Chapter 7: Devolution, Part Four

Felicia Hardy isn’t just beautiful.

She’s a goddess.

She’s just … Jesus. And I’m sure she knows it; she’s straddling me, pressing her entire body against me. If I leaned forward even an inch we’d bump noses.

A headbutt isn’t a bad idea.

Or I could squeeze the button on my palm to vibrate the suit, that’d probably knock her out, give me time to get away on the Broomstick and …

… Nah.

“What do you know about FPS?” she says for the third time.

“I have no fuckin’ clue what you’re talking about.”

As far as I know, Black Cat isn’t a meta, just a normal human like me or you. If the Kingpin wasn’t bullshiting, he was the one who gave her the suit, which he says amplifies her agility, strength and flexibility; I don’t see how the suit could have that much power, though, as now that I see it in person it just looks like near to paper-thin latex, the sort of stuff you see in bondage porn.

I half-heartedly try to get out from under her, and she shoves me back down, not that I mind. I doubt she’d be pressing the physicality if she knew this was the closest I’ve come to sex in two years.

“Don’t play stupid with me, Herman,” she says, the R in “Herman” a weird sort of growl.

“Look, I’ll say it again, I have no fuckin’ clue what you’re talking about.”

“If I get up, will you try to run?”

“Please don’t get up,” I say before I can stop myself.

Okay, this is awkward.

She starts to say something but then stops, and gives me this kind of cock-eyed look.

“For both of our sakes, I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that,” she says slowly.

“Felicia … You look great.”

“Well, this is going well,” she murmurs to herself, and stands up.

GODFUCKINGDAMNIT! STUPID, STUPID STUPID! I just had to let it slip, didn’t I?

“What’s FPS?” I say, picking up my mask and wiping some of the garbage off it. She groans.

“That’s what I was here to ask you. I thought you’d know.” She pulls a strip of burnt paper out of her cleavage, and hands it to me. “Take a look.”

It’s wax paper, the kind they use in cash registers for receipts. Half of it is burned away, but the intact pieces read:

COMPLETE REFUND…e The Shocker’s Interf…Resch…$4,000 Credit…The Griz…power li… 240 Harding Street, 9:…AM…

And then down at the bottom, which is the least burnt bit, in big, red letters:

F.P.S.

“What’s this?” I say, feeling a little dumb.

“I think it’s a receipt.”

“For what?”

“I don’t know, Schultz, it’s got your name on it, I thought you’d know.”

“I don’t. Where’d you get it?”

“Does it matter?”

There’s a pause. This is what it sounds like when two people very suddenly realize they have nothing to say to each other.

“It matters to me; like you said, my name’s on it. If I’m interfering in something I’d like to at least know where it is so that I can interfere in it properly.”

Her breasts are like volleyballs.

“A client brought it to me.”

“A client?”

They can’t be real. She’s got like 2 per cent body fat, all lean muscle. Would she be able to do all that flippy-dippy stuff with boobs that big? No, no way. Were they that big back in our vault-snatch-and-grab days?

Felicia and I used to work for the Kingpin together, before when she was just starting to train to become the Black Cat. She’s Walter Hardy’s (RIP) kid; great guy, Walter was. I went out on my first job with him. The guy had a way with alarm systems, almost like a mutie with them, although I doubt any mutants have a skill as specialized as “Always Cuts The Right Wire.” Felicia was such a tiny thing, delicate even.

Of course, she was just a kid back then, we both were, so maybe she had a growth spurt.

A growth spurt of silicone.

“I’m a private investiga–… Wait, why am I telling you this?”

“As I recall, you were the one who kicked me in the face. Twice, if memory serves. New at the private investigator thing? Because last I checked, the ass-kicking comes AFTER you ask questions, not before.”

“So, by virtue of me kicking you, I’m now trapped into talking to you?”

“That’s about the size of it. Besides, we’re old friends. I mean, you could spend some time on an old friend, right?”

“We were never really friends, Herman.”

“Coworkers, then.”

“You must be a very lonely person.”

“Well, yeah, but that’s not the main reason why I’m interested.” It’s your enormous tits. They’re hypnotic. “I just think I might know more about this than I originally thought I did.”

She smiles, if ever so slightly. “So I should ditch the kicking method?”

“Nah. I’m guessing it just improved my face anyway, so …” The smile doesn’t go away; it doesn’t get bigger, but it doesn’t go away. “Look, can we talk about this, you know, minus masks, not in a dark scary alley?” She just sort of stares at me. “It’s okay. I’m a superhero now.”

“Really,” she says, monotone. “Since when?”

“Since, uh …” I think back. “Since Tuesday.”

