, I only see shadows moving among the shadows in this poorly lit street. But the shadows move fast, and I eventually perceive human silhouettes, running in silence, running without fear. I can't count exactly, it's too dark for that, but there are many of them. So many running, striding, living shadows, it's almost frightening. Like this movie where a gang surrounds a precinct by night. Then, one or two of the shadows approach the front gate carefully, and come into the light. I see the metallic shine of a gun. No, not a gun, bigger than that. An assault rifle ! Then, other details can be distinguished, I see the figures are clad in dark blue suits with protection helmets and body armors bearing an inscription on the back. The inscription... only four letters that are more than enough to understand the gravity of the situation: SWAT.

Other men come, in the end they're about a dozen at the front gate, plus a bunch of others around. The whole place is surrounded. And then it breaks through the quietness of the night. Just a single, sharp sound, the sound of a broken window, and all Hell breaks loose in a matter of seconds. The dozen cops at the front gate lose all signs of quietness, as if they had just been turned on like machines, they kick it wide open and rush inside. Gunshots ! Several of them, coming from machine guns and shotguns, the sounds of a bloody battle you could find in a John Woo movie ! I'm trying to be as calm as Matt who's sitting there, listening without a move like a statue, but I just can't ignore that icy fist squeezing my heart, that makes all my limbs shake and my teeth chatter, and my, I so want to go to the ladies' room ! Other broken windows, and soon after, a thick, white cloud, probably tear gas, flows out of all the openings in the building and surrounds it with a supernatural mist. That's when I hear a piercing male shriek, a cry of pain from someone who got shot, and my thoughts instantly go back to the one person we're supposed to rescue, now helpless in the middle of that shooting rampage.

"Penny !"

"She's not hurt," Matt reassures me. "She's being taken away..."

"Where ?"

"A minute ! I hear a clank, like a door, the door of a truck."

"One of the white vans ?"

I don't need an answer, for at this very moment, I hear it: a panicked engine roar, a sharp hiss of drifting tyres, a scream, and one of the white vans emerges from the mist like a ghost, drifts again, and drives at its max speed towards State Route 20, immediately chased by two police cars and their screeching sirens.

"It's not this one," he says, "she's still inside."

A few seconds later, another drift, my heart makes a leap as a second van appears and rushes in the opposite direction as the first one. I'm ready to jump.

"Not this one yet ! Shit, their decoy works perfectly !"

Another drift inside the hangar...

"It's this one for sure !" I yell.

"Yes, she's in the last one."

I tense all my muscles like a sprinter at the start of a race - and I'm quite experienced about sprinting. The van emerges from the mist, and immediately drives towards a third direction, deep in the heart of the district. Now !

I turn round and start a sprint. I think Matt calls me, tells me to wait or something, but I don't listen, I have to catch this van before it disappears with its hostage ! I feel like Spider-Man, this is so exciting ! I jump from the factory rooftop to another one and keep running. On my left, below, the van is heading straight ahead but the traffic is slowing it down. That's my chance ! I turn left and dives into the street to land lithely on a traffic light. No time to think of the deadly danger of the stunts I'm performing, right now I'm a super-hero and I have to work ! The van passes below me, and as I've seen it done in many action flicks, I jump on its white roof, but taken unawares by the speed, I trip, lose balance, roll over and fall out !

A reflex ! That's what saved my life, and I have to thank Mom to have forced me into gymnastics lessons. In my fall, my hand reaches out almost by itself, and grab the handle of the back door. The shock flings it wide open and I'm literally sent flying towards the sidewalk, it's all going so fast my feet can't even touch the ground, but I'm still gripped tight on the handle. I think that's the new scariest moment of my life so far, when I see the passersby flashing by, too fast to see their faces, and the wind pulls on my painful shoulders, and right in front of my eyes, now, I see a street lamp heading right into me at full speed !

