Chapter 6: Devolution, Part Three

Looking at the Tinkerer, you wouldn’t think he was a mass murderer.

He’s a little guy, maybe five foot, all stooped over from age and years of hunkering down over his work tables, with little grandfatherly wisps of white hair, so thin that you can see his mottled, liver-spotted scalp. He wears glasses, but I think they’re just a ruse; the guy’s eyes are way too sharp to need them, and you can tell; they look it, the kind of emerald green that can cut straight into you.

He speaks in a soft, lilting voice, everyone’s favorite teacher, the old man you just can’t help but spill your soul out to.

He’s more or less responsible for the deaths of over five thousand people.

Sometimes I shiver uncontrollably when he smiles at me; that’s not an old man smiling. That’s the smile of a shark.

“Herman, my boy! I was wondering when you’d visit a lonely old man again, I’m so tired of outfitting psychopaths …”

You’re a psychopath yourself, goddamnit, you freaking monster.

“Nice to see you, too, Phineas. Been a while.” I run my fingers along the side of a new Goblin-Glider he’s designing; once Osborn gets out of prison, he’s going to use this thing.

And people are going to die.

On maximum power the gauntlets blew the Venom-symbiote entirely off Mac Gargan. And for a very dark moment, I wonder what they’d do to someone as old and unprotected as the Tinkerer.

“It’s a Goblin-Glider, old friend,” he says, beaming. “I’ve upped the ammunition stores; he can shoot those razors of his at two hundred times more efficiency, no more weight imbalance for our pal Norman.”

“That’s incredible,” I say, imagining that insane laughter as razor-bats tear through a crowded intersection. The shivers again. “How’ve you been, Phineas?”

“Hard times,” he says, putting a hand on my shoulder, a grandfatherly smile, crow’s-feet bunching up by his eyes. “Hard times. So many heroes in New York these days, and fewer and fewer fiscally responsible villains.”

His workshop is what I always imagined the prop-warehouse at a movie studio looked like: every flat surface is covered in weaponry, everything from conventional guns to what looks to be a large assortment of explosive Easter Egg grenades.

“So, a new pair of gauntlets? An upgrade to the suit, perhaps? Or maybe …” The Tinkerer lifts up what looks like a steel tennis ball. “I call it the Unfibrulator; it sets off an electronic pulse that stops the beat of every human heart in a twenty-five yard range. That suit of yours would surely make you immune, so —”

“No, no, nothing like that,” I say quickly.

“Are you sure? Your compatriot Killshot used one just the other week, and managed to take out half of the Sin-Cong royal family.” I remember the picture in Marvel Knights, an underground super-villain newsletter. A child, his heart having torn itself in half, his eyes bulging out of his head. That horrible shiver comes again.

“I need transportation,” I say quietly, imagining Phineas choking the life out of the child with his bare hands.

“Transportation, eh?” He sounds disappointed. “You know, we could add an acidic gas feature to those gauntlets and —”

“No,” I say, maybe a little too loudly. Please, God, don’t have a device that detects negative thoughts.

I’ve only been really truly frightened three times in my life. The first was when my father locked me in the basement for three weeks.

Long story.

The second was when I first saw that Galactus ship in the sky, before I realized that the Fantastic Four could own his ass any time, day or night.

The third was of the Scourge of the Underworld. A couple of years back this underground organization was killing villains and … Why’m I explaining this to you? Look it up yourself.

“I just need something simple,” I say. I want this to be over, but Phineas, lonely old guy that he is, is trying to drag it out.


“Something cheap,” I clarify.

“How cheap?”

“VERY cheap. Stiltman-cheap.” Phineas laughs a geriatric’s warbling, throaty laugh.

“What kind of cheap transportation are you looking for, Herman?” he says, starting to lead me towards the back of the workshop, where his larger projects reside. “I mean, surely they still sell roller skates down at the local five and dime, yes?”

I force a smile that, when I see it reflected in the shining chrome surfaces of a nearby Ray-Gun, looks borderline psychotic.

I stop the smile.

“I was hoping for something that flies,” I say without thinking. Flies? Me? I hate heights, why am I volunteering to … wait, why’s he smiling like that?

“Cheap and flies. Lucky you.”

“Lucky me?”

“I’ve got just the thing. Finished overhauling it last week, as a matter of fact. It’s still got a bit too much boost on lift-off; that’s why the original owner gave it to me.”

“Gave it to you?”

“Mr. Osborn said he’d rather stick with his own technology.”

“The Goblin?” I whisper, and Phineas nods. Whatever he’s going to show me, it was good enough for the Green Goblin, if even temporarily.

