Let me just say that these past few days hit me like a ton of bricks. Just wham!
By now you’ve already read about the seeds of this whole mess that were planted. I left Moai to guard Raggedy Man in his new room and figured I’d water them a bit. Or plant more. I was never into gardening, so the plant metaphor stretches kind of thin for me, like a rubber band that has to fit around the entire scope of an event. Metaphorical simile aside, I escalated things.
Say what you will, but I think the car bomb was perfectly justified. The target left the restaurant nice and sauced. I just turned desert into a flambé. I don’t know who the Yakuza guy was, what he did in the organization, or if he was any higher than some sort of middle manager. I don’t know much…but I know his car blew. And that may be all I need to know. Great tipper though, even if his guys were a bit paranoid and kept a close eye on me.
Obviously it’s the Cartel they have to watch out for. That’s who is meant when people mention the Columbians around here. They’re really not all Columbian once you get to the states. Still, they’re known for their car bombs.
Don’t think they got off easy though. Why, on the same night as their cowardly attack on some random Yakuza guy, several of their men who supplied drugs at the street level were gunned down by someone with a lot of those spare dinky Mini Uzis the extraction team tried to use. They’re like toys, I swear. It’s hard to take these little things seriously. I felt like the trigger was going to break off in my hand while it farted bullets into the guys.
I made it real easy for everyone to put the pieces together, too. I left all the clues out really obvious so anyone examining things would be like “Wow, this was pretty clearly a Yakuza hit and this was clearly a Cartel hit. It might as well be written all over the place.” Then they’ll laugh and laugh.
The next day, I visited our old friend Torrent. He was annoyed to say the least. I bet it’s because somebody painted the windows and windshield black and was sitting on the hood in full armor. I didn’t get a chance to deny the paint job, though. He was more concerned about the bomb I had in my hands that was spot on for what the Cartel straps to a car. “What are you doing here with that?” he spat at me.
“Oh, nothing. Had some time while I was blindfolding your car, figured I’d chain it to your toilet. Nice house by the way,” It was too. It was by the bay on Scenic Highway, very good land, even if the slopes make driving awkward. There aren’t beaches there, but it’s a fantastic spot if you have a boat. “Anyway, before I could send your pooper on parade, I found this sucker hanging on. Don’t worry, it’s disarmed. I wouldn’t want to hurt you. Here, catch!” I chucked it underhanded at Torrent. He caught it quickly and I saw his hand and forearm slightly bulge at the impact before it dissipated through his body.
“Did you stop by just to vandalize my humvee?”
“No, I’m afraid I’m here on official unofficial business. I know I’m not here officially, meaning you don’t have to act like you give a damn, but I’m here unofficially, meaning the other guys act like they give a damn. Just figured I’d point out that if I’m attacked by these guys again, with no allies of my own officially around, then I may be force to do some very violent things. There could be collateral damage. Have you ever seen a man ripped apart by an exploding port-a-potty rocket? Unofficially, between you and me, that may happen.”
Torrent was stoic in the face of extortion. “They attacked you? Do they know what you’re after?” he queried.
“They knew what room I was in on what floor I was on of what building I was keeping someone in. He’s a very important someone for this project. If you guys are antagonizing both sides, that’s fine, but a crossfire is a dangerous place for me to be for everyone concerned. All alone, lost in a strange city, looking for water to put my back against. Can you dig it?”
He dug it.
Thanks to another anonymous tip from the same source that had good information on where the out-of-towner was keeping someone hidden, one or two people with an eye out also caught a glimpse of said out-of-towner tossing a Cartel-style car bomb to Ouroboros’s #2 man. The #2 is about to hit the fan, man.
From there, I headed back to the hotel. The same one they raided. They obviously wouldn’t expect me to stay in the exact same hotel. I went right back to the first floor. Yes, the same floor too. Even if they thought I had the audacity to stay in the same hotel, they’d assume I would change floors. They’d be wrong. And I went to the same room door…and passed it up, heading two doors down. If anyone thought to check the same hotel and floor, they’re savvy enough to check the same room. Uh uh. Not gonna find me that easy.
Time for the video. I let myself into the room and handed a phone to Moai. Just something I picked up real quick. It and the axe. Some people looked at me funny when I was carrying that around, but I yelled something about Second Amendment Rights and that got them to back off.
I took the axe with me into the circle of floodlights. Raggedy wasn’t looking good. He was scraped up, with dried blood on his arms and legs where he’d tried to wriggle free. He had a cut on his head as well, probably from the lamp.
Making sure not to bridge the gap with a shadow, I stood close to him and tapped him on the head with the axe. “Wake up, sleeping beauty. I really don’t feel like true love’s kiss needs to be brought into this.”
He stirred, slowly getting his bearings. Then he saw the axe, his eyes going wide. He trembled a tiny bit. To his credit, he restored his composure after a few seconds. I patted him on the head. “Fear not, Raggedy Man. You and I are just going to make a video…something tasteful. Ok, Moai, roll it!”
