“I won’t. I swear,” Billie says.

“How’s my hair?” Aliss says. “Shit. Don’t tell him, but they fired me. Just like that. I’m not supposed to be here. I think management knew something was up with me and Conrad. I’m not the first girl he’s gotten fired. But I’m not going to say anything right now. I’ll tell him later.”

Billie says, “That sucks.”

“You have no idea,” Aliss says. “It’s such a crappy job. People are such assholes, and you still have to say have a nice day. And smile.”

She gives the ring back. Smiles.?

The elevator opens on sky. There’s a sign saying Private Party. Like the whole sky is a private party. It’s just after nine o’clock. The sky is orange. The pool is the color the sky ought to be. There are superheroes splashing around in it. That bubble of blood floating above it, like an oversized beach ball. Tango music plays.

Conrad Linthor lounges on a lounge chair. He comes over when he sees Billie and Aliss. “Girls,” he says.

“Hey, Conrad,” Aliss says. Her hip cocked like a gun hammer. Her hair is remarkable. The piercing is in. “Great party.”

“Billie,” Conrad says. “I’m so glad you came. There are some people you ought to meet.” He takes Billie’s arm and drags her off. Maybe he’s going to throw her in the pool.

“Is Ernesto here?” Billie looks back, but Aliss is having a conversation now with someone in a uniform.

“This kind of party isn’t really for hotel staff,” Conrad says. “They get in trouble if they socialize with the guests.”

“Don’t worry about Aliss,” Billie says. “Apparently she got fired. But you probably already know that.”

Conrad smiles. They’re on the edge of a group of strangers who all look vaguely familiar, vaguely improbable. There are scales, feathers, ridiculous outfits designed to show off ridiculous physiques. Why does everything remind Billie of FarAway? Except for the smell. Why do superheroes smell weird? Paul Zell.

The tango has become something dangerous. A woman is singing. There is nobody here that Billie wants to meet.

Conrad Linthor is drunk. Or high. “This is Billie,” he says. “My sidekick for tonight. Billie, this is everyone.”

“Hi, everyone,” Billie says. “Excuse me.” She rescues her arm from Conrad Linthor. She heads back for the elevator. Aliss has escaped the hotel employee and is crouched down by the pool, one finger in the water. Probably the deep end. You can tell by her slumped shoulder that she’s thinking about drowning herself. A good move: perhaps someone here will save her. Once someone has saved your life, they might as well fall in love with you, too. It’s just good economics.

“Wait,” Conrad Linthor says. He’s not that old, Billie decides. He’s just a kid. He hasn’t even done anything all that bad, yet. And yet you can see how badness accumulates around him. Builds up like lightning on a lightning rod. If Billie sticks around, it will build up on her, too. That spider sense she doesn’t have is tingling. Paul Zell, Paul Zell.

“Ernesto will be so disappointed,” Conrad Linthor says. They’re both jogging now. Billie sees the lit stair sign, decides not to wait for an elevator. She takes the stairs two at a time. Conrad Linthor bounds down behind her. “He really wanted you to see what he made. For the banquet. It’s too bad you can’t stay. I wanted to invite you to the banquet. You could meet Tyrannosaurus Hex. Get an autograph or two. Make some good contacts. Being a sidekick is all about making the contacts.”

“I’m not a sidekick!” Billie yells up. “That was a dumb joke even before you made it the first time. Even if I were a sidekick, I wouldn’t be yours. Like you’re a superhero. Just because you know people. So what’s your secret name, superhero? What’s your superpower?”

She stops on the stairs so suddenly that Conrad Linthor runs into her. They both stumble forward, smack into the wall on the twenty-second floor landing. But they don’t fall.

Conrad Linthor says, “My superpower is money.” The wall props him up. “The only superpower that counts for anything. Better than invisibility. Better than being able to fly. Much better than telekinesis or teleportation or that other one. Telepathy. Knowing what other people are thinking. Why would you ever want to know what other people are thinking? Did you know everyone thinks that one day they might be a millionaire? Like that’s a lot of money. They have no idea. They don’t want to be a superhero. They just want to be like me. They want to be rich.”

Billie has nothing to say to this.

“You know what the difference is between a superhero and a supervillain?” Conrad Linthor asks her.

Billie waits.

“The superhero has a really good agent,” Conrad Linthor says. “Someone like my dad. You have no idea the kind of stuff they get away with. Fifteen-year-old girls is nothing.”

“What about Lightswitch?” Billie says.

“Who? Her? She’s no big deal,” Conrad Linthor says. “She’s okay. I don’t really know much about her. She’s kind of old school.”

