“You missed a fantastic Sociology lecture today,” said Helen.
“Really?” Abigail Vailing looked up from her work at the kitchen table.
“Yes, really. Lady Chatterbox was on top form.”
“Was she talking about the impact of prostitution on the postwar British middle classes?”
“Abby, as I’ve told you on numerous occasions, Lady Chatterbox is not running a brothel.”
“Well no, of course she’s not now, because I shut her down.”
“She was helping students with their coursework.”
Abigail laughed. “Is that what they call it these days? Well, all I can say is that it’s a pretty lame metamorphism.”
“I think you mean metaphor. And . . . oh, never mind. She was asking after you.”
“She wanted to know whether I’m still keeping an eye on her, no doubt.” Abigail folded her arms and smirked.
“No, actually, she was asking when you might be likely to hand in your assignment.”
“Pah! Lecturers ask that all the time.”
“They only ever ask that about you, Abby, because you never hand in your bloody assignments. If you’re not careful, you’re going to fail the course.”
“I don’t care about that. I’m following a higher calling now.”
“Oh, Abby.” Helen put her hands on her friend’s shoulders. “Even if you don’t grow out of this silly Night girl thing, how will you fund her without a job?”
“It’s not silly, Helen.” Abigail tilted her head to one side. “But I do see your point. Perhaps I’ll get Brendan to hack into the university computer and adjust my grades.”
“Abby! You can’t do that!”
“No, you’re right,” said Abby. “His kid sister Georgina would be even better. She managed to get into the Government gateway site.”
“That’s a public site. Anyone can get into it.”
“Sure they can.” Abigail winked.
Helen changed the subject. “I was chatting with Tess over lunch.”
“Tess Carlin. You remember? She used to live on the floor above, but moved to that house in the suburbs with a bunch of other students.”
“Oh, yes. Blonde hair, green eyes, a bit dim.”
“Pot,” muttered Helen. “Yes, that’s her.”
“How’s she doing?”
“Fine, except she’s finding the bills a lot to cope with.”
“I thought she lived with Anna, John, Simon and Dave. When did the Bills move in?”
“No, you Muppet. The phone bill. The electricity bill. Food bills. She’s struggling to make ends meet.”
“But she’s studying accountancy, Helen. I remember she produced a sixteen-page spreadsheet before she moved, setting out her budget for the next three years.”
“Well, she must have made some errors.”
“More likely one of her housemates is spending more than his fair share.” Abigail looked up and grinned. “You know what this means, don’t you?”
Helen’s shoulders slumped. “No, Abby, please. No.”
“Yes! This is definitely a job for Night girl!”
It was drizzling, and the tarmac surface of the deserted car park was wet. The puddles reflected the orange light of the few working streetlamps. A lone pigeon walked carefully around the edge. It stopped and cocked its head to one side as though listening. With an explosive burst of sound and light, the Night Car barreled down the street opposite and shot through the car park entrance, fishtailing wildly. The pigeon scrambled into the air, leaving a few feathers behind. Abigail, dressed in her spandex Night girl costume, yanked at the steering wheel. The car pirouetted through three hundred and sixty degrees and slithered to a halt. A blue glow lit the underside, and in the bonnet a red light oscillated back and forth.
Abigail climbed out and shut the door. She pointed a remote control at her car and clicked a button. The locks clunked and the lights faded. Abigail looked around and strode across the car park towards a row of semi-detached houses. Her red cape flapped behind her. She reached for the set of lock picks in her belt and headed for number 27.
The lock was old-fashioned and no match even for Abigail’s limited skills. She punched the air in delight and put the picks back in the pouch on her belt. Inside, the hallway was dark. Abigail headed for the stairs. Flat E was at the top of the house, spread across the generous loft. She knocked at the door.
“Hello?” Tess peered through a gap in the door.
“Hi!” Abigail grinned. “I’ve come to help you.”
“Who are you?” Tess opened the door fully and peered closely. “Abigail? Abigail Vailing? Is that you? What are you doing here, and why are you wearing a mask?”
Abigail drew herself to her full height. “I’m Night girl, crime-fighting super heroine, and I’m here to help you with your bills.”
“Night girl? But you’re Abigail Vailing. I sit next to you in our Organizational Analysis classes.”
“Well yes, that’s my secret identity, but after dark I’m Night girl, the Dim Defender. How come you recognized me? That never happens to Superman or Batman.”
“I knew your voice. And your eyes.” Tess looked up and down Abigail’s body and grinned. “Look at you, girl! You look fantastic.”
Abigail grinned back, and twirled. “Do you think so? I’ve always worried that it makes my bum look big.”
“Are you kidding? Your bum looks perfect, and so does the rest of you. Hell, I wish my stomach was that flat.” Tess reached out and ran her hand around Abigail’s waist. “Wow! The material feels amazing, doesn’t it?” She let her hand slip down over Abigail’s hip and bottom. “What are these knickers made from, PVC?”
“And why are they on the outside?’
Abigail giggled. “I’ll show you. Look!”