It began with a simple trip to the bank. Though it had a bit to do with the fashion shoot which Sasha Canaro, Olympic gold medalist, shapechanger, and sort-of superhero, did just before that.
“Give me a kiss. That’s it. Now not so much. Just a hint of a kiss.”
Sasha Canaro stood at the focus of over a dozen bright flood lights. Behind and above her a huge sheet of white paper spun off a roll of paper, hung down, and curved forward at the floor to end in an edge taped to the floor with transparent duct tape.
She wore a fantasy of harem pants, basically a blue bikini with a filmy vest and several ankle-length panels of gauze to simulate a skirt. Her long shapely legs peeked out of edges of the panels.
“Break! Lick your lips just a bit. Sandie! Lip gloss, darling. Chop, chop!”
A skinny girl with short black hair in bangs with raccoon rings of black around her eyes skipped forward, a lip pencil in hand. She wore camouflage clothing colored, oddly, bright pink.
While her lips were being expertly moistened Sasha amused herself by imagining on what battlefield such camouflage would be effective.
“Back to work! Darling, again, kiss, soften, now a hint of a smile. Just a hint. Mysterious. That a girl.”
Rigoberto Benigni was a talker. Some fashion photographers were practically mute and others were in-between. Sasha preferred the talkers. After a year of being a fashion model she still needed lots of direction.
Two hours, four set-ups, and twelve costume changes later Sasha, Rigo, and crew were done. Rigo went off onto the hotel building balcony to chat, argue, shout, cajole, wheedle, and laugh with his lover, a somber, starchy millionaire businessman who loved Rigo desperately. Sasha thought he might commit suicide if Rigo ever left him.
Meanwhile the crew broke down and stored the set. Sasha showered and cleaned up in the hotel suite bathroom, one of the luxuries of such shoots. Ones on the street or in one of New York’s many parks oftentimes approached safari-like harshness.
Then she strolled into the bedroom completely nude to dress. Sasha’s ultra-sensitive nose told her that no one was affected by this sight of one of the world’s most beautiful women (several men’s and fashion magazines said so). They had seen it all and more, and anyway several of the men were gay.
Not that many more men than in the general population, however. Sasha could smell one’s sexual orientation, and she knew. But in the fashion world gay men were accepted and could show it.
“God, I wish I had a cigarette!” Maria the hair-dresser was lying on one of the two double beds. Glenda the make-up girl (never woman) was sprawled in a chair, leg up on an arm, and the hotel phone cradled between neck and shoulder. She had sworn off cell-phones “because of the radiation” ‑‑ this week.
Sasha was amused by the caution. She could sense radio waves as a sort of ever-so-slight warmth against her skin. And her body was practically a biochemical laboratory (and factory). It told her better than any human-made lab that there was no harm in such radiation.
She brushed an errant strand of Maria’s hair off the woman’s brow. At the same time she sampled the woman’s biological state by injecting her skin with an army of submicroscopic messengers who reported back to her. The woman’s body was still healthy and still did not crave tobacco. Sasha had cured Maria of the drug habit and every other ill weeks ago.
“No, you don’t. It’s just the habit that you miss.”
She went on to the closet and pulled out her sports bra, shorts, and worn tennis shoes. Sitting, she dressed.
Glenda was staring at her crotch, mildly curious not sexually interested. “How do you get your goody-bits so smooth? When I shaved down there I could never get it so perfect.”
Sasha finished tying her shoe laces. Her skin being perfectly adaptable and immensely tough where she wanted it to be she would have preferred to go barefoot everywhere, but she had to keep up the appearance of being an ordinary human.
“Why did you do that? Did you model?”
“No, I had this boyfriend. He liked it that way.”
Sasha said no more. The hairs on her head and body were not really hair, which died as soon as it left the scalp and hung limp. They were alive all along their length. She could use them like very thin fingers. They could also lengthen or shorten or be absorbed by her body as she willed. So she could assume a new hair style by desiring it, and also change her hair’s color and texture. This was why she liked to have Maria do her hair. The woman treated all hair as if it were delicate and alive.
