Cold Heat

Cold Heat

by

Phillip McCollum

“You really think this is a smart idea?”

There was nothing left to do but ask questions. Holed up in an unfurnished Manhattan apartment, tied to an uncomfortable folding chair, sitting in front of some sort of jerry-rigged track-and-rail system wasn’t exactly a position Marquis expected to be in when he’d opened the Bureau’s trouble ticket email that morning.

Two hours and a few bruises later, things were getting intense.

“Smart idea? It’s the best damned idea anyone’s ever had.”

Marquis just knew the bastard was smirking behind the balaclava even though it covered everything but the punk’s bulging eyes.

“Smart idea…” the man trailed off with a derisive tone. He took a step toward his similarly-dressed partner holding an M16 dialed in on Marquis’s forehead. “This guy acts like we were born yesterday.” M16-man just harrumphed.

“Just sayin’, Bala-man–you mind if I call you Bala-man?–just sayin’, you must really think you’re gonna get what you want if you put on something like this.”

Bala-man walked over, met Marquis’s eyes for a fleeting moment, and then thrust a gloved fist into the hostage’s stomach. Marquis gasped for air. He wanted to double over, but the ropes binding him to the chair were pulled tight.

“Some superhero,” Bala-man said, laughing, but rubbing at the exposed knuckles beneath his now-singed glove. “Do yourself a favor. Don’t you worry about me.”

Even as he struggled to breathe, Marquis couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that these clowns had subdued him. If there was no other indication, the fact that they had come up with some kind of material that was resistant to Fire Carrier magic was a testament to them having done their homework. He’d tried a number of times to focus his mind and burn through the rope, but the bonds refuse to ignite.

Bala-man hummed a tuneless melody as he walked around Marquis and tended the fireplace just behind the chair. Marquis’s ears picked up everything the criminal did–the iron poker pushing the burning logs around. The man’s breath blowing into the orange embers, trying to rekindle the flames. Bits of ash flying into the still air.

Bala-man stopped humming and coughed through his nylon mask.

“Let’s get this over with,” M16-man said. “It feels like Hell’s kitchen in here.”

“Cool your jets,” Bala-man replied. “The more heat, the more power this idiot generates. The more power, the more seriously they’ll take us.”

Marquis assumed he was the idiot. To be captured by this bunch of losers, he thought. What did they know about fire?

Now, Marquis? He knew fire. Man, did he know fire. Its winding shape. Its subtle hiss. Its warm fragrance. And we’re not talking the smell of oak or cedar or whatever lumpy piece of wood Bala-man happened to be poking at. We’re talking about the fire itself. It had an odor and Marquis was as intimate with it like any fifteen-year-old wannabe rockstar was with the notes flying of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar.

He was about to crack a stupid joke about Bala-man being like a virgin with clumsy hands when there were three rapid knocks on the apartment door followed by two longer knocks.

Despite the rekindled fire, Marquis felt the temperature around him drop several degrees.

#

“Keep ‘em as far apart as you can until we’re ready,” Bala-man said.

There were three of them: two dressed up as maintenance men with the worst fake facial hair Marquis had ever seen. The third had her head covered in a potato sack and her wrists secured behind her back. Marquis didn’t need to see her face to know who she was. As soon as the three newcomers were inside the apartment, the smell of the fire dissipated to make room for the stench of ice. It was disgusting. It made Marquis want to retch. He tried to focus on the flames behind him. Focus on the heat both without and within.

He was a little worried now. If they found a way to subdue an Ice Warden as well, these guys might actually be crazy enough to carry this through.

The two men walked their hostage to the opposite side of the room and secured her to the only other chair. Marquis felt the temperature go up slightly, but he knew it was only short-term relief.

“You guys are nuts!” he shouted.

Bala-man came back around from the fireplace and stood in the middle of the room between the hooded woman and Marquis. He reached into his front pant’s pocket and pulled out a cell phone.

“Get ready for your fifteen minutes,” he said. “Though, that’s being generous if they don’t give us what we want.”

#

“You don’t deposit three-hundred million in the account I mentioned, these two are gonna lock lips,” Bala-man said.

He held the back of the phone up to Marquis and the fire burning behind him. Then he pivoted over to the now-unmasked Ice Warden tied to her own chair.

