Chapter 36: Bonus Round


Herman Schultz here. I know you’re probably wondering where Eddie is; it’s been about two months, and I doubt they’ve found his body yet. Eddie’s dead. I know this is possibly the worst way to break the news, but I’ve never been good with words.

Basically I bit Eddie’s throat out when he came to try to kill me; not the most dignified way to die, but I don’t think it’s that bad, considering how some of our type of guys have made their exit. At least his was by a friend, you know? At least it was for a cause.

Oh, and don’t think it wasn’t; your husband died saving the world. I know that might be a little bittersweet for you, considering that your husband was a sadistic bastard who beat the shit out of you and your three beautiful kids pretty regularly, but it’s the truth. The information your husband gave me, even in his, at the time, disoriented state, has allowed me to uncover an ongoing plot to seize control of the world’s metahumans, the perpetrators of which I am currently going about persecuting to the fullest extent.

As I’m sure you know, Eddie had his f–

I stop writing, and set the BWNN stationary down. It’s three AM. I shouldn’t be up this late; I’ve got a big day tomorrow. Most everyone’s gone home; Adrian is still here, but that’s only because he’s got to be the first one out in the morning. The whole plan depends on his old, craggy ass.

But he’ll do his part perfect, better than perfect.

Aleksei has lain down in the corner of the bar and, clutching his stuffed rhino, has fallen into a deep sleep. I’m lucky I figured out a vibrational solution to his post-nasal drip, because that snoring really was a nightmare.

The whole of the Enforcers, now including Blitz, have decided to spend the night as well. Dan was a little hesitant to let her on at first, citing the fact that “we’ve already got a strong guy,” but after some cajoling from Montana and Ronnie and a few long looks at Blitz’s breasts, he gave in. They’re taking turns sleeping, guarding the doors.

Granted, they won’t stand a chance against the Avengers or the FF if they show up. But the Level 5 vibe-bombs I have spread all over this place should make things very, very interesting should Stark or Richards try to make their presence felt. I always wondered what a level five would do to my bestest-pal Reed; ever seen the way a spring vibrates and whips around after you stretch it and let it snap back?

It’s a beautiful thing.

Marty’s face-down, out cold on a table in the corner, Corona still gripped tightly in his paw. I pray he’s not hung over tomorrow; he and Max are going to have to cut power to the entire state of New York, and I don’t want him pissing out on me due to a headache.

Felicia has put her head down between her arms on the bar, and is staring at me sleepily; those droopy eyelids, she really is like a cat.

“What’s up,” I say, more of a tired grunt than anything else.

“Just thinking,” she says, and stretches out her fingers, reaching them up onto my forearm.

“You should sleep.”

“Yeah, we all should. Big, long sleep.” She giggles, then abruptly makes a solemn, somewhat anxiety-ridden face that catches me off guard; it’s always a little strange when a woman as strong and capable as Felicia expresses any degree of vulnerability.

“Do you remember my father’s funeral?”

“Sure,” I say, and it’s true; it might as well have been yesterday, a pastel painting locked in my mind. I sort of think of Walter’s funeral as the last stand of the old guard of crime; the heist men, the safe-crackers, the con artists, the goombas …

Before everyone put on costumes and the justice system turned into a kind of lethal carnival act.

Felicia and I were barely twenty. I think that might’ve been the first time I thought of her in feline terms; her green eyes dominated her entire face, giving her a distinctly kittenish aesthetic.

“During the funeral I had this weird feeling, like … Like it wasn’t really happening.” She gazes into the glow of a neon-tube beer advertisement. “Like it was just a show, all put on to, to make everyone really sad, and then at the end, my father would … Shit, I don’t know, jump out of the box, ta-dah! I was just kidding. And I was so fucked up about it, so screwed up about the whole situation, I remember as they were lowering the coffin, thinking ‘Hurry, Dad! Jump out of the box!’ And they started piling on dirt, and …”

She goes quiet, and just stares at me. So I do the Hollywood thing, and it feels right, not stupid like it probably should. I cup her jaw in one hand and bring our faces together, her skin so soft on mine.

“I feel like … I feel like this is your last chance to jump out of the box, Herman. Like once we start out tomorrow, everything is going to be over, they’re just going to be piling on dirt.”

I start to say something; make a joke, anything, but she grabs me very abruptly by the cheeks and shoves her mouth onto mine. It’s not a good kiss, not romantic or sensual by any means, but the raw emotion in it actually sends a shiver down my spine.

She pulls away after what feels like a twisting eternity, and stares at me for a moment, before silently going around back of the bar, and lying down on a sleeping bag she set up earlier.

I sit staring at the floor, biting my knuckle. Miss Peelo touches me on the shoulder.

“I found him,” she says in a mourner’s whisper.

“Where?” The word literally drops out of my mouth.

“The Chrysler Building. The top three floors, in the tower.”

“You’re sure? It seems … flashy.”

Miss Peelo nods. “I’m sure; I searched for the largest Darkforce mass in the state, and then looked three beneath it, just like you said.”

“He’d never let his operation be the ‘Number One’ anything. Too conspicuous,” I sigh, and Miss Peelo nods.