Back in the living room part of the suite Rigoberto was seated at a desk reviewing the digital photographs which he had taken on a large viewscreen. Sasha came over and laid a hand on a shoulder. Simultaneously she double-checked his health through her hand. The little cancer was dissolving nicely back into his body.
“How’s it look?” she said.
Rigo put an idle hand over hers, gave it a pat, dropped his hand back to the desk where it had lain. With his other hand he continued to move the computer mouse to control the images he saw.
“Good as always, sexy girl.” He flirted with all his models, but it was a pro forma flirtation. No one took it seriously.
“Then I’ll leave you to it.” She leaned down and kissed one of his cheeks. She liked him a lot.
One of the reasons made itself known to her as she walked through the organized chaos of shoot takedown. A young man sitting on a couch waved her over to him. He had paperwork spread on the cushions on each side of him and on the coffee table in front of the couch. He reached forward and picked up a clipboard, offered it to her.
Sasha briefly double-checked his figures for the time she had spent working and signed a form. He tore off a check for her work and handed it to her. Unlike all-too-many photographers Rigo paid everyone as soon as a shoot was over.
“Thanks. See you next time.”
The man smiled at her but was already working on something else in his lap. Sasha waved at a few busy people and was gone.
The hotel was a four-star in downtown Brooklyn, which was east just across the East River from Manhattan. She emerged onto a street with buildings just as old and tall as those on the famous island which out-of-towners thought of as New York. The sun was more than halfway down the sky so the south side of the street was half in shadow and the northern side half in sunlight. A brisk wind was blowing down the canyon of buildings, a bit chill from the hour and the river. The sidewalks were full of people and the streets of vehicles.
Sasha walk east toward the edge of Brooklyn, ducked down the stairs of a subway entrance, and within a couple of minutes caught a rattling hissing train toward the mildly upscale Park Slope suburb where she had an apartment. A half mile on, however, she got off the train, re-emerged into daylight, and walked a couple of blocks further eastward. At the edge of the city was a university and a hospital and a large park.
It was a neighborhood she liked, with all sorts of interesting restaurants and shops catering to the university and the hospital and to the local businesses. There was also a branch of the bank she used.
It was an old building with two big fluted columns flanking the double doors. Inside there were high ceilings, an odor of dust and age, modern carpeting, an area with loan and service desks, and a line for those wanting a clerk. Sasha got in it and made out the deposit slip as she inched along.
Her thoughts were still back at the shoot. And maybe that was why she did not notice the man behind her pull a ski-mask on over his face, pull out a pistol, and grab her around the throat.
Reflex took over before her brain could. She went to slow time ‑‑ fast time to observers ‑‑ and disarmed the man, broke his arm (doing it kindly above the elbow where there was a single big bone rather than below where there were two smaller ones), tripped him (making sure his head bounced hard enough to put him out but not kill him), looked all around her to observe her surroundings, saw a man with a ski mask pointing a rifle (M5 semiauto) at the ceiling, saw he wore a chest bullet-proof, broke his arms with a pistol shot to each exposed shoulder (making sure there was no person or window on his other side to be hit by the exiting bullet, saw another ski-masked man just turning toward her carrying an automatic subgun, aimed the pistol at his face, shouted “Freeze! Police” in a voice projected like a sonic boom, and saw him turn to run.
She gave the room another comprehensive look to see if there were more would-be bank robbers, stuck the pistol into her waist band, dashed to the shoulder-shot man, retrieved the rifle from the floor, and turned to a nearby man who seemed to be waking from a dream.
“Take care of this man, would you? Get others to help you.”
Then she dashed to the exit.
