Chapter 28: Everything Is Lies, Part 5: the Siege

The night burns me alive.

Nobody drives in New York.

But if you have to drive in New York, driving with the Punisher is definitely the way to go; he doesn’t drive around cars, he drives OVER them. He doesn’t take short-cuts; he takes short-crushes. Of course, the car helps.

The car, if you feel comfortable calling it that, is a modified old Army truck; the thing’s chasis is like four feet off the ground, mounted on enormous all-terrain tires; they look like they could crush the Hulk. It’s got an eight-foot flatbed, where Miss Peelo and Marty now sit, and where we’ll hopefully put Aleksei, if we can make it to the Stark building without getting taken out by one of myriad of mercenaries after my head.

The air is electric; the moment we step off the plane I can feel eyes on me, and Marty is twitching and jumping like a dog held back at the end of a leash. The walk to Punisher’s truck was like a run through No-Man’s Land; every person around us was suddenly the boogey-man, every shadow was an invisible meta ready to jump out at me with a hacksaw.

I’ve got his head!

I’ve got his head!

This isn’t very fun.

This is fucking scary.

I put the suit on as soon as we got in the truck, and that helped my nerves a little, but only a little; the impact deadening of the suit is only going to help so much with more than twenty guys on my ass, and who’s to say they won’t be coming at me with lasers, or spacial distortion waves, or any of the other seemingly infinite vulnerabilities of my stupid yellow and brown piece of shit, oh, my God, what if they’ve got those hooks that Phineas made, or what if —

“Herman,” Miss Peelo says, putting a hand on my shoulder from where she sits in the truck bed. “Relax.”

“You were reading my mind?”

“I couldn’t help it, really,” she says quietly, smiling a gentle smile. “You were screaming.”

I frown, and go back to watching the road. The Punisher is just straight-up driving on the sidewalk, now, slow enough for people to get out of his way, but fast enough that they have to fucking dive like Olympic swimmers.

“Yeah, relax. Easy for you to say; you haven’t got ten million criminals looking to separate your head from your neck.”

Miss Peelo starts to speak, but Punisher interrupts her.

“That’s right. She’s only worth four million, so I doubt they’ll be focusing on her.”

Miss Peelo turns white.

“What?” she whispers.

“What?” I practically shout.

“There’s a bounty on all of you freaks, Herman. I thought you were smart enough to understand that; you, Blank, Sytsevich, Hardy, Peelo. There’ll probably be one on me, too, after tonight.”

The way he says those words, “after tonight,” makes a chill run up my spine.

“Then I want to drop Miss Peelo off.”

“What?” she whispers again.

“I want to leave her in the lobby of the Stark building.”

“Shit,” Punisher says, and sneers at me. “Why don’t we all just stay in the nice clean lobby of the big shiny Stark building, where Iron Man can protect us if the bad men come —”

“She’s not like us,” I say, hard, final.

Punisher shoots me a little you watch your fucking tone, punk look, but then nods.

“Then the lady goes. But you better hope we don’t live to regret it; I’ve found psychics come in very handy in this type of scenario.”

“What type of scenario is that, exactly?” Marty pipes up from the back.

Punisher grimaces.

“A no-win scenario.”

“I’m sorry I asked,” Marty says quietly, and Punisher smirks, reaching over my lap and popping open the enormous glove compartment; dozens of clips of ammunition and pistols drop out onto my lap; he’d packed the thing to at least twice its normal capacity. He grabs one, a nine-millimeter, and tosses it back to Marty.

“Here you go, Mighty Joe.”

Marty holds it out in front of his face, pinched between two fingers.

“What the heck am I supposed to do with this?”

Punisher smiles.

“It’s scum repellent. You point it at the bad men, pull that trigger down there, and poof, they go away.”

“Very funny …” Marty murmurs, setting the pistol down.

“You pick that up,” Punisher says, cold as ice.

Marty does as he’s told, and Punisher nods.

