The knock at Cook’s door surprised him out of his reverie and he tossed the dish he was making into the oven to keep it warm. When he opened the door, he found a glum looking Orpheus flanked by the four women the news had recently called the new Elemental Four. “Hey Ren, I need to ask you about something.” Orpheus seemed sad so Cook ushered him and the girls with him into his sitting room and poured them some tea.
“Now, what has you so troubled Orpheus.” Cook asked with genuine concern.
The smallest of the girls, Cook recognized her as the girl he had been out on a date with when they had reconnected, put her hand on Orpheus’s shoulder as he took a breath and seemed to brace himself. “Did you kill them, Ren?”
The question shook Cook and he wondered if Orpheus could know something about the list. He quickly dismissed the notion and answered calmly “No I have not. The only thing I kill are lobsters and the occasional pest.”
“I would very much like to believe you, Ren.” Orpheus’s tone was almost pleading for a moment but then all of a sudden it turned hard and the windows shook with his every word “But I don’t. So, don’t lie to me to me Ren. Did you kill the heroes who have been dying recently?”
Cook wanted to assuage his fear and tell him that he was misinformed but his mouth acted under its own power “Yes, I did.”
A tension that Cook hadn’t noticed left the room and the tall blonde woman, the media had called her Air but he knew her as Sarah, asked him “Why did you do it?”
Since there was no point lying anymore Cook answered her honestly “They were responsible for my wife’s death. If they had just been a little more careful about where they were fighting she would still be here.” Tears began to form in his eyes as he remembered the night “I was working at one of my restaurants while she waited at the coffee shop next door. They were just coming out of their meeting when a group of villains attacked them. Flare was an up and comer with something to prove so he threw a fire blast at one of the guys. He didn’t bother looking behind the guy or bothering to find out what his power was. The man was Quickstep and by the time Flare had let loose he was halfway down the road and headed back to attack him. The patrons of the coffee shop weren’t so fast. Six people, including my wife died a fiery death and all he got was a slap on the wrist.”
“I understand.” Cook was surprised that he cared so much that Orpheus understood him but when he said that it was like a weight was lifted from his shoulders. “Flare was an ass but no one else deserved to die so why all of them?”
“Because they told the criminals they would be there.” Cook’s voice had grown hard with the questioning and for a moment he wanted to lash out but it quickly faded and he tried to turn the questions in a different direction “How did you find out?”
“At the fundraiser I had one of the quiches and began to feel happy despite the fact I didn’t want to be there and I remembered the first lesson you ever taught me. “A cook puts a little of themselves in every dish.””
Cook laughed “I remember that day. You asked if that was why the people on the TV always stuck their fingers in things to taste them.” The two men laughed.
“I’d like a minute alone with him.” Orpheus requested of the women. The small girl stayed rooted but the others got up and left. Sarah looked over her shoulder at them before going through the door. Her look was one of pity and yet acceptance.
“So, what happens now?” Cook asked.
“Now I do something very selfish.” Orpheus answered. “I could take you down to the station and make you confess everything you just did. Several heroes would get closure and Flare would be exonerated postmortem. Then your story would get out and there would be talk shows and debates and eventually a conclusion no one would really like. People would agree with you and others would decry your actions as that of a serial killer. Eventually there would be closure for everyone affected.” Orpheus brought his eyes up from where he had been ringing his hands and stared directly into Cook’s eyes. “But I’m too selfish to see the name of one of my oldest friends dragged through the mud. If there is any part of you that is still Ren in there and not just Cook then I want you to know that I’m sorry.”
No one jumped when the windows shattered. Orpheus never broke eye contact with Cook as the splitting pain started and time seemed to slow. Cook felt the bullet break the skin and puncture his skull and then there was nothing.
“Is it done?” Jane asked when Orpheus and Lily stepped out of the apartment.
Lily nodded and Orpheus whispered, “It’s so much harder when it’s a friend.”
A half hour later they were at a bar drinking and heard the explosion. None of them moved to respond. Other heroes would be on the scene soon enough and the investigation would show a gas leak. No one would find the room with the shrine and the list of names. Lightning would recover from her heart attack with the help of another hero but would be shaken by the incident. By the end of the week she would resign her leadership role and join with the Metro City branch of The Justice Army. She would bring Rain along with her. Thunder would join up with Controlled Destruction but still keep in contact with the other two.