A tinny voice came out of the speaker. “One, where are we going to get that kind of money? Two, you’re really willing to blow up half of New York City?”

“One, you’re the government–figure it out. Two, do you really want to find out? You got ten minutes for me to see those numbers in my account.” Bala-man punched a key on the phone and slipped it back into his pocket.

“Hope you two brushed your teeth this morning,” he said and walked with the rest of the men into the only bedroom in the apartment, shutting the door behind them.

For the first time that afternoon, the Ice Warden’s eyes met Marquis’s.

Her name was Celine. The two of them had crossed paths for the first time six months ago going after a cartel boss. They had both been issued tickets for the same gig. It happened, but not often. The Bureau was generally pretty good at keeping track of when and to whom a trouble ticket was issued, but sometimes databases got out of sync or there was plain old user error involved.

For those rare events, there were protocols in place. A simple coin flip determined who’d get the job. Most importantly, distance had to be kept. No one could definitively say what would happen if a Fire Carrier and Ice Warden were to touch, but no one wanted to find out. The legends were powerful enough to discourage them from trying–tsunamis, earthquakes, floods. Laymen likened it to matter meeting anti-matter.

“Well, I guess one of us ought to break the ice,” Marquis said. “No pun intended.”

“Don’t talk to me,” Celine replied.

“There’s no rule against a little chat,” he said. “I don’t think. Besides, if these guys are serious, do you think it’s going to matter to anyone an hour from now that we broke some standard operating procedure?”

They were no closer to each other than they had been minutes ago, but Marquis could feel a chill radiating from her stare.

“Fine,” she said. “If you want to blabber on, maybe you can help me figure a way out of this situation.”

“How do you know I don’t already have a plan?”

Celine raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t, but it’s rude of you to assume I don’t.”

She shook her head and looked around the room.

“So let me guess,” Marquis said. “False ticket? Blow to the head and then the ropes?”

Celine raised her eyebrows.

“I guess the operation doesn’t need to be too sophisticated if they have these,” Marquis said, indicating the rope.

“I guess not.” She looked down for seemingly the first time. “What’s the deal with this?” she asked, eyeing the rails beneath her chair. She looked like a little kid, her feet dangling almost a foot from the ground. They had her propped up on one of those office chairs that goes up and down.

The bedroom door swung open and a man stepped into the main room wearing a Yankees cap, a yellow t-shirt, and jeans. His cohorts followed, similarly dressed in street clothes. “You’re about to find out,” he said.

It was Bala-man.

One of the men who had the fake facial hair stepped behind Celine’s chair and knelt down. Marquis heard a click and then the whir of a tiny motor.

“Sad to say that your public representatives care more about their own offshore accounts than they do the good people of New York,” Bala-man continued. “And, wow, talk about a thank-you for your years of service! I guess a single flamer and ice bitch ain’t worth much in their eyes.”

Marquis started, “Think about this–”

“Sorry, gotta run. Looks like we have to grab a couple more of you folks as I have a feeling we’ll be taken a little more seriously next time.” Before Marquis could finish his sentence, the four men were lunging through the apartment door, leaving the two heroes to their doom.

#

“I’m moving.”

“What?”

“I’m moving. Towards you.”

Marquis already knew. He had felt the subtle drop in temperature and a tingling beneath his skin that would soon begin to sting.

“And my God, do you smell,” Celine said, wrinkling her nose.

Marquis blew a large puff of air through his lips. “You’re one to talk.”

Visually, he could tell that Celine was getting closer now. She was struggling to break free, but it appeared to be as useless as when he had tried. Something about the ropes zapped the strength from their bodies. The heat from the fireplace was crying out and the smell of its flames was vanishing. The warmth was being replaced by a searing cold. Marquis could tell by Celine’s curled upper lip that she was beginning to feel some pain as well.

The two of them were closer than ever and though his muscles began to ache, Marquis grew fascinated with her up-close appearance. Her turquoise hair, short and slicked back, looked like a threaded helmet. A tinge of jealousy ran through him as he thought of his bald pate. Her skin was like a midnight moon with ice-filled veins trailing its surface.