Through it she could see the third man getting into a white van a quarter-block to the right. She leaped through the heavy swinging doors, took a stance, and fired a single carefully aimed round into the engine block of the get-away vehicle as it neared her. She could hear the bullet pinging around inside the engine and the engine grinding to a stop. The car jerked to a halt.
The driver and passenger banged their heads into the exploding air bag. The first seemed stunned near-senseless. The gunman was not. He grappled with the bag as it began to deflate, pushed open the door, got out, saw Sasha, and began to bring up the automatic subgun.
The bullets from that weapon could harm a dozen people or more, not just Sasha. She drew the pistol from her waistband and (no one behind his head) shot him through one eye. His brain and far-side skull exploded, splashing the side of the vehicle with grey matter and blood.
Nerveless his body began to tilt forward, the subgun began to slide from his hand.
Sasha was there before it struck the pavement and possibly fired. She caught it, pointed it inside the van without putting her finger inside the trigger guard, and yelled “Crawl out this side! Now!”
Projected directly at the man her voice was like a blow to the head. He began to comply.
A few minutes later the driver was lying facedown on the sidewalk, arms spread out to each side. Sasha had the pistol pointed at him and the rifle slung over her shoulder. That was how the police in the shrieking patrol car found them as it jerked to a stop in middle of the street.
Out of the side of her eye Sasha saw two policemen erupt from the car and aim pistols at her. She did not move a muscle.
“Freeze! If you twitch we will shoot!” Sasha had already frozen. She awaited further orders.
“Put the gun down! Slowly! That’s right. Now sit! Slowly. That’s right.” The near-side officer was giving the orders. His voice was becoming softer, just a bit. More reassuring. Things will be all right if you just do as I say. Stay calm. Stay calm.
Sasha would have bet they took lessons in voice-controlling criminals.
In another minute she was imitating the get-away driver, lying on her belly with her arms and legs spread.
“Hey! Guys. You can let her up.” Sasha’s head was turned toward the bank, so she saw a red-headed bank security guard in a grey uniform with blue shoulder patches exiting the bank.
“She was helping me control the situation.” The guard was either being nice to the Most Beautiful Woman in the World (This Man’s Magazine) or trying to grab some of her credit. She was happy to let him, and she’d have bet before the day was over he would have convinced himself that he in fact did “control the situation” that day.
Eventually the bad guys were loaded into various police cars and ambulances and taken away. So too was Sasha and over two dozen witnesses and bank officials, though in three police SUVs and (for the bank officials) limousines.
It took more than three hours to take witness statements, the Brooklyn Police Department tasking three or four officers to do so. For a time Sasha thought she might be let go with the other witnesses, but a female plain-clothes police detective (or maybe an assistant district attorney) had threatened Sasha with reckless endangerment charge or some such. At which point Sasha insisted on calling her mother ‑‑ again.
Within thirty minutes a round little man in a rumpled brown suit had shown up. He was balding and looked harmless. Sasha was not fooled. He was surely one of the best criminal defense lawyers in the biggest city in the world, and that meant very good indeed.
The assistant DA (for such she was) was not giving up without at least a token fight.
By now it was nearly 9:00 at night and Sasha was getting annoyed. She had not had her usual huge dinner and her body was beginning to complain a bit at the lack. She had had a couple of snacks and a fruit drink, but it was not enough. And she refused to control her emotions with her shapechanger abilities.
She was in a police-station conference room. It was old but quite nice, with polished deep-brown wall paneling, conference table, and chairs. Beside her at the table was her attorney. Across from them was the assistant DA, who had long dark hair and a dark-blue dress suit. She was young and pretty and might have gotten a little too-used to having that as an advantage.
But across from her sat Sasha, tall, obviously natural platinum blonde, with large blue eyes and luscious lips and a small nose, her cheeks almost invisibly pink. She wore an exercise bra and shorts and tennies but with such assurance that she seemed ready to step off the front page of Vogue.