I must not panick now ! I brace myself, and swing my legs in front just as I'm about to hit the lamp. There is a sharp pain on the soles of my feet when they touch the metal pillar, and I push with all my strength to propel myself back towards the truck, so brutally I'm literally sucked inside. I fall on the floor of the vehicle. Wow ! It all happened so fast ! Hurriedly, I shut the door, and now there's no more wind, no more crazy stunts, no more death danger, I allow my head to rest on the closed door and sigh out all the tension of the past ten seconds - which represents more tension than in the whole twelve years of my life - and I come to this simple, yet thoroughly unbelievable consideration: I am inside ! I have made it ! I have hijacked the truck and I'm now inside it with Penny to rescue her ! Hey ! Wait a minute... inside ? But she surely is not alone inside...

I shriek like a swine in a slaughterhouse when I receive this punch, right between my shoulderblades, a strike as painful as a stab that brings me to my knees. Then it's a hand in a leather fingerless glove, as large as a pan, that grabs me by the throat, and the aggressor pins me against the wall, lifting me off the ground with no effort, and though I struggle to push his hand away, his grip crushes my throat and I can't breathe anymore. Though it's dark in there, I see the man pretty clearly, a towering figure of nearly two meters, in dark green fatigues which sleeves fit tight to his biceps that are as large as my head. I'll have nightmares for a while about his face, a square, massive face with the neck of a buffalo, which aggressive aspect is reinforced by a crew cut, a sharp goatee behind which he's baring his teeth in a hateful grin, and a small but ugly scar deforming his left eyebrow, and oh my God, his eyes ! The fiery eyes of a pyromaniac, a rapist, a killer ! Eyes that can freeze you with a single glance ! I see all of this and more while he's choking me mercilessly, and already my nose begins to itch and my vision to darken, obvious signs that I'm gonna pass out if he doesn't release his grip. There's Penny lying on the floor, still blindfolded, tied up and absolutely incapable of any move. Poor girl, she must be wondering what's going on ! And there's the driver, the driver say something to the giant choking me, I don't understand anything but I recognize what sounds like a name: Vassily. That must be his name. Vassily. I can't explain how, as I was giving up the fight, the sudden knowledge of his name pumped me up like this, but I suddenly came to us a girl's oldest weapon: a kick in the balls.

The man lets out a growl, and I break free as soon as I feel his grip loosening, but when I move away from his arms, I hear a loud rip, and I turn back to him and feel my hair flow freely around my head. Vassily is holding a torn, black rag in his hand, and I understand it's my mask he has ripped off and I'm now standing bare-head before him. He lets out a curse in his language and murmurs, slightly worried at the sight of my face:

"What kind of thing are you ?"

I don't know why I smile at him the way I do, so boldly, so foolishly, but it's something that just comes out naturally. Same as when I declare out loud:

"Consider me like her guardian angel. A blue angel."

And I stand on guard. Even though I know I have one chance out of one to lose this fight - and I'm being optimistic ! - I stand on guard and pray that I remember all my karate and that that kick in the balls has slowed him down. Otherwise, I'm smoked.

"Taboire !" Red Devil shouted in surprise as he braked like mad and stopped in the middle of the street. Immediately after, a series of angry honks came from behind, hurry drivers who were mad at the young motorbike rider in his red leather suit, but the Canadian didn't mind. I mean, what the Hell ! He had planned a good night at a night-club in East Atlanta, and on the way there, what did he see, a white van driving like crazy, followed by a police car with all its sirens out ! There was a chase ! Oh, it was much more exciting than a night at a club. That was decided, the young man told himself, he had to follow it and see what it was all about !

Without wasting anymore time, Terrance Phillips, a.k.a. Red Devil, the Terror of Montreal, passed the first gear, made the engine of his Kawazaki roar, and rushed at the tail of the crazy truck. He was going much too fast, he knew that. He was riding between cars and would even take the wrong side of the road so as not to get stuck in a jam, he knew that too, he was breaking the law pretty bad. But to Hell with the law ! It's not as if he was driving that truck ! And still, the idea was thrilling him. What if he stopped that truck ? Perhaps he could be honored by the police, get a medal or something ? What if it was a kidnapping or something like that, and he came deus ex machina to save the day ? He would appear in the news !

