“Wakey wakey, wakey wakey wakey!” I laughed as I threw a bucket of Tabasco on my prisoner, ensuring I had his full attention. The man shook his head off as he raised it to look at me. The hot sauce drenched his undershirt and boxers, but his costume had been removed. He winced as he tried to see past the floodlights surrounding him and the chair he was tied to. Tied wasn’t really a good word for it, actually. He was tied, chained, padlocked, handcuffed, zip-tied, and glued to the chair. The floodlights left barely any shadow at all, perhaps just under his butt on the chair. If he could escape, Raggedy Man hadn’t bothered to do so in the days I held on to him.
He glared at me. I gave him the V sign. He can’t touch me. “Beaten by your own heroics. Your own reputation.”
He spat Tabasco at where he figured I was. I threw the bucket and hit him in the head. The bucket rolled away after the blow, disappearing past the perimeter of floodlights.
“Don’t hate the Gecko, hate the game. It’s the age of information, and there’s a wiki out there that can tell people like me everything we’d ever want to know about some of you, especially you old timers.”
“What are you going to do to me now? Torture me?” he eyed me. The scars over his body were evidence to others having tried that in the past. Knives, bullets, even a burn in the shape of a plus sign.
“Nope, don’t care about that. You’re entirely insignificant to me except for your relationship with Black Raptor. You have no information I want,” I pulled out a styrofoam cup full of peanuts and began to break them open and eat the warm, soggy insides. “By the way, you hungry? You need the bucket? Something to drink? Anything I can help you with?”
“You can let me go,” he said with a snort that blew Tabasco sauce onto the floor.
I answered with a shake of my head and threw a peanut at his head, “Nope, can’t do that. I need you here. You’re bait.”
“Why tell me that I’m bait then? Are you about to monologue on me?”
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your rears! Nope. It just doesn’t matter. You are bait and the bird can’t help but fly to your aid.”
“You think a lot of things don’t matter for someone who has a plan.”
“It doesn’t matter what you think I think doesn’t matter.”
“I still have information you want.”
“Ok, ok, if getting tortured means that much to you, I’ll go grab the baking soda, root beer, and pliers. Are those dentures, or your real teeth?” I asked, not moving from my seat. I was doing my best to keep there from being any sort of line of shadow from Raggedy Man to the exterior of the floodlight circle, so torturing him is unlikely. He’s been known to get away easily in the past when he frequented drearier places than this.
“No, look,” he pleaded, “You’re here to kill Raptor, but why? He hasn’t done anything to cripple the Yakuza, the Cartel, or Ouroboros. He’s causing some headaches, but nothing they can’t work around. Somebody is paying you to kill him, but they’re getting a lot more for their money. They’re making the other groups sweat.”
While he’s talking about all this and slowly working his way through the reasoning behind my employment here, I rolled my hand at my wrist to subtly indicate that he should get to the end of it already. I also tried to see if I could get a peanut into his mouth.
Raggedy Man kept trying to talk me to death, “More than likely, you’re going to call down a lot of heat. The gangs are going to come after you and so are any cops on their payroll. You’re walking through a minefield and your best bet is to get out of town.”
By now, of course, I’d grabbed a knife, pulled up my shirt, and was in the process of slitting open my own belly. “Excuse me, I got a little bored and this seemed like a better idea than listening you talk about stuff I already know,” I told him through gritted teeth, then reached over and grabbed a moist towelette to daub at the wound.
“Seriously?” he asked, incredulous to the lengths I’d go to not hear him speak.
“Seriously. I’m not afraid to have people try and kill me. And while our little talk turned up nothing useful at all, oooh, that stings, I’m going to have to cut it short. As usual, Moai here will hang around and toss you the bucket if you need to go to the bathroom.” I reached in for an organ I wouldn’t miss much in the short term, yanked it out, and threw it at Raggedy, nailing him in the nose.
He sputtered and choked back a heave, “That was a gallbladder!”
“Huh, thought I was wandering a little high up to grab one of those. Can you believe the gall of that bladder? Well, I guess you’d better be careful about boring me, or I’ll wind up feeding you more organs, and I can’t guarantee they’ll all come from me.”
