The local news station was playing the footage when Sumerset turned on the TV.
Two figures in ski-masks stepped in through the front doors of a bank; men and women started to move in a panic. Security guards stepped forward, hands moving toward their guns.
By the time I saw that they were wearing headphones, I already knew what was about to happen.
"Oh no," I whispered.
One of them held something up above his head--something small enough to fit into his palm. He pressed the button.
Everyone on camera except the robbers clutched their heads, as if suddenly in pain.
"If anyone has any information regarding this robbery, you are urged to contact the police at..."
Sumerset switched the television off and turned to us.
My mind was whirling in a panic. I must have dropped it after using it against Sharkface. It hadn't even occurred to me--in all the chaos, all the desperation. And now it was out there. In the wrong hands.
"I'll make this right," I said, trying to keep my voice from trembling.
"Shouldn't we contact the police?" Anna asked.
"No." Both Sumerset and I responded in the same instant.
"Am I missing something?" Anna said.
"I can fix this," I said. "It's my mess. I'll clean it up."
"If the police catch them--find the device--they'll know a cape is involved," Sumerset said. "And then they'll start asking very particular questions. Questions that could lead them straight to you." He gave me a meaningful look.
"Fine," I said. "So, right. Like I said. I'll fix this." I had no idea how I would do that, of course. But I'd find a way. I had to.
"First things first. You're going to tell me everything that happened. And I mean everything."
When I had told Anna the story, she had hung on my every word; but with Sumerset, it was more of an interrogation. He'd stop me in the middle of the story to ask a few penetrating questions--and the longer I talked, the more he started to scowl.
When I finally finished, he clearly did not approve.
"I cannot even begin to describe to you the number of fuck-ups you've made," he said.
"Look. I know. Like I said--I'll fix this," I told him. I was starting to get frustrated. Some part of me was wishing I had never even contacted him.
"You don't know. And that's the problem," he said. "Do you realize that it's very possible that this 'Sharkface' character knows your identity?"
"You interrogated someone out of costume," he said. "In your own home. And then you showed up a few hours later on his doorstep and kicked his teeth in. If he's not a complete idiot, he's already started asking his men questions--and one of them's gonna have a hell of a yarn to spin about how this fifteen year old school-girl harpooned him on a fire poker and beat the shit out of him."
"I'm sixteen," I said, and then I shook my head. "He won't have the guts to tell his boss. It'll mean he ratted him out. Besides, he was probably stoned--"
"You hope he ain't got the guts, and you hope he was stoned," Sumerset said, "but neither of those are guarantees."
"Fine. Fine!" I said. "I made mistakes. Okay. So now I'm going to fix them."
"We're going to fix them," Sumerset said.
"Why are you going to help me?" I asked, narrowing my eyes at Sumerset.
"Sue!" Anna said. "You need his help--"
"Do I? I didn't call you to clean up my messes, Mr. Sumerset," I said. "I called you because I wanted to know more about my mother. But this--this is my problem, not yours. I can handle this."
Sumerset leaned back in his chair. He looked less irritable now, and more thoughtful--when he spoke, his voice no longer carried that hint of bitterness.
"You look inside your helmet yet?" he said.
"What does that have to--"
"You want to know about your mother? Fine. I'll tell you about her," he said, cutting me off. "Did you see the words inside your helmet or not?"
I glared at him, but didn't reply. My silence was answer enough; he nodded his head slowly.
"Rule #1," he said. "Never alone."
"What does that mean?" Anna asked.
"In the comics, you always see Batman and Superman and all the greats fighting it on their own," he said. "But that's a load of bull. No professional cape has ever gone it alone. They always have someone back home, talking into their ear over the radio--doing the research, giving advice, ready to call 911 if things get dicey. Or the Army. Or, hell, even suit up in a costume if they have to."
"You're talking about handlers," Anna said.
"I don't understand," I said. "What's that got to do with--"
"Your mother wrote those words in the helmet. They were a reminder for your father," Sumerset said. "She was your father's handler--the voice in his ear. Made sure he was informed, made sure he was safe, made sure that if things got dangerous, he'd always have back up. She wrote it in there so he'd always remember--never do this alone. Always have someone behind you, ready to pull your ass out of the fire."
A question took root in my brain--and before I could think it over, I found myself asking it.
"After my father died--after my mother became the Skull--who was her handler?"
"I was," Daniel Sumerset said.
I looked down at my hands, unsure of what to say. Sumerset filled the silence for me:
"I know things've been rough for you since your mom died, Sue. You've probably been operating solo for a while now--got it in your head that the only way to get things done is to do them yourself. But that ain't how caping works. Your father knew he needed help--and so did your mother. And now, so do you. And if you let me--for one last time, just one more night--we'll let the Skull out to set things straight."
He took another breath: "And for that night, I'll be your handler."