“It’s a shame you won’t be in town for Mardi Gras,” Joe Perrone said.
“Not really,” Mirabelle Darcy replied. “I don’t like Mardi Gras. I never have.”
They were in the front room at Tull House, the strange old place Perrone had purchased the previous year, as both a home and a base of operations for Perrone’s activities as the Bay Phantom, Mobile’s one and only masked crime fighter. Mirabelle was dressed a bit more formally than usual, in a long skirt, gray blouse, and a brown jacket, a small hat pinned into her hair.
“Yes, but have you seen this piece in the paper about the most popular costume this year? It should interest you.”
“Well, according to the society editor of the Press, all the smart young ladies will be dressed as Paper Bag Girl this year.”
“Aw shit!” Mirabelle exclaimed, horrified. “Tell me you’re joking!”
Paper Bag Girl was an impromptu identity Mirabelle had publicly adopted, very briefly, during the Battle of Cathedral Square the previous year. It had been a quick, disposable way to protect her own identity and the Bay Phantom’s secrets, but had, for some incomprehensible reason, caught the public’s imagination.
Mirabelle was ostensibly Joe Perrone’s housekeeper, but in reality, she was both less and much, much more. She might occasionally turn her hand to cleaning or cooking, but such pursuits were on an as-needed basis. Most of her time was spent on arcane scientific research and the crafting of weapons and other devices for the Bay Phantom.
“If it will make you feel better,” Perrone said, “I’m joking. But I’m not. Here it is, right here.”
He waved the newspaper at her.
“I don’t wanna see that bullshit,” she grumbled.
Perrone sighed. “For heaven’s sake, Mirabelle, I thought we agreed you’d watch your language.”
“You agreed it. I never said a goddamn word. You need to watch those unilateral ‘agreements’ of yours.”
Perrone sighed again.
“I suppose there are worse habits you could have,” he said philosophically. “Are you ready? We need to get you to the train station.”
“I’ve been ready all morning, Mister Perrone.”
“There’s another thing. I thought you were going to start calling me Joe.”
“I did, Mister Perrone. I may again one day, if the spirit moves me.”
Perrone sighed once more. “All right. I know old habits die hard.”
“Yes, well, this goes a little beyond folksy homilies. If you’re all for freedom and equality, why can’t I just call you what I want to call you, and leave it at that? And while we’re at it, I wish you’d quit sighing at me all the time. That is downright annoying.”
It was out of character for Mirabelle to go off on trips, and Joe Perrone took her impending vacation as a good sign. The events of the previous year could have traumatized the young woman, but they seemed instead to have energized her. It would be a bit difficult for him to get along without her, but the potential benefits to Mirabelle outweighed any such concerns.
Though she seemed lighter and more cheerful most of the time, she had taken to spending increasingly long hours by herself, in her private rooms. She said she was working on a number of different experiments, and he had no doubt that she was, but she often emerged from her solitude looking weary and worn. Perrone wondered if she was having trouble assimilating some of the things she had learned and experienced. Perhaps her good cheer was a false front. It would be just like her to conceal any difficulties she might be having.
Even so, something had changed, and he was optimistic enough to believe that it was for the better. But there could be... problems.
He drove her to the train station. Her trunk was handed off to a porter, and she kept a large satchel with her.
Before leaving her in the concourse, Perrone bent and kissed Mirabelle on the cheek, and she returned the gesture, fully aware of the distasteful looks other travelers were giving them. Perrone didn’t care about that. Mirabelle shouldn’t have, but it got her goat just the same. What the hell business was it of theirs?
“I’ll see you soon,” she said. “Take care of yourself... Joe.”
He smiled broadly. “Will do, Miss Darcy.”
She laughed and waved at him as he walked away. He was awfully sweet, and she knew he meant well. But, like a lot of more liberal white people in the South and elsewhere, he seemed to think he understood more than he possibly could.
Or maybe it was all her. She just didn’t know. Whatever genius she supposedly possessed, it could not penetrate the secrets of a human heart, not even her own.
She was dubious about Sigmund Freud’s assertion that she was the “ninth smartest person in the world.” How could he possibly know that? Most likely, it was an estimate, possibly based on some kind of demographic research. Or else he just made it up. It sounded like something out of a comic strip.
But she was not just smart, not merely a genius. Mirabelle Darcy was a super-genius. There was no getting around that.
In recent months, confronting certain memories that had been retrieved during hypnosis sessions with Doctor Freud, she wondered if she might not have some cause to doubt her sanity. But she decided that wouldn’t be practical, so she denied herself the luxury.
But some of the things she had learned demanded action. And that was the real reason for her trip.
She had told Perrone she would be visiting relatives in Zenith. In fact, so far as she knew, none of her extended family lived in that most peculiar of American cities. Once she was certain Perrone was gone, she spoke briefly with the porter, then purchased a ticket to Kansas City. She had no relatives there. But she did have a purpose.
With just a little bit of luck--or, rather, with the absence of any catastrophically bad luck-- she ought to be able to sneak right into the United States Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.