“You ain’t with us, you’re against us. That’s how it has to be.”

Marty sighs, and tucks the gun into his belt. “Fine,” he murmurs, huffily making it as clear as possible that it’s not fine at all.

“Peelo,” Punisher barks as we roll onto Madison Avenue, the Stark Building looming like a giant down the street. “While you’re still here, I want you to send out a message. Can you do that?”

“Yes, I think so. Who do you want it sent to?”

“Everybody in a two-mile radius who’s thought the words Shocker, Rhino, Schultz or bounty in the past twenty-four hours. Can you disseminate ’em out like that?”

“No problem,” Miss Peelo says, squinting her eyes shut.

“Very impressive, Miss Peelo. Now look into my mind and you’ll find the content.”

A thin pink tendril goes from Miss Peelo’s forehead to the base of Punisher’s skull.

“Oh, my,” Miss Peelo whispers.

“Send it,” the Punisher says, and smiles at me, a weird, skeleton smile. “Surprise, Herman.”

Dozens of tendrils burst out of Miss Peelo’s face, rocketing off in all directions; one of them hits me in the forehead, and I receive Punisher’s “message.”

It’s him and me, sitting in the front of the jeep. He points at his eyes.

“Look,” he says, and then we pan down to the area under my chair, revealing two fucking pounds of C4. The Punisher speaks up again.

“Attack us in public, and your money goes boom.”

The Punisher symbol. It winks.

I snap out of it, and immediately reach under my seat; nothing.

“Oh, thank Christ,” I whisper.

“Other side,” Punisher says.


“Other side,” he says again.

I reach down around the other side of my chair.



There it is.

Two pounds of C4.

“You —” I start to say, but then the Punisher shakes his head and laughs.

“Honestly, Herman, what’d you expect?” he says, and leans over. “Of course, what they won’t take into account is that with your suit on, you’re the only one in this truck who could survive the explosion.” He slams on the emergency break, sending the truck into a suicide spin-out which stops just short of the glass front doors of the Stark Building.

It’s nine fifteen PM, but the Stark building is as busy as ever; dozens of men and women in business attire come and go, blue suit, black suit, brown suit, big, big gray suit …


Seeing him lumbering gingerly through the crowd towards the exit hits something inside me, and suddenly I’m grinning like a madman; I’m lucky that my mask is on, or I’d undoubtedly be getting some less than flattering looks from the Punisher.

Just as Aleksei reaches the exit, they appear.

It starts with the roar of a motorcycle, which screeches up alongside us. On it sits one of the biggest guys I’ve ever seen, natural, non-meta I mean. He’s wearing this bizarre vest that looks to be made of denim and spare parts of some 1950s Robbie the Robot nightmare. His hair is a greasy explosion of dead black bristles, his face a deeply creased mass of scar tissue.

I recognize him from the SHIELD Database.

He smiles at me and flicks his tongue.

This is Gunmetal Gray.

Then a faint buzzing sound; a single glance upwards reveals the Locust passing from building to building, his ridiculous suit of armor making him look like a much smaller, green Juggernaut.

Professor August Hopper was always a bit of a joke in the super-villain community; guys like him, and Grizzly, and Gibbon, and … Well … Shocker, were never taken seriously. Of course, with that crazy gray Van Dyke beard, his borderline fanatical obsession with bugs and one of the stranger technology sets available on the market, Hopper gave people more than enough reasons to think of him as nothing more than a harmless nutcase.

Harmless, however, is not the appropriate word; dude has some kind of disintegrator ray wired into the pointer finger of his right hand; I saw it vaporize a police officer once; one second he was there, ready to fight off one of the cockroaches Hopper had blown up to the size of tanker trucks. Then Hopper passed that ray over him and poof, no more cop. No more cop car, either, now that I think back on it.

Aleksei passes through the doors, and I hear Punisher cock his pistols. I flip on the gauntlets, and hear that neat little whoosh-hum of them charging up.