I slipped a syringe of my nanite friends out and gave myself a stab in the gut. Raggedy Man began to chuckle, though, “You’re one of those crazy killers, aren’t you? They picked you to do the job because you’re so out of it, no one will miss you. You’re not walking away from this city. At the very least, Ouroboros is going to get you.”
I rolled my eyes, “What if he’s the one I’m working for?”
“He wouldn’t need you to work for him. Not with the Wishing Stick. With that, he can do almost anything. Be untouchable, unkillable even.”
That did catch my interest. I knew he was grasping at straws here. He’s desperate. And a little bit constipated, even for a guy tied to a chair. However, if it’s possible Ouroboros will try and deny me payment, then I need to know how to kill him. To do that, it helps to know what he might throw at me, even if it sounds like something from a bedtime story. “Ok, so we’re on the kid’s channel now. What’s this Wishing Stick mess about?”
“It’s exactly what it sounds like. A small stick, like a wand, that grants wishes. Mandy found a gem that went on it as well, the Wishing Pebble. They’re from a little before your time, I reckon, but I gave up the stick after Mandy left. It was too much power to be responsible for so I tried to lock it up and safeguard it.”
“What kinds of wishes can it grant? Riches? Eternal youth? Cuban cigars?”
“As long as you hold it, whatever you want. It can’t effect any other living creature though. I’ve turned rocks into soda fountains and made myself invulnerable to harm with it, but eventually you have to set it down, and that’s when the effects wear off. Mandy found a way around it, but I wasn’t…wasn’t willing to go that far. That kind of power didn’t belong in my hands, and now it’s in his. By hook or by crook, somehow Ouroboros got into that vault and he took it. If you’re working for him, when he could use that to kill whoever you’re after effortlessly, it’s because he’s going to set you up to draw out his enemies.”
Or it’s because this guy doesn’t know as much as he thinks he knows. That whole “immortality” thing sounds like a good deal though. I bet all I’d need to do is empty out some space and surgically implant that thing into me. Not my gallbladder, though. I’ll keep that. I can feel something in there has regrown and it seems to make a useful projectile in a pinch.
“Congratulations, Raggedy Man. You’ve entertained me a little. You live to remain tied to a chair another day. I have to go call a man about a horse, though, because I’m no longer going to have you tied to one. I’m thinking maybe a zebra instead. That’s a horse of a different color,” I said as I excused myself quickly. Yes, that little bit about the Wishing Stick was interesting to learn indeed. There were an awful lot of coincidences involved, and it sounds like something from the Land of Make Believe, but a few calls ought to verify that.
It was a couple of days before I was able to finish my inquiry. I didn’t have any contacts in the area, but I knew some people who knew some people who could tell me the names of some people and places to ask around at. I had some very interesting conversations with various gangsters in the area. I checked in on Moai, too, who texted me back that our guest was enjoying room service at the hotel we were keeping him at. I think that means Moai force-fed him the bedsheets.
Raggedy Man’s story was corroborated. Ouroboros did, in fact, have such a ridiculously named artifact as the Wishing Stick. He acquired it while working for Hephaestus/Faustus. It’s a power broker organization. I’ve taken jobs with them before. The Faustus branch collects artifacts of a magical or supernatural nature, while Hephaestus collects superior technology. Hephaestus tried to acquire my suit rather than pay me. I let out their Giant Dragon Millipede experiments in that particular base. There were no survivors. Except me, of course, and the Giant Dragon Millipedes that now inhabit the land.
Apparently Ouroboros was one of the first people they ever empowered via a healthy dose of toxic chemicals and radiation. His breakaway from them happened the same time he took power in Paradise City, and just before they merged with Faustus.
I had a headache just beginning to get mixed up in all this. It’s supposed to be a simple job, but I let a hero start talking and this is what happens. I want that stick. I want immortality. No more relying on nanites, no more suits with space wasted on life support, no more hiding every time someone big enough swoops down.
The price of this contract just went up.