“I think I’m going to go to bed now,” Billie says.

“No,” Conrad Linthor says. “Wait. You have to come with me and see what Ernesto did. It’s just so cool. Everything’s carved out of butter.”

“If I go see, will you let me go to bed?”

“Sure,” Conrad Linthor says.

“Will you be nice to Aliss? If she’s still up at the party when you get back?”

“I’ll try,” Conrad Linthor says.

“Okay,” Billie says. “I’ll go look at Ernesto’s butter. Are we going to go meet him?”

Conrad Linthor levers himself off the wall. Pats it. “Ernesto? I don’t know where he is. How should I know?”

They go into the forbidden maze. Back to the kitchen, and through it, now empty and dark and somehow like a morgue. A mausoleum.

“Ernesto’s been doing the work in a freezer,” Conrad Linthor says. “You have to keep these guys cold. Wait. Let me get it unlocked. Cool tool, right? Borrowed it from The Empty Jar. He’s one of dad’s clients. They’re making a movie about him. I saw the script. It’s crap.”

The lock comes off. The lights go on. Before I tell you what was inside the freezer, let me first tell you something about how big the freezer is. It will help you visualize, later on. The freezer is plenty big. Bigger than most New York apartments, Billie thinks, although this is just hearsay. She’s never been in a New York apartment.

What’s inside the supersized freezer? Supervillains. Warm Gun, Glowworm, Radical!, Heatdeath, The Scribbler, The Ninjew, Cat Lady, Hellalujah, Shibboleth, The Shambler, Mandroid, Manplant, The Manticle, Patty Cakes. Lots of others. Name a famous supervillain and he or she is in the freezer. They’re life-size. They’re not real, although at first Billie’s heart slams. She thinks: who caught all these guys? Why are they so perfectly still? Maybe Conrad Linthor is a superhero after all.

Conrad Linthor touches Hellalujah’s red, bunchy bicep. Presses just a little. The color smears. Lardy, yellow-white underneath. The supervillains are made out of butter. “Hand-tinted,” Conrad says.

“Ernesto made these?” Billie says. She wants to touch one, too. She walks up to Patty Cakes. Breathes on the cold, outstretched palms. You can see Patty Cakes’s life line. Her love line. Billie realizes something else. The butter statues are all decorated to look like chess pieces. Their signature outfits have been changed to black and red. Cat Lady is wearing a butter crown.

Conrad Linthor puts his hand on Hellalujah’s shoulder. Puts his arm around Hellalujah. Then he squeezes, hard. His arm goes through Hellalujah’s neck. Like an arm going through butter. The head pops off.

“Be careful!” Billie says.

“I can’t believe it’s butter,” Conrad says. He giggles. “Come on. Can you believe this? He made a whole chess set out of butter. And why? For some banquet for some guy who used to fight crime? That’s just crap. This is better. Us here, having some fun. This is spontaneous. Haven’t you always wanted to fight the bad guy and win? Now’s your chance.”

“But Ernesto made these!” Billie’s fists are clenched.

“You heard him,” Conrad says. “It’s no big deal. It’s not like it’s art. There’s no statement here. It’s just butter.”

He has Hellalujah’s sad head in his arms. “Heavy,” he says. “Food fight. Catch.” He throws the head at Billie. It hits her in the chest and knocks her over.

She lies on the ice-cold floor, looking at Hellalujah’s head. One side is flat. Half of Hellalujah’s broad nose is stuck like a slug to Billie’s chest. Her right arm is slimy with butter and food dye.

Billie sits up. She cradles Hellalujah’s head, hurls it back at Conrad. She misses. Hellalujah’s head smacks into Mandroid’s shiny stomach. Hangs there, half embedded.

“Funny,” Conrad Linthor says. He giggles.

Billie shrieks. She leaps at him, her hands killing claws. They both go down on top of The Shambler. Billie brings her knee up between Conrad Linthor’s legs, drives it up into butter. She grabs Conrad Linthor by the hair, bangs his head on The Shambler’s head. “Ow,” Conrad Linthor says. “Ow, ow, ow.”

He twists under her. Gets hold of her hands, pulls at them even as she tightens her grip on his hair. His hair is slick with butter, and she can’t hold on. She lets go. His head flops down. “Get off,” he says. “Get off.”

Billie drives her elbow into his stomach. Her feet skid a little as she stands up. She grabs hold of Warm Gun’s gun for balance, and it breaks off. “Sorry,” she says, apologizing to butter. “I’m sorry. So sorry.”

Conrad Linthor is trying to sit up. There’s spit at the corner of his mouth, or maybe it’s butter.