“Why did you laugh?” I asked, finding myself seated next to Alma while Aaliyah was on stage. The second day of the convention had gone by in a blur of activities leading up to Aaliyah putting on a concert tonight. The tiny girl looked even smaller than normal when standing on the enormous stage, but she also looked bigger than life projected onto the large screens behind her and around the room. “Pardon?” replied Alma, her eyes locked on the performance. Aaliyah’s singing was as incredible as ever, but Hugh was still on my mind. “Earlier, when Aaliyah was telling me that Hugh wanted to know what was on her mind, you laughed. I didn’t get the joke, and it’s bothering me. Did you kill him? Was she covering for you?” I inquired. Before I got the whole question out, the noise from the crowd muted completely, and Aaliyah’s voice dropped to barely audible background music. “No, I didn’t kill him, and I think you suffer under the misconception that I enjoy killing. I don’t. I will protect humanity though, despite how ungrateful some would be if they knew what I do.” she replied, pointedly looking at me when she said “some”.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you, but I wanted to know. I really want to know you, Alpy. Er, Alma. I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I just said that. I never think of you as ‘Alpy’. Honest,” I said, stumbling over the words after I erred. Why did “Alpy” come to mind now of all times? Alma visibly glowered at the name, and I felt fortunate not to be on fire. “Ask me anything, James. Just please don’t refer to me by that horrible name.” stated Alma. “I’m sorry. I’m also sorry for thinking of you as a killer. I can’t seem to help it. You just seem to kill so often…” I started, only to be interrupted by Alma saying, “Not nearly as often as her.”, while nodding toward the stage. I sighed and replied “I know about that job Aaliyah has, but I can never really think of her as a killer. She’s so… young.” Alma huffed and said, “She’s the most prolific assassin in history from what I know, and I’m certain she has been involved in many deaths unknown to me. You vastly underestimate her.” I knew I was looking at Alma incredulously, but I really couldn’t find any sign of humor on her face. Did she truly believe Aaliyah had killed so many? If Aaliyah did…. “Do you think she enjoys it… the killing?” I asked.
Alma rested her hand on mine and said, “I wouldn’t presume to know, but you really should be more cautious around her.” As if on queue, Aaliyah sang “She doesn’t know how I feel”. I laughed, amused at how perfectly that fit. Alma was expressionlessly looking at Aaliyah now, apparently not amused if she caught how well the song fit our conversation at that moment. “Did you know Hugh?” I asked, wondering if Alma could’ve been the one to hire Aaliyah. Maybe that was the reason for a joke to pass between them. “No, I didn’t hire Aaliyah to assassinate Hugh, James.” she replied, making me wonder if she could read my mind. “So you did know him though?” I persisted. “No, actually. He wasn’t in our database, but what we found on his hard drives was very disturbing. Aaliyah was right about him being a ‘naughty’ hacker. He associated with a number of known criminals, and probably will lead us to some we didn’t know about.” explained Alma. “Are you going to alert the authorities then?” I questioned. “Of course not, and I’m not going to go kill random criminals either. The ones I recognized are humans, and I’m not some sort of vigilante crusader like that one,” she said as she nodded toward Portentia.
“Then what are you going to do?” I asked. “Nothing, probably. As long as they don’t get in my way, there’s no need for me to bother with them. Some are known to work for part of my family, so I would be pointlessly stirring up trouble if I did more than observe their dealings.” claimed Alma. Part of me felt like Portentia’s methods might be better at the moment. Knowing about criminals and not trying to stop them seemed so very wrong. Of course, I didn’t like the idea that part of Alma’s family was involved in criminal activity either. I could understand where they were slaying creatures that fell outside of common law, but what if they were thieves, drug dealers, or something worse? Judging by Alma and the twins, not even the FBI would have a hope of stopping them. The world was so much more complicated than I ever considered even half a year ago. To make matters worse, I was now wondering where I stood, now that I knew of the criminals. I didn’t have any evidence or even names to do anything, but I knew who did, not that she’d hand anything over. I already knew I was going to let the matter slide along, but was I really doing the right thing?
I actually did have far more resources than the average person, but I couldn’t think of any way to use them against my current dilemma. Looking at my employees, my friends, I wondered what the point of all our training was if we didn’t do some good with it. That’s where I paused again. Weren’t we doing good? My entire business revolved around helping people. I was willing to bet that all of my employees would act if a crime was committed in their presence. Portentia, in fact, actively pursued criminals from what I knew. I might need to make sure she understood not to be too proactive against crime while on a job for my company. A “best friend” needed to think of the client first in all circumstances. There was always so very much for me to consider these days, and I often felt like I didn’t have time to even catch my breath. “Well, maybe I did.” I thought, considering the time off I took to actively pursue dating. I wasn’t entirely certain how much of that “time off” was actually counted as jobs, knowing Aaliyah mentioned hiring me for the time. She was always so far ahead of me that I didn’t have a hope of keeping up, yet Alma claimed I shouldn’t trust her. Didn’t Alma see that I needed to trust Aaliyah completely? There was no way I could manage my business without her, not without spending every waking moment fighting with scheduling. Aaliyah, on the other hand, made the colossal task look easy, working around hiccups in an instant.
I felt Portentia lean against me and wondered for a moment if she noticed the sudden silence, but I was wincing a second later as pain shot through my hand. “You can’t let her get away with pretending to be tired when she doesn’t sleep, James” claimed Alma. For a second when she looked from my face to the hand she was gripping, I thought she was going to apologize. Instead, she crossed her arms and looked pointedly away. I wasn’t certain why Portentia even came to the concert, remembering now that she couldn’t hear. Maybe she just didn’t want to be left out of the group, since we all came here together. Moving my hand, I winced again. Nothing felt broken, but I wondered if something was bruised. The strangest things set Alma off at times, and I wasn’t sure how to deal with her when she was being like this. What was she wanting me to do? Neither of us had known Portentia long. Maybe Portentia actually needed rest but rarely enough to call it “sleeping”. Having her lean against me was so different than with most girls in how my shoulder felt cooler rather than hot. Even when the concert ended a good half hour later, my shoulder didn’t feel warm so much as no longer cool. We all went up to the room together after Aaliyah joined us, but Alma ignored everything I said, only responding to the others as they commented about Aaliyah’s performance. Girls were so very difficult.