When I was nine years old, my father locked me in the basement for three weeks. He’d gone on this rant to my little sister Elaine the day before about how I was going to grow up to support the family and be the man of the house, and how she’d never have to worry about anything, and that night he’d snuck into my room, stripped little me naked, taken little sleeping me downstairs, down into the basement.

No, nothing like that, you fucking pervert. Worse than that.

When I woke up, I was alone, cold and naked. There was one light bulb in the center of the box I was in, plugged into a floor-jack that came up out of a hole in the floor. I didn’t even know where I was; my entire world had been cut down to this four-foot-high 44 box. There was only one feature on the walls: a type-one combination lock.

This was easy.

Now, don’t get me wrong, at this point I’m panicked, I’m scared, fuck, I’m nine years old. I have no fucking clue what’s going on, but I know how to work a combo lock, and, thank Christ, I’ve got the presence of mind to start trying combinations. First I try my combo at school: 3, 4, 5. No luck. So I try my birthday: 8, 8, 71. Nothing. Dad’s Birthday: 4/23/24. I sit there trying random combinations for an hour until I develop this little system that I think I invented. The way I did it, I’d later find out, is called “The Contact Point” method

After the first hour, I’d noticed that when I brought the dial past the “3” there was this little click. I started making notes on whereever I’d find clicks, graphing my results in the sand. Eventually I combined my results; 3, 8, 3. I’ll find out later that it’s my grandmother’s birthday.

The door opens.

Into a very slightly larger box. No light bulb here; it’s built directly onto the original box, the walls less than an inch away from the outside of the first one. And this one has a type-three combo lock, a note from Dad, a little package, a bottle of water and a sandwich in Saran Wrap. The note says:

“CONGRATULATIONS, HERMAN — ONLY NINETEEN MORE TO GO — I LOVE YOU”

Sure. He loves me. Good.

I open the package; inside is a doctor’s stethoscope.

I still have it; it’s in the one safe house I never ever go to, for fear of it being found by the cops. It’s sentimental, yeah, but it saved my life.

Because that’s all what my dad called “The Safe Game” was. It was a murder game.

A survival-of-the-fittest game.

An evolution game.

“I don’t understand; like a hole, or —”

“No, not a hole,” I say again, sipping my root-beer. “A spot.”

When put into a normal environment, an everyday setting (in this case, a Taco Bell) Felicia looks, put simply, ridiculous. She’s one of those many women roaming around the superhero-subculture that are just too sexy for the real world.

“Well, that’s the Spot’s trademark, right?” She licks some Fiesta Sauce off her lower lip. I’m going to have to close my eyes if I want to coherently continue this conversation.

“Jon?” I say, amazed at having not thought of this. “Maybe. But I haven’t seen him in, jeez, six or seven years. Word was he just permanently slipped into that subdimension of his, got lost between spots.”

“Did it look like one of his?”

“I don’t know. I never saw him do the spot trick in person; around us, he was just plain old Jonny Ohnn.”

“I didn’t know you two got along,” she says, smiling the knockout smile. “Matter of fact, I’m amazed you even know his name.”

“Hey,” I say, trying to be charming. “Just ’cause I don’t have friends, it doesn’t mean I don’t have ears. I keep up on the Gossip of Evil.”

“Why would he put a spot on Ravage’s HEAD, though? I mean, wouldn’t that mean —”

“That he could move through it? Yeah, if I understand the powers right.” I fiddle with one of my gauntlets nervously under the table. “Look, we’ve already been over my story. What’s yours? Where’d you get the receipt?”

Felicia sighs and looks out the window.

“On Wednesday, a woman contacted me about the death of her husband. It seems that he’d been acting very strangely recently, and then one morning his buddy shows up, all smiles, and they drive out to the fashion district for no apparent reason and Ravage kills the husband.”

Huh.

“Nothing too suspicious about that. Happens all the time in New York, right? He was probably just going to buy his wife a gift or —”

“A-ha,” she says, raising a finger. “That’s what I said. But then the friend —”

“The one that drove him?”

“Yeah. The friend starts acting strange. Instead of being devastated, he’s ANGRY. He gives her an angry phone call saying that her husband ruined everything, and then four hours later she gets a call from the friend’s wife, saying she’d found this mysterious receipt in the trash of her husband’s office.”

“So … Wife With Dead Husband and Wife With Weirdo-Asshole Husband come to you to find out … What?”

“To find out why Dead Husband and Living Husband would take out a combined total of four thousand dollars from their bank accounts just to get one of them killed by a super-villain.”

“Huh?”

“The four thousand on the receipt. It left their accounts on Monday night, and was returned, probably along with this receipt, on midday Tuesday, just after Dead Husband became, well, dead.”