I was in quite the diabolical little mood when I made my way back to the hotel. It was that big tall one by the civic center. A little on the crappy side, but I paid for the worst rooms on the worst floor. Raggedy Man can scream all he wants but nobody’s coming for him yet.
Except for whoever is already coming for him. As I approached, I found a black van and a black SUV parked outside. Men ran inside. Men in black. Seeing as by some definitions of what constitutes a border I am an illegal alien, I figured they might possibly be after me. Or maybe I’m just paranoid about men in black with black vehicles heading into a building where I have a hero superglued to a chair.
Before I could get there on foot, I saw a character in a red, white, and blue costume glide down. He landed perfectly this time, this Red White Blue Kid, and headed in. I think I got his name right this time. Pretty sure I messed it up in other updates, but no more than he messed up by picking that name.
As I approached, I grabbed for an a plastic weighted ashtray outside the door and prepared to drag it in when someone came up from behind me. An Asian guy so I’m going to assume Yakuza. That or the cartel are recruiting from Peru now. He must have been the guy assigned to keep a lookout at the street. I pivoted around the ashtray and swung it around, able to get it high enough to knock him in the knees. He went to his back. I lifted it high enough to drop it on his belly and weigh him down. “Ashes to ashes,” I told him, then jumped into the air. Even without my suit there’s only so high you need to get for your knee to crush a man’s windpipe upon landing on his neck.
Sloppy hero didn’t even check if they left a man to guard the vehicles. I heard something else clatter against the ground and checked. An Uzi pistol. A little miniature Uzi, almost like a toy. I’m glad they thought this mission was just about stealing someone back.
I left it behind as I ran in. In front of me, down the hallway, was a nice little scene. RWB Kid didn’t wait to get shot. He closed in and grabbed one of the men in the face. Things went bright for a moment and there was a popping noise, then he dropped him, his other hand wide open and launching tasers at the two men a little further on. They went down like electrocuted marionettes.
I guess that’s better than what I’d have done. I’d have treated them more like ventriloquist dummies.
That was three down, with four more men surrounding the door to Raggedy’s room. Two of them went flying against the opposite wall as Moai burst through the door. They crumpled in a heap. Their friends had dodged to either side of the door and looked like they’d need a visit to the laundry soon when they realized they had two threats to worry about. I thought the further one would make a break for it, but he didn’t. He jumped across the doorway to stand back to back with his brother in arms and was felled within moments, leaving Moai and RWB Boy looking at one another. Correction, RWB Kid. I need a nickname for this guy.
“You again,” I heard from the young hero as he looked over my minion. I grabbed him from behind and smacked his head into the wall. Then I drooped him over my knee, licked my hand, and gave him a spanking. Pop!
“And you again. Who are you?” he asked with a wince.
“Does your mother know that you’re out this late wearing her towel as a cape?” I asked. I popped my fingers, preparing for a 63, when I heard Raggedy Man call out.
“Gecko, get me the hell out of here, dammit, I’m too old for this shit!”
While I was distracted, RWB Boy grabbed my arm. His eyes crackled as I felt electricity numb my body. My eyes went a bit wonky and most of the upgrades in me weren’t taking it very well. I heard a thud with a little give to it and was freed of that shocking turn of events by Moai, courtesy of his attempt to kick a field goal with the teen hero’s head. The boy was knocked out, so I dropped him in the middle of the downed gangsters and headed into the room.
“Aww, someone didn’t like an attempted ‘rescue’ by some old friends?” I teased Raggedy. As far as I’ve read, he barely even touched the Yakuza before he retired here to Florida.
“What kind of game are you playing at here?” he demanded, red-faced.
“That’s for me to know and everyone else to find out if they’re lucky,” I said as I grabbed a lamp in the room and chucked it at his head. There, out like a light.
Moai and I just had to move him to a different room, one that fewer members of the city’s organized crime had a reason to believe contained Ouroboros’s target. They didn’t know who or what it was, but they know they don’t want him to get what he’s after. I didn’t know the hero would join in and give me a hand, but the more the merrier.
I’m not a fan of all this. Everyone wanted to force all the drama and spy-versus-spy crap on me. In the process, they gave me another goal to shoot for and I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised where the bullets end up once I join in.