The head of the table and the room was commanded by a police captain, a tall thin black man wearing a perfectly tailored dark blue suit. Beside him was a uniformed police sergeant with a large number of stripes on his arm. He had an open laptop before him and occasionally made notes on it. Sasha guessed he was an assistant to the captain.
Two plain-clothes detectives were also at the table, an older grey-haired man in great shape and a plain-looking woman who Sasha thought would look elegantly beautiful when made up and dressed up. The man wore a grey suit and the woman a leather jacket over jean pants. Both had badges on their belts and pistols at their waists, partly concealed by their jackets.
The master sergeant had just read a summary of the robbery in a dry monotone.
The ADA leaned forward and said, “So, Miss Canaro, why did you attack the man behind you in the bank-service line?”
Her attorney had told Sasha that, since she had not been charged with anything and not been notified of her rights, she could say anything. He would only interrupt if necessary.
“I did not attack him. He attacked me and I defended myself.”
“He only grabbed you around the neck. You did not think it might be better to wait and see what was going on before you acted?”
“Training took over. As soon as I had disarmed and immobilized him I did look around to ‘see what was going on.’ In hindsight that was still the wisest course of action.”
“Without even seeing whether you could prevail over your opponent you still fought him?”
Sasha’s attorney, Mr. Jellicoe, coughed and said, “Ms. Canaro is the reigning world champion in Judo. There is probably not anyone in this city she couldn’t prevail over.”
The grey-haired detective said, “Champ only in her weight class. Against a larger equally trained opponent …” He shrugged his very nice shoulders.
Amusement, and just a bit of erotic interest, briefly over-shadowed Sasha’s pique. “Are you volunteering to …” She put a bit of purr in her voice. “… test that theory?”
He smiled at her and shook his head.
The ADA said, “If we can keep on track?”
After a pause she said, “Next you shot a man in his upper arms. You crippled him for life.”
Jellicoe said, “I don’t think anyone with a brain is going to try to defend a career criminal, as Mr. Smithson is, who was wounded in the course of a robbery in which he offered grievous and deadly harm to innocent civilians.”
The ADA snapped, “There are plenty of attorneys who have more ambition than brain.”
Jellicoe’s voice was dry. “Why, yes, that has been my experience, too.”
There was just a hint of a flush to the ADA’s cheeks.
“Did you even consider that you might miss and hurt someone else?”
Jellicoe said, “Ms. Canaro is also the reigning world champion at shooting. And there are no weight classes in that.”
The grey-haired man raised a dismissing hand. “Champ at a very formal sport, some of it timed fire.”
He seemed to be arguing more for a whim than to make a real point. Or was he teasing her the way little boys teased girls they liked? Sasha did not smell more than mild sexual interest from him, or for that matter from the other men in the room. So if he was flirting it was more as a game than in earnest.
The ADA said, “Did you might consider you might miss? And hurt someone.”
Sasha was getting angry again. “I don’t miss. Not at those distances. And I made sure there was no one and no window behind him when I aimed.”
The grey-haired man made a dismissive sound. Sasha turned to him, “I’ll be happy to shoot in any ‘real-world’ scenarios you and your friend want to devise. But only if you shoot in them too.”
She paused. “I should tell you that I routinely shoot a dozen fifty-cent pieces out of the air at thirty feet. With an off-the-shelf Glock.”
The plain/elegant detective had seemed to be bored until now. She glanced at ‑‑ her partner? ‑‑ with a slightly malicious smile on her face. “Why, Trent. I would love to see that. If you shoot in it.”
The captain said, “Ladies. Gentlemen. Let’s proceed a little more briskly. I would like to get out of here before midnight.”
The ADA looked up from her yellow pad. “When you pursued the third bank robber outside did you ever consider what might happen to innocent civilians in a gun fight?”
“That is exactly why I pursued. That man was carrying a fully automatic weapon. For all I knew he was going to spray everyone in sight. I needed to be available to prevent that if I saw it was likely.”