I suddenly feel out of my league again, and a little lost. I volunteer a theory, and immediately regret it.

“So … the Asshole Husband … Shit, I dunno, hired Ravage to kill the Dead Husband?”

“You’re forgetting the post-death ‘he ruined everything’ phone call, and the prompt return of the cash.”

“Right.” Now I feel stupid. Her tits alone are smarter than me. “Besides, Ravage didn’t seem in the state of mind to be a hired gun. He just seemed … Berserk.”

Felicia nods, her white bangs falling over her eyes. “It really was very brave of you to do that.”

“Do what?”

“Take on Ravage like that. I didn’t think you had … well … guts.”

Should I be swelling with pride over a half-hearted pseudo-compliment like that?

Because I am.

“So, what do we do now?” I say, setting down my empty root beer and dropping a two-cent tip; hey, shut up, money’s tight.

“We don’t do anything. Not as a team, at least.”

Why did she have to clarify it like that?

“Okay,” I say, trying again. “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to stake out 240 Harding Street. I’ve got a feeling that come nine AM tomorrow morning, something interesting is going to happen.” There it is again; the “R” in “interesting” is rolled on the tip of her tongue, like a cat’s purr.

She doesn’t even say goodbye when she leaves; just shoots me that smile that could stop a bullet, stands up and walks away.

I’m left sitting there in Taco Bell with a hard-on.

That night, post Felicia-based masturbation, I get a call from Aleksei. A while back I sat on my phone and busted the ringer, so now it just makes this kind of low, mooing sound when somebody calls, and since Aleksei is pretty much the only person who calls, it sort of fits him.

“I got a job!” I gud a jub.

“Oh?” I say blearily, and roll over so that the draft from my shattered bedroom window doesn’t hit me so hard.

“Yeah; it’s a big one, the pay off is thirty-three thousand.”

“Wow,” I say, trying to sound impressed instead of furiously jealous. “What is it? Bodyguard? Bank job?”

“Nah, nah, nothing like that,” Aleksei says, that big slow chuckle of his rumbling through the receiver. “It’s a testing job. I go to this warehouse and meet up with a guy and he’s going to do some tests on my suit to see if he can make one of his own.”

“Great, Aleksei. It’s sounds fascinating.”

“Don’t it?” Aleksei says, brimming with enthusiasm. “So, what’re you doing?”

“Aleksei, it’s four AM. I was asleep.”

“Oh, right. You sleep at night now, I forgot.”

Good old Aleksei.

Harding Street is nice this early in the morning. Back when I was a crook (i.e., last fuckin’ week) I didn’t go out much during the day, so hearing the birds and feeling the fresh air on my face is kind of a welcome change. I feel that weird electric feeling again; like every muscle in my body wants to go, move, do, say, just be more me than I already am.

God, I’m talking like a total fag now. Great. Welcome to SuperHero-Dom.

At first, nothing. Fifteen minutes goes by. No sign of the Black Cat, but she’s around here somewhere, probably in a better venue of surveillance than I am; I’ve basically been leaning against the same newsstand for the past half-hour, wearing a trenchcoat over the costume, my hand on my mask in my pocket, thoroughly creeping out the little Indian guy who runs the place.

“Can I help you?” he says for the eight-hundredth time.

“I’ll eat your brain,” I say. There’s a silence. He gives up, and goes back to nervously eyeing me from behind the counter.

That’s when I see the van, and the feeling comes again; that “super-villain sense.” It’s a normal van, blue, no passenger windows. Parallel parked between a truck and a little Datsun.

I think of the Flying Broomstick sitting unused on the floor in my apartment, and feel a pang of shame.

Then the back doors of the van FLY OFF.

“Jesus!” I shout to nobody, yanking the mask down over my face. A massive shape, nearly as big as Aleksei, tears its way out of the van.

Oh, my God.

“Max!” I scream as the thing that looks like a cross between the Abominable Snowman and a Kodiak bear tears into a passerby, ripping his chest open like a blood-filled plastic bag. “Max, what the hell are you doing?”

I take off across the street towards my old friend the as he claws his way through the ribcage of a startled soccer mom. This doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t make any sense at all.

This isn’t happening.

I put my hand on his fur covered shoulder, and he turns, flecks of thick saliva flying from his mouth.

“Max, what’s wrong with y–?”

“RRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!” says Maxwell Markham, former World Wrestling Alliance champion, then harmless super-villain “The Grizzly,” and currently a murderous berserker.

It isn’t a human noise.

“… Max?” I say, barely above a squeak.

The paw hits me so hard I flip before I hit the ground, and everything goes black.
 

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