A good sound; a solid sound.

It’s been too long since I heard that sound.

And damn it, the yellow and brown looks good. I haven’t worn the suit in a week and it feels like it’s been years; this is a mark five, too, my most recent model, the one that breathes with me like a second skin. The gauntlets are mark V-4.0s, no bullshit ass-kickers, capable of level 5s that once took down Thor.

Only for eighteen seconds, but those were a beautiful, beautiful eighteen seconds.

“Hey, Herman.”

Hay Hoiman.

I reach out the passenger-side window and hook Aleksei’s horn, lean out and kiss him on the forehead.

“Oy, Herman, don’t be gay!” he says, nervously looking around, as though the gay police are going to run up on us with leather handcuffs.

“I missed you, big guy,” I say, and I mean it. I really do. Aleksei makes a motion like he’s going to climb into the front with me and the Punisher, and I laugh, despite myself. “Aleksei, you won’t fit.”

“Oh,” he says. “Oh, right.”

“Go around back,” Punisher says, a little harsh for my taste. I don’t like it much when people use tones like that with Aleksei; it only confuses him. “You lie down on the flat bed, on your back. Cross your arms over your face, and try to stay still.”

Aleksei nods, and vanishes from sight; a moment later I feel the truck rock as it takes on his weight.

“Miss Peelo,” I say, turning back to her. “I … you’re just … you’ve been more than helpful. You’ve been like … Super-woman or something. I need you to know … I want you to know that … Shit, I’m no good at this,” I say, and lower my head.

She puts her hand on my shoulder, and smiles, her third eye watering a little.

“You be careful tonight,” she says quietly.

“Careful …” I say, in my best action hero voice, “is not on tonight’s menu.”

She disappears into the lobby of the Stark building without another word.

Punisher starts up the truck, and starts to head towards the Brooklyn Bridge.

I hear an old muscle car rev its motor behind us, and glance in the rearview mirror. It’s red with black stripes, and the front license plate reads “BUGSBUNY.” Through the windshield I can see the driver, a man in his early forties with wild red hair. He wears what look like flight goggles, strapped so tightly to his face they seem to be biting into his skin, and a big ruddy olive-green trenchcoat that’s all bushled around him in the sportster’s bucket seat.

This is Recoil, world renowned hit-man and Looney Tunes enthusiast.

Punisher practically growls at him, and when I look at him, he responds simply and eloquently, as is his style:

“I thought I blew him up.”

Thank you, Punisher, you dashing wordsmith you.

Marty leans up in between us.

“I smell plasma burners,” he says quietly. Punisher reaches out and turns a mirror up towards the sky, revealing a small red shape as it streaks by, silhouetted against the blank black New York night.

“That’s the Crimson Dynamo!” I almost scream, and Punisher looks back at Marty, not smiling but certainly without his usual scowl.

“Good call,” he says, simple as usual, but the fact that it’s positive input means something, and Marty knows it. “You smell anything else?”

“Nothing you guys can’t see,” Marty says, nervously touching the gun-butt sticking out of his belt.

A big voice pipes up from the back.

“Hey, Herman, the floor smells like dental floss!”

I don’t laugh; everything is vibrating now, nothing is funny.

Everything is shaking in perfect tune.

The world is on a thin, unspooling line; the pitch and tone of the universe is a simple vibrational frequency. Nothing can touch me.

They say when you think you’re going to die, your life flashes before your eyes.

I suppose this is my version of that; I feel like I can se the infrastructure of reality, vibrating in perfect tune, the universe one gentle but chaotic humming tone.

Punisher pulls the truck up alongside the big sewer gantry I usually use to get down to the Tube when I’m with Aleksei. He reaches under my seat, yanks out the C4 and presses it to my chest.

“You hold this like a goddamn teddy bear until we’re in your clubhouse.”

“Punisher —” I start, but he silences me with a glare.

God, what I wouldn’t give to kick this guy in right in the balls.