He was almost at the level of the police cruiser, partly daydreaming, which didn't interfere at all with his insane riding, when something, or should he say someone, surprised him by unexpectedly jumping on his bike, on the passenger's seat, and wrapping his arms around him ! There was a shocked, the bike shaked dangerously, but Devil kept control and they continued on their way.

"Criss de ciboire de sacre d'ostensoir !" the Canadian shouted without stopping. "Get out of my bike !"

"Keep ...ding. Two... irls to... scue !"

"What ?"

The roar of the engine and the speed made all form of normal speech inaudible, and the mystery passenger had to scream to be heard:

"I said: KEEP RIDING ! I got two pretty girls to rescue !"

"What the sacre are you talking about, man ?"

"If you wanna be a hero, don't ask and go for that truck !"

Terry didn't quite get what was going on, but he actually couldn't care less, the exciting perspectives of this night were enough to convince him to obey and speed up. What wouldn't he do for a good shot of adrenaline ! The rider and his passenger passed the police car and Terry had just the time to see the cop was throwing them a weird look before he disappeared from his sight. 130mph ! He didn't even know his bike could go so fast, but he had never used it for a case of emergency like this night. At this speed, a single error meant death ! His body tensed, making one with the machine, his mind entirely into the ride, Red Devil was now right behind the van, and his passenger reached out his arm in a black tracksuit and glove to point his thumb to the left, indicating the way he wanted to go. Devil obeyed. He was beginning to ride parallel to the van as if he were trying to pass by when there was a shot, and a hiss. At first it surprised him, he thought someone was shooting at him, but no, it came from his passenger, and it was not a bullet, it was a rope, a grapnel ! A steel rope that flew faster than the bike to reach the driver's door of the truck and grip to it. Then, two taps on his back, which in bikers' language meant thanks, and the mystery passenger jumped off the bike at full speed and practically flew towards the van following the rope. What the ! Terry just had time to perceive a black tracksuit, a black mask and a red cane before he came to realize he was on the wrong side and a car was heading straight into him. He dodged it closely and a few anguishing seconds ensued that seemed to last hours and during which the rider lost control and found himself doing zig-zags in the middle of the street, braking like an epileptic F-16 pilot, until he finally stopped, harmless, on the sidewalk. He tried to get out, putting a trembling foot on the pavement, but his legs were too weak to support him and he fell on his butt. It took him a while to get enough control on his fingers to remove his helmet, and his head was soaked with cold sweat. One of the passersby gathered here, a girl in school uniform, offered him a cigarette. He took it with pleasure. That was exactly what he needed after such a race. And who the fuck was this grapnel-guy ?

Dear Diary, I'm smoked. Okay, it's maybe not the proper time for humor, but I couldn't help. Because I'm lying down there, on the floor of the van, and my nose is bleeding. That Russian pig beat me down and it didn't take him too long, far from that ! He just sent me kiss the dust without giving a single chance to reply, and I know he's not done yet: the giant with his gorilla strength now picks me up again and binds my arms together behind my back in some kind of wrestling hold, I think he has handcuffs and he's gonna tie me up now, so that they'll have two hostages instead of one ! Oh, great, couldn't dream of a better end for this mission ! But he squeezes a little too hard, and I hear the horrible pop of my shoulder bones, broken neatly... and I don't feel any pain. That's when I suddenly remember who I am, I am Violet Beauregard, and I can do things normal people can't. Quickly I close my eyes, and try to imagine my limbs are rubber bands, and all of a sudden I feel I slide and evade from Vassily's grip to stand back up in front of him. He looks so confused it's almost pitiable.

"Ah-ah !" I let out victoriously. "Weren't expecting this one, were ya ?"

His confused look turns to an evil beastly grin again. Oh, shit...

No, a voice shouts in my head, and that voice is actually my own, don't let him beat you ! Think of rubber ! Think of the Factory ! Remember ?