“But then he just got into a get-away car. Without committing an atrocity.”
“I had no idea what he might do if he got a hundred yards down the road and decided to take out his anger on the people there. Or for that matter whether he might just go around the block and shoot at the bank. Those big glass windows would not stop bullets.”
“And then you did get in a gun fight.”
“Not really. When he got out of the van I put a bullet in his brain. No brain, no trigger-finger action.”
“He might have twitched when he died.”
Sasha’s defense attorney said, “If this gets to a court I would bring in a neuro-psychologist to confirm that Ms. Canaro’s estimation of the situation is the correct one.”
The ADA checked at that. She visibly calmed. Then she looked down at her yellow pad and aside at a printed form of some kind. She nodded decisively and made a check-mark with a pen on the form.
“After due consideration of all the facts this office concludes that there are no reasonable grounds to pursue a charge of reckless endangerment against Ms. Sasha Canaro. The Office of the District Attorney of the city of Brooklyn, New York, thanks Ms. Canaro and everyone else here for their co-operation in this matter, and hopes you will believe that any contentious language was necessary in the pursuit of justice.”
She relaxed back in her seat and smiled at the captain. “I think it’s well before midnight, sir. Perhaps we could adjourn?”
The sharply dressed black man nodded at the ADA. “Not just yet, Ms. Laughton. But the rest is just some minor police business. Have a good evening.”
The ADA shuffled together her few items and stood up. Coming around the table she approached Sasha and held out her hand. “Don’t you dare quote me. This is just my own opinion. Good job getting rid of those scum bags.”
Sasha shook the woman’s hand and nodded at her as she left. The ADA had seemed genuinely angry at times. Maybe she had indulged in a little bit of Method acting? For now the woman seemed relaxed, and the biological symptoms which her skin contact relayed agreed with the appearance.
When the door to the conference room closed the Captain turned to Sasha.
“I want you to know that the department does not approve of vigilante action. This time you got away with it. But the next time you may not be so lucky.”
With that he got up, nodded to Mr. Jellicoe, glanced at the two detectives, and left. The master sergeant followed without a word.
Jellicoe said, “That went pretty well the way I anticipated. Now, if you’ll excuse me Ms. Canaro, I’ve got a none-too-happy wife to get back to. May I say, with all good will to your mother, I hope you don’t need my services again?”
Left with the two detectives Sasha waited, looking at them. The two moved into the ADA’s place. They reached across and shook her hand. The man introduced himself as David Trent, the woman Alice Love.
“And don’t think a woman with the name of Love doesn’t get a lot of jokes about her name.”
Trent glanced at her then back at Sasha. “That lasted until she got a chance to go one-on-one with them in hand-to-hand training. She’s pretty good at weird martial arts.”
Alice said, “It’s a hobby. I actually watched all your matches at the Olympics. Which brings up something ‑‑”
David had been shuffling some papers. He fanned out one set on the table in front of Sasha and pointed at two places on one form and three on a second. They would release her from the police station. Sasha read them carefully while the woman detective waited for her to finish.
After signing the papers she looked back up at the woman.
“‑‑ something I’d like you to do. Come in to one or two of my hand-to-hand sessions and show us some pointers.”
Sasha considered. She did have plenty of time, maybe too much after word of this got around.
“I’d like that. But I’ve got to see what my work schedule is like after this. My guess is the publicity is not going to sit well with a lot of my clients.”
Alice looked troubled. “If you get to hurting ‑‑”
“No, no. I’m way ahead of the game. You wouldn’t believe the endorsement and spokesperson offers I get. I had to turn down lots of them.”
Alice relaxed, leaving David Trent an opening. “I’d still like to see you shoot down those fifty-cent pieces.”
Sasha grinned. “I lied about that.”
Trent was silent, suspicious. With reason.
“They were quarters.”
Continued in Chapter Eighteen.