“Aleksei, we’re going to make a run for the sewer gates. You up for it?”

“Yeah, yeah, Herman, no problem.” The truck shakes and shifts as he sits up in the back. “What’s goin’ on? Why’s Wilbur coming?”

“Wilbur?” I whisper.

Marty turns and looks out the open back of the truck canopy.

“JESUS SHIT!” he monkey-shrieks, and I turn just in time to see the Punisher dive out of his door.

“Hey —” I squeak.

There’s a flash of red light, an earth shattering ZAP, and the truck bucks forward, end over end, throwing me through the windshield and out onto the pavement.

Here we go.

I roll three times, hit the curb and then jump to my feet, throwing my back against the side of a Cantonese restaurant.

Wilbur Day, the Stilt-Man, stands before me, smoking particle-beam blaster at his side.

He’s got on the Stilt-Man armor he built in his garage; a simple strength-enhancing Tinkerer rip-off with the gimmicky pneumatic stilts that can take him two hundred and ninety feet into the air, to, well … Get knocked down by Daredevil. If he has any regrets about betraying me, me who’s been his friend for — shit, must be going on ten years now —l his metallic faceplate doesn’t show it.

“Hot damn, you’re fast, Herman!” he says, and again, he’s emotionless.

“Wilbur —” I say, not sure if I’m scared or angry.

He starts to raise the blaster, and I whip up my arms; two level fours point-blank to the chest don’t knock him back, but they whip him around inside that armor like a bug in a jar; I hear at least one bone break, and ah, there we go, he collapses to his knees, clutching his chest.

And then Wilbur surprises me; he drops back onto his butt, and fires the stilt on his left leg at me; it extends out at what must be a good sixty miles an hour. I duck, and it rushes by like a train over my head, smashing straight through the wall behind me.

The truck, for its part, finally finishes its flip, going upside-down and backwards into the front of a Walgreens. Seconds later Aleksei comes smashing through a wall about twenty feet to the right, looking none too happy.

“You sonsabitches!” he screams at the world, shaking off a coat of dust and rubble from the plaster walling.

It’s as though his scream presses an invisible button, built solely for the purpose of every goddamn window, door, and car on the street. People who I thought were frightened pedestrians are pulling out snub-nose revolvers; there’s even a guy up the street, normal-looking guy in a Red Sox hoodie and jeans, coming running down the street at me holding what looks like a small hand-ax — I think they call that a hatchet.

You wanna hear something really out there?

Around twenty-five bullets just hit me in the face, arms, legs and chest, and the thing that most bothers me is the noise level; I mean, you’d think most everybody would’ve started using silencers in an urban assassination. Wrong.

The bullets slide off like water; the suit functions perfectly, as always.

Nonetheless, I duck behind a ’66 Buick, which is instantly Swiss-cheesed. I need to hide; number one, there might be people scoping me with energy weapons, and number two, once people with guns realize their bullets don’t work, they generally try again with something bigger.

A car drives through the hailstorm of bullets and slams into my Buick, which slams into my back and flings me about seventeen feet diagonally into the wall of the building to my left; I land hard on my elbows, and every injury I’ve received in the last two and a half months flares up at once.

“YAFRAPA!” I scream; coherence isn’t a priority at this point.


The car full of gangbangers flips up into the air as Aleksei nails it, full speed. He grabs it in mid-air and hurls it into a storefront that’s been serving as a bunker for several non-meta gunmen. Someone fires a laser at him from the roof tops, and he grabs a mailbox and throws it like a football; there’s a loud THUNK and a guy in a cut-rate suit of power armor falls ten stories into asphalt.

Wilbur’s started to stand up, so I hit him with a level three; coming from ten feet away, it rolls him like a bowling ball. His left leg’s stilt malfunctions, and launches him sideways into a dumpster, which folds around him like cardboard.

There’s the roar of a chopper, and Gunmetal Gray comes zooming up the street, pulling a shotgun from a harness on the side of his bike. Aleksei turns to him and BOOM, catches a shot right in the face.