He knew it was a waste of time, but he tried to focus once more on his own ropes. He thought his face hid the nervous feelings burning inside. She was only several feet from him now.

She laughed, only to have her laughter broken up by painful-sounding coughs.

“What’s so funny?” Marquis asked.

It took her a moment to be able to speak again. “You just know there’s somebody holding a ‘The End is Near’ sign on a sidewalk not too far from here. Boy, isn’t she going to be smug for those few seconds before she’s turned into powder?”

Marquis tried to hold back because he too knew it would hurt, but he couldn’t help himself. The laugh came roaring out and the chair beneath him started to groan and crack. A solitary tear ran down Celine’s cheeks as she lifted her legs, futilely trying to escape the heat of the metal chair folding beneath her.

The two were inches away from each other now. Soon their legs would meet. Marquis felt as if he had just finished running a marathon. His breath was short. He couldn’t feel his legs anymore. At least he had escaped the realm of bitter pain and moved on to numbness.

“Well,” he managed to grunt through his grimace. “It was nice knowing you, even if you smell like you live in a garbage dump and you make me want to kill myself.”

Even through her own pain, Celine smiled slightly. “Yeah, nice to know you too, Pigpen.”

And then it happened. The fabric of their pants melted away and the raw flesh covering their legs met. They both screamed at the same time as their chairs collapsed–Marquis’s into a thousand pieces, Celine’s melting down into a pool of liquid metal. The track snapped. Marquis fell to the ground first followed by Celine on top of him.

Marquis’s hearing left him and he felt like he was submerged underwater. He gasped for air. Only tiny gulps made their way into his lungs. The sensations were too much. Vertigo kicked in and the last thing Marquis smelled was the cold heat from Celine’s face pressed against his.

#

“This was unexpected.”

Marquis, still on his back, looked around the room. He heard the street noise below. A helicopter or two were buzzing around the cityscape. There was an ambulance–maybe a fire truck or police car–wailing in the near distance. Pieces of charred metal and rope were spread across the floor.

Celine rolled off Marquis and on to her butt. She twisted her head around and cracked her neck.

“So we’ve just disproved a thousand-year-old myth,” Marquis said. “What else do you want to do today?”

Celine smirked. “Not just disproved one. Notice anything else?”

Marquis was taking too long to figure it out, so Celine tapped a finger against her nose. “Wait, what?” He sat up, leaned toward her slowly, and sniffed.

“Down, Fido,” Celine said, pushing him away. They both laughed at the lack of, well, anything.

She pulled her hands towards her face and flexed her fingers. Tiny flames popped up on her fingernails, startling her. She yelped and waved her hands around to put them out. Marquis quickly grabbed hold of them and saw ice form around both of their hands. Now he screamed and released his grip.

“What the…” they said simultaneously, watching wisps of smoke rising from Celine’s fingertips.

Marquis stared at the frost covering his palms. He felt a surge of panic in his body and jumped to his feet. Just as fast, he slipped on a puddle of ice that formed beneath him. The room shook as he crashed back onto the floor again.

“Ow! Son of a…”

Celine stifled a laugh while Marquis’s face felt flush.

“Let me get this straight,” Marquis said. “So now I’m an Ice Warden and you’re a Fire Carrier?” He thought he was going to be sick.

Celine stuck her hand out again and pointed a finger at Marquis’s head. A blade of ice shot out and halted an inch from his left eye.

“I’m thinking it’s a little more complicated than that,” she said.

Marquis turned and concentrated on the fireplace behind him. He snapped his index finger against his thumb like he was flicking a piece of cigarette ash. A tiny, hard ember flew towards the smoldering wood and made contact. The logs ignited as if they’d been doused with gasoline.

“Oh,” Marquis said. “Okay, then.”

“Honestly, I’m a little disappointed,” Celine cut in. “No vortex? No seeing our bodies turned into atomic dust bunnies?”

“So what does this mean?” Marquis asked. He turned back toward Celine. “Can we kiss too?”

She pointed to his crotch. “Try it and I’ll shoot an icicle where it counts.”

Marquis quickly moved his hands for protection.

“Besides,” she said. “I have a better idea.”

Marquis lifted an eyebrow.

“Let’s go catch those assholes.”

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