I waved at the camera, axe in hand. “Hi there Raptor! Say hi, Raggedy Man.”
I waited. And waited. No response from Raggedy. I grabbed his hand with mine and began yanking it. “Now come on Raggedy, at least wave to the man.” With a crack, I was able to raise Raggedy’s hand up for a wave. His forearm remained firmly secured to his chair with a cuff having been forced high up along his arm. He screamed. I waited until he was finished before I spoke out the side of my mouth in a higher pitch than normal, “Hullo there Raptor, it’s me, Raggedy, practicing my ventriloquism.”
“Neat skill there, Raggedy Man. Anyway, Raptor, nice to finally talk to you. I’m Psycho Gecko and I’ve been spying on you. You’ve come out to your wife about your secret identity. The late nights, the costume with muscles molded into it, looking for strange men in dark alleyways. You’re a superhero. You probably think now you’re out that things get better. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they won’t. It gets worse.”
I set down my hostage’s hand and continued, “I have him at that crappy hotel by the civic center. First floor. You’ll want to get here and rescue him while you can. I know it’s the middle of the day, but you can drop the girls off at an aunt’s house or something and throw on the costume. Your wife won’t have to know because she’s working. Actually working at the bank this time. No stakeout. Raaaaptor, come out to plaaaaaay.”
I brought the axe more prominently into frame and gave it a couple partial spins. “Just you, me, and a new axehole. Ok, cut it there and let’s send it to him. Good job Raggedy, you’ll make it in showbiz yet. You should really show me how you do the trick with the broken arm sometime, I’d love to know how you fake that.”
“What are you going to do if he doesn’t show up?” wondered my prisoner.
“I’m going to leave you in the chair, that’s all. He’ll come.”
Moai sent Raptor the video to his phone and I left the disposable plugged in to charge and provide a handy bug for when Raptor came crashing in. The axe I left in the plastic ashtray outside the door of the hotel. Meanwhile, I headed to the bank. I had an important withdrawal to make.
When I walked into the bank, I appeared to be a civilian in a business suit, briefcase in hand. I’m glad I don’t have to wear an actual suit. Too morbid. Think about it. What do they dress dead bodies in for a funeral? Suits. And then there’s the noose people men tie around their own throats when they put them on. Not only are they dressing like they’re going to die, they’re wearing a means to kill them.
I bluffed my way through to the offices with various nonsense about loan originators and debt reconsolidation and so on. A badge and nametag appeared to match what I saw worn around me in the office, the title shifting as I weaved in and out of lies and higher up the corporate ladder. You can get more places with nonsense, a prop, and confidence than you can with just nonsense. Acting like you don’t belong somewhere is a sure sign that you don’t. Social engineering, I’ve heard it called. The weakest links in any security measure are the people themselves.
I found our Mrs. Robinson looking much more professional in the women’s version of a suit on her slender frame and hair done up. There were dark circles around her eyes. Knowing what hubby’s up to wasn’t helping her peace of mind. I just had to idle for a bit, so I stopped by the water cooler. Mmm, refreshing water. I don’t think anyone caught that it just ran off what seemed like my face and suit.
I made my move when I heard doors crashing in back at the hotel via my phone. The missus was chatting with a balding coworker when I stopped by her desk casually, apologized that I needed to pause and get something from my case, and pulled out my coffee blaster and a small board. Some people call their coffee makers a name like Mr. Coffee. I think I’ll call mine Mr. 2nd Degree Burns. Excellent.
I scalded the man with the thinning hair right on his exposed head. Mrs. Robinson had an inkling of my purpose and stumbled upright, knocking over her chair. I wrapped my arm around her as she turned to run, catching her around the midsection. I set Mr. 2nd Degree Burns aside then hit her at waist-height with the board. It let out a snap as it hit her and on my signal it curled around her waist. I got the idea from a wristband I saw once.
She struggled and threw her elbows against me. She tried to stomp on my foot with her heel. She stopped that once I whispered to her, “Mrs. Robinson, you can try and seduce me later. Right now, that’s a bomb I put on you. I have the detonator in my helmet and can set it off at any moment, so you might want to stop. Just saying.”
She did as I gently suggested and stood there, huffing, trying to catch her breath. Taking Mr. 2nd Degree Burns back in hand, the two of us made our way to the elevator. She got a confused look on her face as the door closed and turned to me. “Helmet?” she inquired. She got a good look at my armor as I dropped the businessman illusion and let out a piercing scream.
I tried muting her, but I was forced to do so without the aid of a remote by holding my hand over her mouth while I listened in on Raptor’s progress. He broke down the correct door this time. “Help is here, man. We got you. I don’t care what they said, I knew you’d turn up alive. You’re too tough a bastard to die.”
