"Scuba gear," says Josephine Baird, whirling around in her swivel office chair to face Mitch as he comes through the door.
Mitch stops dead in the doorway, stressed and slightly damp from drizzle. He's not very tall; he is carrying a hefty backpack into which he could probably fit, which is full of schoolchildren's marked homework books. "Josephine, traffic getting here was extremely-much worse than I anticipated. They're tearing up the road, for whatever arcane reasons. Got stuck at the railway crossing. If getting back is going to be equally bad, then I need to be leaving in about ten minutes' time. So, if you can not just assail me with non-sequiturs and get to the, like, point, I have lessons to give this afternoon."
"We could have rescheduled--"
Mitch waves a hand, dumps his backpack in the corner, plonks into another chair and scoots over to Seph's desk. "I'm here now. Whatcha got?"
It turns out to be a local newspaper. The story Seph is looking at concerns the mysterious disappearance of some two thousand pounds from a local bank. The theft occurred in the middle of the night; no alarms were tripped, no fingerprints or clues were left, and no security cameras detected anything out of the ordinary. A sealed metal box alongside a few hundred others had contained fifty thousand pounds in the form of thick wodges of twenties one night. The following morning, a single wodge had evaporated. There's a sub-headline:
Mitch doesn't need to read the story. He knows the story; he has a copy of the same paper.
"You can't breathe when you're completely phased," says Josephine. "To stay completely invisible for long periods of time, you need breathing apparatus. There is only one shop stocking diving equipment within three miles of where you live, and, as it turns out, you have indeed visited them and rented stuff there. Congratulations, Mitch Calrus, you are the world's first supervillain."
Mitch has the expression on his face of a child who has been Caught. He avoids Seph's steely glare and leans back in his chair to put some distance between them. "Haaah. God damn it."
"You are also a terrible, as in ineffective, supervillain. I am the world's laziest amateur detective. I asked literally one question of one single store clerk and I knew it was you."
Mitch still hasn't just run away. He actually looks embarrassed as opposed to defensive. Seph was banking on this. "You do have the advantage of knowing what I can do," says Mitch.
"I know a lot more about what you can do than you do, when it comes down to it. And I'm the only one who knows anything about you. Right now, anyway. Without that extra knowledge, this is an insoluble locked room mystery. On the other hand, I could just tell the police that I have this sensational man here who can see through walls and walk through walls and you'd be going to prison. You wore scuba gear to get into the bank, right? Probably stopped your car around the corner, walked a hundred feet in, a hundred feet out, easy. Have you touched the money yet? With your bare hands? As opposed to through the dry suit."
"Huh, yeah, yeah, I think so..."
"Okay. Have you got a criminal record?"
"So if you return the cash tonight, you probably won't get caught by the fingerprints."
Mitch looks stunned. "Look, the diving equipment wasn't cheap..."
"Mitch! Mitch! Look at me! You're a teacher! Of kids! You're supposed to be a role model! What does this say? Crime is bad, except when you can absolutely, positively get away with it? Consider this an expensive mistake. Consider yourself lucky I don't just pick up the phone and turn your expense into jail time."
"They couldn't hold me in jail."
"They can't hold you, but they can make your life unpleasant. You start phasing through police officers, you're resisting arrest. You leave your prison cell, that's much more illegal than stealing cash." Mitch could even kill someone instantly just by materialising his hand in their brain. Seph is extremely confident that Mitch would never do this, but even so, she leaves this part out of her prepared speech. "Follow that path to its logical conclusion. You can't erase a criminal record by being intangible. Living inside the law is comfy. There are nice people here. And from the last however many months, I know you well enough that I know you like doing the right thing. You are a nice person, not a supervillain. This isn't some comic book one-hundred-and-eighty-degree good-to-bad overnight flip. Why did you pinch the money?"
Mitch starts and stops talking a few times as a few emotions - guilt, resentment, defensiveness - clamber over his face. "Well, I'm a teacher. A relatively new one. I don't get paid a huge amount and I have a five-figure student loan. You name it. You're still studying, for your PhD. You know how money goes."
"I do," concedes Seph.
"Well then. And my two housemates got married and moved out. Haven't found anybody to move in instead. It's difficult, you know?"
Seph doesn't know if this last piece of information is true or just something Mitch made up as an additional excuse. "Drugs?"
"Oh, for God's sake." Mitch stands up and stomps angrily away from Seph a step or two.
Seph holds her hands up. "Sorry. Fine. Sorry I asked."
"Have some faith in me for a change."
Mitch folds his arms.
"Okay," says Seph. "Here's what we can do. You take the money back. It reappears as miraculously as it disappeared. Put it back in the same box, ideally. Or somewhere nearby. Make it so it looks like a simple clerical error. So everybody forgets about it ever happening and you get away with it. In return: I will tell you all the amazing breakthrough facts which I have deduced about your mysterious abilities. I'll continue to work with you to figure out the full extent and nature of your powers. And, for your protection, we'll sit on any kind of announcement for at least a year. I'm sure I can think of a year's worth of tests so the time isn't wasted. Sounds fair?"
Mitch glowers a little. "Fine," he says.
"Ten minutes, you said. So that's more or less your time up. Go on, get out of here."
Mitch grunts, picks up his bag and leaves. Seph turns back to her work and giggles at the mental image of assigning a school teacher detention.
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