I act without thinking.

Motion based only on emotion.

“Cocksuuuuckkkkeeerrrrr!” I scream, and jump up, use the hood of the destroyed Buick as a springboard, and tackle that white-trash piece of shit right off his Harley as he rides by. I shove my forearm between his jaw and his neck in mid-air, so that when we hit the street, he lands right on his head.


That’s a sound I’ll never get tired off.

Up close, he smells even worse than he looks. I roll him over on top of me, and within seconds he’s filled with more bullets than an NRA member’s basement; even with all that lead in him, he still shoves me off, and stumbles a couple of feet away, before falling face-down in a Olympic-sized swimming pool of his own blood. As I stand up, I start shooting level fives at wherever I see muzzle flares.

The sixty-year-old architecture of Barker Street comes apart like butter when you vibrate it at ninety miles a second, and the sky is a torrential downpour of bricks, cement, plaster and glass.

Not to mention falling bodies; if there are fatality figures for the last ten seconds, I don’t want to see them. Ever.

“Jesus, Herman!” Aleksei yelps.


Aleksei is yelping?

A brick bounces off my big friend’s head, and I he lifts a car up the way some people lift newspapers up to shield their heads in a rain storm.

His faces is a bloody mess, but when I really look at him, I realize why he still has a face; Gunmetal Gray was using buckshot. Actually, that’s a pretty ingenious plan; so many small impacts on one section of the suit might short it out.

Good theory.

Shame I thought of it ten years ago.

“ALEKSEI!” I scream. “Hit the sewers!”

“Screw that, Herman, I’m staying up here with you!”

“Aleksei,” I say, trying not to lose my temper as a bullet slides over my eye. “I’m running away!”

“Oh. All right then,” he says, and smashes straight through the pavement. I jump down next to him, and bang, the Punisher and Marty are right next to me.

“Move,” says the Punisher, and then he hurls a bandolier of grenades up to street level. Aleksei and Marty look to me, and I take off running, the sewage splashing up around my knees.

“Run, you crazy motherfuckers!” I yell back at them, and they do. The Punisher lingers for a moment, firing a Kalashnikov up into the street, and then someone jumps down and tackles him down into the shitwater; a second glance reveals it to be none other Anarchy, a red-haired witch of a woman who’s made her name out of cutting the throats of low-level superheroes.

She’s best known for taking down the Punisher. And Moon Knight. At the same time. Unarmed. In public.

I stop dead in the sewage, letting Aleksei and Marty breeze past me.

“What’re you doing?” Marty practically shrieks at me; even down here in the dark, his big monkey eyes gleam with hysteria.

“Herman,” Aleksei says, somewhat thoughtfully. “They’re all looking to kill you.”

“I know,” I say, turning around.


“I know!” I howl right back at him, my voice cracking so bad it sounds like I’m foruteen again. “Get to the fucking Tube! Tell Felicia I’m on my —”

There’s an enormous explosion from up on street level, and the sewer ceiling above my head disappears, replaced by the night sky, and, most notably, a man in a massive suit of gleaming red armor.

The Crimson Dynamo.

‘Holy shit’ doesn’t quite cover it.

The first suit of Dynamo armor was created by Ivan Vanko, a Soviet scientist who I pretty much worship when it comes all matters relating to electronics; the guy was an absolute revolutionary. He defected to the U.S. and went to work for Stark (don’t they all), and was killed saving that rich alcoholic self-absorbed bastard from an assassin wearing, get this, a suit of Crimson Dynamo armor.

Since then, there’ve been a slew of assholes to call themselves the Crimson Dynamo, as the armor changed hands and was modified and tricked out like an old car. Who knows who’s wearing it now; maybe ex-KGB, maybe just some schmuck who had a few million dollars to spare and now is looking to make it back.

With my head.