She screamed her pretty little face off up on the roof. I held her by the updo she had her long black hair in, holding her at arms length so that she leaned off the side of the building. I dialed up the phone I left back in the hotel room and interrupted the reunion of mentor and hero with a call carrying the shrill sound of Raptor’s wife in danger.
“Hey, pick up the phone already! I don’t have all day. My arm’s getting tired.”
“What do you want?” came a voice over the phone. There was rage, desperation, and hurt in his voice.
“It’s funny that nobody knows the answer to that, because I’m sure it would make a lot of things in the immediate future much clearer. I digress. Now, I wasn’t lying when I said your wife was at work. I’m with her now! Let me tell you, she knows how to work a business skirt, know what I mean? You’ve got two kids, so I guess you do. So here’s the deal, I’m going to drop her here in a few minutes. I don’t know, maybe five? I suppose I could try and make this a sadistic choice, but we both know you’ll grab her instead of trying to grab me. All you have to do is flap your little wings over here and keep your wife from falling to her doom.” I hung up.
I actually waited 7 minutes, but nothing beats having a loved one die in a hero’s arms. When it looked like he was close enough, I dropped Mrs. Robinson off the side of the building and adjusted my visor for binocular vision.
Black Raptor dove like a peregrine for the woman he loved. He came in dangerously close to the ground to catch her and the extra weight threw him down low enough that his wings struck something and the pair began to roll. When I caught up to them and got it focused enough I was disappointed by the sight that everyone lived. Raptor laid there on the ground, mechanical wings ruined, wife on top of him, the bomb strap in its board shape again nearby. The wife was going to make it, it seems. It put enough into it that it’ll blow through bones and organs where it’s wrapped, but with no real chance of collateral damage. It’s designed to do enough to kill just the one it’s wrapped around. Remember, if I kill Raptor, he won’t learn nuthin’.
But that didn’t mean I couldn’t give the guy a hand for all his luck and determination. I sent the signal telling the strap to curl up. It wrapped around Raptor’s right arm at the bicep. From where I stood, it sounded more like a loud pop as it took his arm off.
I cut back to the visor’s normal vision mode as I turned and found myself face-to-face with a giant hammer that hit me out of nowhere. I fell to my right, more than a little dazed. “Hey Gecko!” Venus shouted as she got control of the beefed up sledgehammer she just bitchslapped me with.
“You did it out of order,” I said haltingly. I had to relearn how to speak as my teeth felt like they’d just been rearranged.
“Stay down, Psycho Gecko. The team has this building surrounded and our people inside. There’s only one way you get off this building and that’s in our custody. Don’t make us have to hurt you.”
I held up a finger, “Hold on a minute. I don’t know where you came from or how you and your identical triplet sisters learned to spin around in circles that way, but I think we’ve established by now that there are two ways off this building.”
With that, I threw myself off the side, hoping I was still facing good people.
I was. It was Forcelight who first tried to catch me, but she was too powerful for what I was trying to do. If she caught me, that would be it. I directed a blank white holographic image into her face as she got close. She pulled it away with her powers but had missed me. She couldn’t stop on a dime.
The next hero to interrupt my fall was Gorilla Awesome who swung through the air to catch me in one meaty paw. Too bad he can’t fly. I swung my fists into one of his eyes and kicked off his body.
I continued my descent until Troubleshooter floated by. She piloted a car-sized vehicle that looked like she got out of control while adding stuff to her backpack. Two large waldoes, shaped like squared-off “U”s, grabbed me from either side, pinning my arms to my waist as the ends of each side met at my front and back. A mechanical scorpion tail rose out of the back of her flying machine and aimed right at my head. “Go ahead, make a move. I dare you.”
I hooked my right foot against a sort of cuff that was part of the right waldo and pushed, activating the jump enhancer. A system designed to throw me into the air exerted pressure against it. The right waldo yielded, leaving me in only the left, which tried to close more and hold me. It tried, but I slipped out the bottom. Hey, at least it got me closer to the ground and slowed me down some.
I was beginning to think I should have stayed with her when the heroes made one last attempt at saving my life. Or they almost did. Miss Tycism stopped before she got close enough to grab me and just let me fall.
I bounced off an SUV when I landed, denting it before landing hard on the ground. I was in bad shape. Bones broken, head concussed, warm fluids in my helmet and crotch area. I couldn’t feel much below the neck. I heard the door of the SUV open. The armor and I were both a little messed up but I wrangled enough projectors working together to throw up the illusion that I wasn’t there. Nanites flooded my body, emptying the suit’s stores as they worked to mend me. That was the plan. Disappear, get well enough to walk, and find Moai if he was still close enough in the escape vehicle.
Except the driver that walked over to look at me happened to be a statue from Easter Island. He loaded me in the back of the crushed former Yabloo City Sheriff’s K9 unit SUV and took off with me before the heroes could track us.
Like I said, good to have someone dependable around.