Oh ! Yes, I do. Of course ! When the Oompa Loompas took me out of the press after I've been juiced. When the pain was passed. I remember. I had felt so good ! The cartwheels, the somersaults, all of those gymnastics moves that used to need an effort, they had all come out so naturally as I had begun to explore my new flexibility, the possibilities had seemed limitless at this moment ! That's the way I have to think now !

Vassily charges me, his fist ready to smash my face like a rotten blueberry. Calm. Focus. Think of the Factory. The press. The cartwheels. Yes, I think of the cartwheels. And when his fist comes to me, I do a cartwheel and evades from his attack with no effort. He gives me another confused look. I got it. I just have to think of myself as light as a feather in the wind, for that's how I am. That is how I could do rooftop-running so well without an intensive work-out like Matt. I am light, flexible, and strong. More vexed than ever, Vassily tries a long-range attack, a large kick, but his boot hits the wall and misses me, and I kick him in the balls again. It doesn't even slow him down ! He throws me an angry punch, I do another cartwheel to dodge, he immediately continues with another kick, but he hits the wall again and I kick him in the balls a third time ! I understand now he's a very tall man and that's his weak point: he doesn't have enough space in the truck to give a proper fight ! I have a tactical advantage on this one, and I do intend to use it at best.

He attacks ! Quick ! Dodge, cartwheel, kick in the balls, kick in the legs and make him fall ! Woah, and there's a rhyme ! I'm getting really good at this ! Why, Jesus why didn't I try to fight like that against Red Devil ? Oh, just because here it's inside a truck. In an open space, that Vassily guy would probably have killed me. Then better enjoy it while it lasts ! I make him fall, and make him fall again, I'm just too fast for him, he's like an elephant trying to catch a mouse, and I even surprise myself giggling like a little girl playing tags as I bounce against a wall to the back door to another wall to land on his chest with a strong flying kick that throws him on his butt ! I can't believe I'm actually winning this fight !

At this moment, the truck shakes strongly enough to make me look balance, and I look at the driver to see he has just changed, and instead of the Kazakh gangster at the wheel, there's now...

"Matt ?"

"Hold on !" he says. "We're almost done, keep it up !"

"Stop this, Matt ! You..." can't drive, you're blind. That's what I want to say, but before I can finish my phrase, Vassily has stood up again and grabs me by the collar and smashes me with all his strength - and there's a lot - against the back door. The shock is so violent it flings it open again, and I'm lying there, my head's hurt by the shock, I'm on the edge of K.O. and in the same time on the edge of the door open to the street, with the wind messing in my hair as if to remind me that only one move can throw me out of the truck speeding at over 100mph, on a road with high traffic where I'll get run over almost as soon as I hit the asphalt. And the Russian - or Kazakh, but who the fuck cares anyway ? - is coming to make that move, to push me outside. Remember how good it was going for me less than a minute ago ? And now, I'm in distress and have no other choice but to scream for help like the little girl I am.

"Matt !"

"Stay down !" my friend immediately replies, and as I curl up in a foetal position, I see him run to Vassily from behind, and he jumps to grip to the edge of the door and he dropkicks the Russian out of the van, doing in a single move what I've almost killed myself trying to do ! Then, so naturally it's almost shocking, acting as if nothing happened, he kneels down in front of me and gingerly lifts up my head.

"You're okay ?"

"Yes. Yes, I am... and I..." I feel so warm, so relieved, like a young child waking up from a nightmare, but I don't say anything of this because a fact we had forgotten during this tedious and confused fight comes to my mind like a lightbulb being lit in my brain: "Matt, nobody's driving the truck now !"

"Oh, shit !"

My blind friend stands up and hurries back to the wheel, though he won't really be able to do anything with his blindless. I decide to go for Penny, I wrap my arms around the helpless girl who's been whining and crying all along, I hug her tight, and brace myself, anticipating a rather brutal stop. And I'm not disappointed, for a few seconds later, the van begins to shake all around me, more and more, until it effectively falls on its side, bringing Penny and me into a crazy whirling rollercoaster ride of broken glass, impacts against the walls, screeching metal, an intolerable merry-go-round of nausea, pain and noise, until, finally, the deliverance: I pass out.