The suit itself is your basic flying/super-strength set-up with a wicked twist: instead of coming equipped with onboard weaponry, it has instead two equilarian-style mega-conductor coils on the palms.

Those among you familiar with Reed Richards’ revolutionary work with Equilarian-micro-coils will know what this means.

For those who don’t, lemme make this blood simple: the Crimson Dynamo suit can throw electricity.

He hovers above me there for a second, and I hear this gentle VZZM as the palm conductors recharge.

“Poo,” I whisper. I’m not sure why I say it, but for some reason, it causes an instant reaction: a bullet sparks off the helmet of the armor, and the Dynamo turns.

Marty is walking towards me, closer and closer to the Dynamo, the pistol raised in his hand.

“Run, Herman, you crazy fuck! Run!” He fires again, and I think I hear the asshole in the Dynamo suit laughing.

He fires off what looks like a bolt of lightning down at Marty, and, for what seems like the hundredth time this week, Martin Blank surprises the living hell out of me.

He tosses aside the gun, kicks off the wall and bull-tackles the Dynamo around the waist; this throws the Dynamo off balance, his leg jets kicking out and driving them both back down into the sludge, bolts of electricity zig-zagging every which way. Aleksei goes to help, but it’s too late: the Dynamo has worked out his thrusters, and he launches up, through the hole in the street, into the night sky, taking Marty with him.

“Marty?” Aleksei whispers.

“Aleksei, go!” I yell.

He does as he’s told. Good man.

I turn and run back towards where I saw Punisher get taken down; it takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the light, but when they do I see Anarchy and Punisher brawling like lunatics, slashing each other with knives like they’re playing marker-tag. She slams her blade into his shoulder, and he doesn’t even react, just boots her in the stomach, punches her in the face, rips the knife out of his shoulder and goes to stab her with it.

No dice; she slashes him across the throat, and he staggers back, his eyes wide.

I want to say now, for the record, that I don’t think Punisher can be afraid.

I don’t think he even knows what fear is any more.

But that look in those dead eyes, it’s alive; too alive. Too aware; not just the cold killing computer I’m used to.

He’s not afraid, but he knows something’s wrong; that computer analogy helped me out, because that’s exactly the thought I see in his eyes.


“HEADS UP, SHE-BITCH!” I shout, a bit melodramatically, and hit her with a single level four right between the shoulder-blades. She flies forward, bounces off a slime-covered wall with a nice loud CRACK-POP.

Shooting women in the back in a sewer.

So this is what being a superhero is all about.

Punisher stands up holding his throat with a white-gloved hand, and tosses a grenade onto Anarchy’s back as she tries to stand up.

Boom goes Anarchy.

“Jesus —” I start, but he walks right past me, not even looking at me, and but I can feel it; the DOES NOT COMPUTE is gone.


I wipe some Anarchy off my mask, and follow after him. A few thugs have started climbing down through the hole Aleksei made in the street, and the Punisher shoots each one of them in the head, one two three four five six, like swatting flies.

“FUCK!” I scream at nobody as we round the corner, revealing Aleksei pounding on the vault door to the Tube.

“Herman, she won’t open it until she sees you!” he yowls, like a scared dog.

“FELICIA OPEN THE FUCKING DOORS!” I scream, and begin frantically waving my arms at the cameras. “OPEN THE —”

The door creaks open, revealing Felicia standing there with what looks like an elephant gun. She fires almost immediately, shooting between me and the Punisher, causing all of us to do a comical “UH DURH?” turn around.


“IN IN IN IN!” I scream at … well, myself, I guess; Aleksei and the Punisher are already inside, and I dive in after them.

The vault door slams shut behind me, and I hear as all fifteen of the locks slide into place.

What I saw out in the hall will stay with me for the rest of my life: dozens of men, and a few women, some in armor, most in street clothes. Almost all of them holding weapons, some armed only with a crazy look in their eyes.

Mutants, metas, tech-users, and just plain old assholes out for a quick decapitation followed by a six-million-dollar payoff.