“I searched the Chrysler and found a peculiar mind. Completely different from your own, in every possible way.”

“Another mask. He knows we’d be looking for a telepathic signature similar to mine, so —”

“He overcompensated. Just like you predicted he would.” She smiles. “You’ve got the advantage of him, Herman.”

“Oh, yeah? How do you figure?”

“In every way, my boy. In every single way. I’ll send out the note on the Chrysler to all the minds that were present tonight, but after that, I’m afraid I must be going.”

“Are you sure —” I start, and she just smiles. She’s sure.

The Punisher taps my arm as I go around the bar.

“Big day tomorrow,” he says.

“Yeah,” I reply, eyes still down.

“Gonna finally shoot those fellows …”

“Which fellows?”

He smiles that twisted smile. “The ones that need shooting.”

And on that note, I go around the bar, lie down next to Felicia, shut my eyes, and am asleep before I can dream.

When I wake up the next morning, though, there is a thought behind my eyes, lingering like a bloodstain.

I stand opposite a terrible black knight, up on the highest tower of a castle. The sky above us is an unearthly black, spreading out rapidly in all directions like an ink stain on a white page. The knight and I both have these ridiculous swords and we’re hacking away at each other, and then we both swing for one another’s heads and connect, WHACK!

Double decapitation. Not pretty.

See, you’re looking at me now and going “Herman, Herman baby, don’t you remember the dream with the gamma bomb? Don’t you know by now that maybe you’ve got some smidgen of brainfreak in there that can sorta kinda maybe sorta kinda tell the future? Maybe you should look out for a castle? Or a knight? Or, you know, just get up in the morning and blow your head off to avoid any further unpleasantness?”

Well, yeah, you’re right, and I was.

All the next morning, until what went down, went down (and I do mean down), I was watching like a fuckin’ hawk for castles, knights … any renaissance fair shit crept up onto me, man, it would be eating pavement.

But of course, because I’m a freakin’ dumb-ass, I didn’t figure on metaphors. And I should have, you know? Because in the last dream, that whole damn thing was a metaphor for how the gamma bomb led to the creation of superheroes. So why was I taking this so literally?

Why does anyone do anything while they’re on the way to the single most important confrontation in their lives, possibly in the history of the world, possibly in the history of the galaxy?

See what I’m getting at?

I know you do. So shut the fuck up.

The alarm rings at 7:05, and everyone in the bar groans almost simultaneously. Then there’s a gunshot, and everyone in the place jumps up ready to fight; well, almost everyone. The Punisher is still sitting drowsily in his chair, smoking Glock outstretched in his hand.

“It’s too early,” he groans. Marty was already up, somehow; he’s got the Crimson Dynamo suit half-on, clicking the arm panels into place.

I wipe the sleep out of my eyes, and marvel silently at how swiftly and smoothly, calmly and quietly, everyone is getting ready. There’s a knock at the door, and then Max comes in; he must’ve been up at six to get down here from where he’s staying in Yonkers, and he’s already brimming with juice, air crackling and popping around him like Rice Krispies.

Pulling on the suit feels awkward in front of people; I’m not used to putting it on under the gaze of prying eyes. I pull the ridiculous brown pants up, and then bring the tunic-piece of the shirt down, before I vacu-seal on the sleeves. Then it’s the over-all hooks of the pants up over my shoulder, forming the distinctive (so I’m told) Shocker-vest. I put on my gloves, and wiggled my fingers in the ruddy brown pseudo-leather. It feels good. Feels like a solid fit.

I raise the mask up to my face, but then Felicia stops me. She’s already in full Black Cat gear, with a bullet-proof vest strapped over that. She presses her face against mine, not kissing, but leaving our mouths less than an inch apart, just breathing.

“I love you, Herman,” she says, and then makes this weird little coughing sound that might be choking back tears.

“I —” I say to Felicia, but then Aleksei waves his massive arms, pointing to one of the televisions.

“Herman! Herman! Everybody look! It’s starting!”

It’s the news; some kind of emergency broadcast.


“We now go live to John Morris, on the scene on West 38th street. John?”

We cut down to West 38th. The camera is angled up so we can see both John the Reporter, and a group of three people who stand on a low rooftop, motionless, looking down on the street. A crowd is growing, but cops haven’t shown up yet.

“Yes,” John starts. “Up there on the roof, as you can see, are wanted meta-criminals Dr. Octopus, Princess Python and one more, unidentified man.”

The unidentified man is Jack Pulver, the Human Cannonball, of the Circus of Crime. I grouped everybody very carefully, and tried to stick to a pattern: one melee fighter, one projectile fighter, and a leader, someone C- or even B-list.

“What are they doing, John, can you see?” the reporter asks. John just shakes his head.

“We’ve got no idea what they’re doing, Sandra, but they’re popping up all over the city; super-villains, in groups of two or three, just standing there, doing nothing. We’ll have more on this story as it develops; I’ve just heard the Avengers and the Fantastic Four have both mobilized, and have asked Charles’ Xavier’s X-Men and the Thunderbolts for their assistance in …”

I grab the remote and click off the TV, turning to address my … shit, my team.

“All right people,” I say, and pull the Shocker mask down over my face. “Let’s go to work.”

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