I'm still hugging Penny when I feel hands grab me by my shoulders and pull me. I feel tiny pieces of shattered glass pierce through my tracksuit and scratch my back and legs. The sensation is terribly unpleasant, but I still don't dare open my eyes. Then, I feel fresh air on my face, and I decide to look: it's Matt.

"How do you feel ?"

"Like I just woke up from a car accident," I moan tiredly. "Wait, it's actually the case..."

I regain my wits and do a quick check-up on Penny who's still unconscious. That's unbelievable she doesn't even have a scratch !

"You'd better check yourself up first," he says. "Your nose is bleeding, along with your forehead and your wrists."

Oh, my ! I look at my wrists. Okay, that's nothing, just the shattered glass, it's not that important. My nose, it's Vassily who did that, and I guess it's gonna hurt when I laugh for the next few days. But when my fingers touches the wound on my forehead, a sharp pain makes me withdraw with a hiss, and my fingers are dripping with dark blood. Uh-oh, this one's an important wound...

"Here, put this on."

Matt hands me Penny's blindfold he just removed and I wrap it around my forehead like Rambo's bandana. I feel better now. But then, I see the van, lying on its side, with all its windows broken, and I can't really explain what it triggered in my mind, but my legs begin to quiver and I feel cold and very sick, all of a sudden. I think the sight of this truck brought me to abruptly realize everything I have done this night, all the crazy, all the bat fuck insane things I've done this night ! I've been threatened by a shotgun-toting paranoid, I've jumped on a truck at high speed, I almost ended up roadkilled, I've fought a monstrous mafia muscle-man, all in all I just realize now that I've been the most hot-headed, irresponsible, suicidal person in the world tonight, and all that to rescue a girl I don't even like ! I fall on my knees. I don't feel good. Around us, a few passersby look at us from a distance, worried, and I hear a police siren coming closer, but I don't pay attention. All of this... all I've done... all the risks... the danger... all of this rushes at me, assaults me, takes the form of a thick acid ball into my stomach. I have a hiccup. And another, stronger. And finally, I vomit.

Matt puts a hand on my shoulder, gingerly.

"It's okay," I say, "it's okay, we're cool..." I stand up, I feel relieved but so weak ! "Just promise me we'll never do that again !"

"That was your idea," he answers softly.

"Then it was a bad idea... but I think it was worth."

I smile as much as I'm capable of, which is not much, really, and Penny's faint, weak voice makes me startle:

"Oh ! You're beautiful..."

I look: she's staring at me ! Lying tied up on the floor, awakened and without her blindfold, she looks at me and smiles:

"Is that you, my blue guardian angel ? What is your name ?"

No panic, we're cool. Of course, with my blue face, she didn't recognize me. Not in the dark. But if she looks with more attention, perhaps...

"Listen, Penny," I whisper kindly as I kneel down at her level, "I'm your angel, but you're not supposed to see me. So you're gonna sleep now, and you'll not remember anything tomorrow. Okay ?"

"No, wait, how..."

I give her a headbutt. I know it's not kind at all, but what did you want me to do ? It's an emergency situation, I must not let anyone know I have a blue skin, and no-one is supposed to know I was involved in this insane chase ! So I give her a headbutt and knock her senseless.

When the cops arrived on the scene, they found Penny unconscious beside the van, but she was safe and sound. And there was not anyone with her, she was all alone, waiting to be rescued.

I am in my warm bed, comforting myself, though I know perfectly I won't sleep a single minute of the whole night. Not after a night like this. So I stare at the ceiling, replaying the action in my mind, still hardly believing I have made it out alive, and now I'm in my house, in my room, my bed, so warm and safe ! The sensation is weird... I don't want to live such a night again, never ever, but in the same time, I get all excited to a point I want to smile and giggle, when I think back of it.

"Blue angel," I whisper in the night. "That's kinda nice..."