I stand up and start to speak, but then stop dead.

I stare at Felicia.

She stares at me.

That wonderful smell fills my nostrils. It’s like … it’s like she’s surrounded by this white halo of light.

“Herman, I thought that you might —”

“Shut up,” I say, not even listening to myself, and I yank off the mask, throw her up against the wall and smash my mouth onto hers.

There are a hundred ways to kiss someone.

There are ten thousand ways to do it wrong.

I suppose, in my life, first kisses have marked pivotal changes in my psyche; they’ve never gone smoothly, never been very good (save one), and, strangely enough, were always in awkward locations; a bathroom, a bar against a dartboard, the back room of a courthouse, things have been very strange for me in the affairs of the mouth.

But I can safely say that this … This is perfect.

I’m not even angry when the Punisher yanks me off and throws me on the ground; the best part, I think, is that Felicia stays right where she was, her eyes wide, just smiling.

Then Punisher smacks me clean across the face, and that … that makes me mad.

“What the fuck?” I shout at him, right up his nose.

Yeah, that’s right, I just shouted straight in the face of the Punisher.

Kissing Felicia will do that for a guy.

“Hey. Assclown,” the Punisher says, monotone. “Two-hundred-some lunatics on the other side of that door, looking to cut our heads off. Now is not the time for thinking with your dick, unless your dick has some kind of nuclear capacity that I am not aware of.”

Humor from the Punisher. I guess the chaos brings out the best in him.

“No,” I say, pissed and panicked. “Go to the ticketing booth; there’s medical supplies in there, and I want you to goddamn patch your neck before you bleed to death.”

The Punisher nods and immediately does as he’s old.


So I’m in charge.

I … I didn’t really figure on that.

“Felicia,” I say, turning to her. “Go to the cafeteria; in the kitchen you’ll find my main security rig. I want you to hit every goddamn red button on the panel, take the remote out of the charger, and then tear-ass with it back out here.” Felicia nods once and takes off running. “Aleksei, I want you to —”


They’ve started on the door; we couldn’t hear them when it was just gunshots and people pounding; it’s too thick, and the whole place is sound-proofed; that’s either a super-strong meta or a big-ass projectile weapon.

“Aleksei,” I start again.

“Hey, you kissed Felicia!” Aleksei says. That shuts me up for a minute.

“Yeah, Aleksei, that must’ve been a full minute and a half ago.”

“Well, sure, but I only just thought about it now.”

I’d hug him if I wasn’t about to throw up, pass out and die.

“Aleksei, go up to the second floor, head down the hall into the old subway tubes.”

“But they’re all filled with concrete, Herman —”

“On track three, you’re going to find a very odd-looking thing. I want you to reach into it and pull the green lever, then push the whole thing forward up onto the caution tape. You got that?”

“Right, track three, gray lever —”

“Green lever.”

“Track three, green lever, push it onto the caution tape. I got it.”

He stands there smiling at me.


He gives me the thumbs-up and stomps off up the grand staircase to the second floor.

I stand there, breathing. Just letting it all flow down onto me, the beauty of the place, the wonder of the place I’ve tried to call my home. The wonderful woodworking. The beautiful lighting system, the way light seems to trickle down the walls of the grand lobby, leading you freely and easily to the shops, the overnight rooms and the subway stops. The marble work is fucking beautiful, too, limestone, copper railings … I don’t … I don’t know how I’m going to say …


They’re stepping it up out there.

God, I hope Marty’s all right.

For a moment, I completely identify with Adolf Hitler in his final hours, trapped in a bunker as the Russian forces bore down on him, panicked, his world crumpling rapidly into nothing.

How’d he handle it? He committed suicide.

I flick the gauntlets back down to level three; if I’m gonna go out, I’m gonna take all these sad, greedy shitheads with me.

Everything is lies. I want to know …

No, I need to know what it all means.

As for Hitler …

Hitler was a fucking pussy.

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