My excitement level rises.

He hobbles over to something hidden under a tarp, cylindrical, maybe a foot in circumference and six feet long. The excitement level rises again.

“I call it …” he says, yanking off the tarp in a dramatic manner. “The Flying Broomstick!”

My excitement drops through the floor and into hell.

The … thing, yes, the THING in front of me appears to be a big piece of steel piping, possibly solid all the way through. It’s got goofy little handles up on the front of it, not much bigger than the “oh, shit” handles on the ceiling above the door in a car. The back of it seems to be just one big jet engine, and a saddle is kind of haphazardly soldered onto it. The saddle looks if you sit on it wrong there’s a chance it could take your virginity, male or female.

There are three buttons on the right handle, and a lever, like a bike-brake, attached to the left. The front tapers off into a rocket-ship-like spike, at the tip of which is a little red lightbulb.

It’s the most ridiculous fucking thing I’ve ever seen.

You can almost hear me swallow my pride.

“How much?”

“It’s free.”


“What good is it taking the money of a dead man? It’s as good as stealing.”

I open and close my mouth a few times before I can even speak. “What’re you —”

Phineas laughs that friendly old laugh again, but now it’s not friendly, if only by its context. “Herman, you think I don’t know why you’re here? Your little superhero adventures?” He shakes his head, smiles that shark’s smile.

“You’ve been watching me?”

“I watch all my customers. And you haven’t been hard to keep track of … You’re making people very angry, Herman. Important people.”

“But I haven’t even done anything!” It comes out as a plea, a whine, a complaint, when I meant it to be an angry declamation. I can’t even get inflection right.

“Ah,” Phineas says, raising a finger. “But sometimes all one needs is to THINK about doing something, and they are condemned.”


He does that thing where you pull your thumb across your throat and make a “schhhhhhhhhrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiip” sound. Normally, when someone does this you just laugh at them. When the Tinkerer does it, it’s shake-shit terrifying.

Fifteen minutes and five years off my life later, I’m standing in an alley out back of his warehouse, trying to figure out the controls on my new … God, it makes me sick to say it … “Flying Broomstick.”

I didn’t bother talking any more to the Tinkerer; it was clear that he wasn’t going to say anymore on the subject of my apparently very imminent death, and he dropped most of the “kindly old Phineas” act after the throat-cutting-thing. Had a robot help me take out the glider and then slid closed the doors, leaving me alone in the most heavily mutant quarter of the Bronx.

So, the green button starts the engine; the thing runs silent and apparently heatless, the only sign that it’s on at all being the faint blue glow from the jet engine. Pressing the lever down gives it gas, or whatever the hell it runs on, and the blue glow brightens up.

The purple button dims the blue glow; I guess that’s a brake.

The orange button pops open a panel on the left side of the front, revealing what looks like a Gatling gun. If I don’t press the button again, the panel closes after fifteen seconds. I assume that if I press it within those fifteen seconds …

I don’t want to think about it.

I straddle the Broomstick, and try to think positive thoughts; at absolute best, I’m climbing onto a free-flying jet engine.

I take a deep breath and start to pull down my mask when the first kick hits me, gets me square in jaw before I can get the mask over it. Smart move. The impact knocks me off my Flying Dildo, pardon me, Broomstick, and I land in a pile of torn-up trash bags. I immediately start to sit up, and get kicked again; this time it’s a swing as opposed to a straight, and something yanks the mask entirely off my head.

“What do you know about FPS?” a voice says, and something lands on top of me, but my concentration is a little blurred from the pain; it’s not the kicks that did it to me, it’s my fucking nose. When they yanked off the mask, they yanked off the bandaging and now I am jacked the hell up. I start to raise my gauntlets.

“Kiss my grits you fucking —” And suddenly my hands are pinned down with bolos. I close my eyes and concentrate on shrinking the pain; put it in a box, and then shrink the box until it crushes all the pain away. It’s a technique I learned from an old friend of mine, Fancy Dan.

Put the pain in a box, and then shrink the box until it crushes all the pain away.

“What do you know about FPS?” the voice says again, a note of anger now. My vision is clearing. I suppose it’s a testament to my loneliness and absolute base-state of mind that I immediately pop a hard-on.

Squat-straddling over me is a buxom woman in skin-tight black latex, blue-white hair hanging down around her face, like a halo in the street-lights, the tips of it tickling my cheeks, lips and forehead.

It smells good; like vanilla and cinnamon.

I didn’t think it was possible, but my luck just got worse.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the Black Cat.

Previous Part               Chapter Index               Next Part