Moon Knight, A Twist of Fate pt. 2

The clatter and commotion of the early morning routine has my head ringing.  Scores of people pass me on the sluggish trek to my office; a lazy hand gesture is all the energy I can muster.  I step foot into my office and a rush of fresh coffee invades my nostrils, forcing me awake for a mere second or two.

My eyes close with my head resting against the back of my chair.  Everything is quiet and the peace of the moment, if just what the doctor ordered.  The only sound I try to ignore is the sound of the fans inside the computer, nothing of consequence.

And then the door opens.  Ruining my peace and quiet.

“Good morning Marc,” Frenchie’s accent is still heavily French, but lately I’ve been able to hear a slight mixture of New England slang.  It is nothing he’ll ever admit to, he’d mostly likely outright deny it, but I give him a wave and refuse to open my eyes.

Desperate for the caffeine, I ignore the good sense and down a more than greedy mouthful of the god awful beverage.  The heat cingeing my tongue, I stare down at the progress reports Chelsea left for me. “We’ve got to give this girl a raise.”

The slight laughter coming from my doorway suggests my Frenchman cohort disagrees. “If you give her another raise, people may start to talk.”

I decide against returning with a remark of my own.  Opening my eyes and leaning forward, it’s time to get to business, “So, when are the rulers of America going to show their faces?”

“Their appointment is scheduled for ten this morning,” he states, and there is a bit of annoyance in his voice, but, for the sake of getting my desk organized, I ignore his tone, not that it stops him for very long.  “And, with their reluctance to reschedule a third time, you may want to curb the cynicism.”

I stop shuffling the papers scattered about my desk and stare him directly in the eyes. “What’s got you so pissed off today?”

His folded newspaper strikes the desktop, sending every last piece of paper into frenzy.  “What the fuck, man; since when do you read The Bugle?”

“Be serious, Marc.” I’m not too sure, but I think he just scolded me.  He unfolds the paper and the cover page stares me in the face, and my heart sinks into my stomach.

I almost don’t read past the headline, but Frenchie’s annoying tapping insists that I should.  One of our equipment warehouses goes down in flames, and I’m not sure what pisses me off more: the fact I hear about it from The Bugle, or Jameson running his cock-warmer and calling for an investigation into the dealings of my company.  It’s not the first time he’s mentioned our name and linked it to his term ‘legal mercenaries.’

“A Detective Phillips will be here within the hour; do you want to take care of this, or should I?”

There is something I know he isn’t telling me, something the article has somehow ‘neglected’ to mention.  “How many were hurt?”  I’m not leaving anything to guesswork.

His hesitation is almost disheartening. “Two guards are dead, and a third is critical condition for smoke related troubles and internal bleeding.  Not to mention the considerable damage to the other surrounding buildings.”

“The expenses are taken care of for the families?”

“I stopped by accounting earlier this morning. I have Frank Williams in touch with both families; they will not have to worry about a dime.  I’m still waiting on Humana to get off their asses and call me back to discuss what can be done for the third guard.”

I haven’t a clue why I bother asking these questions. “I’ll talk to the police when they get here; in the meantime, I think we need to fire that warehouse director.  There’s no reason we should be hearing this through a maggot like Jameson.”

“Problem number two,” he says the second I try and drink another drop of this disgusting cup of shit.

“You going to leave me suspense or what?”

He shakes his head and pulls up a chair. “If it isn’t one thing, we’ve got a damn soap opera on our hands.  He’s apparently vanished.”

“Where the hell did he go?”

“If I knew that, Marc, then he wouldn’t have fucking vanished, would he?”  I can’t find any reason to argue with that logic. “But, the weird part, the cops say the entire family has been reported missing as well.”

Another glance down at the article, and it’s strange that The Bugle would leave details like deaths and disappearances out, but then again it’s not like I’m Spider-Man, and it’s likely that Jameson doesn’t give two shits, but why the initial interest?  “Who is the missing employee?”

“James Maxwell.  Up until now a model employee, wife, and two kids.  No outstanding debts, recognized twice in the past two years for efficiency.  A degree in warehousing and business management from some two-bit college…”

“Okay, I get it.”  The man is almost scary when you need information. “But, give me a reason he wouldn’t be responsible.”

“The entire family is missing, the cops never found evidence of foul play, and he’s been missing for three days.  This from a man who sells back sick days every year.”

He’s right.  The circumstances are just a little too clean, almost perfect.  “Who do you have looking in on this?”

“Kysler.”

“I’ll keep the cops out of his hair,” and it’s just the statement he wants to hear.  To see Frenchie fiddle his thumbs when he speaks is nerve wracking enough.  He’s so damn calm and collected all the time, seeing him without some kind of plan is downright a scary sight.

He stands to leave without saying another word, simply pointing at the wall clock as he walks through my open door.  I lean back and nearly over-extend my chair, rubbing my face in complete disbelief over my first day back to work.

“Marc?”

Jesus, her voice nearly sends me to the floor. “What do you need Chelsea?”

“The Bugle and The Times are looking for a comment, and Security says there is a cop wishing to speak to you or Mister DuChamp.”

It’s only eight thirty; this has to be a cop bored out of his mind. “No comment for the papers, and tell security I’m on my way down.”

* * *

His door swings open with a light shove.  It pounds against the wall, its motion interrupted.  The knob ring, as the dented brass impacts the wall and Frenchie storms through the open doorway.  A copy of the New York Times flies across the room, its thin colorless pages scatter through the air.

Crashing to the floor quicker than the litter floating downward, the telephone continues its racket.  A horrible mixture of tones irritates his already short fuse.  He grits and grinds his molars against each other, his frustration piques and Frenchie yanks the flat cable from the irritation source.  Silencing it, for at least a short time.

From behind the desk, Frenchie shuffles through the grey and black mess to find a yellow notepad and his cellular phone.  The plush chair spins away from the cluttered oak desk, turning Frenchie to gaze out the window.  Habitually, he clicks his pen open and closed with a fast enough pace to irritate anyone, staring out the window leering down at the ants below.

A sequence of three tones fills his ear before the call is sent.  “Good morning John,” he says before the other party has time to greet.  “How much is a few minutes of your time worth today?”

The silver pen spins slowly between each of his fingers, the sunlight catching its metal surface every so often.  “The standard thousand dollars,” He speaks quickly, hoping to cull the complaining spilling into his ear, “For everything you can find regarding the disappearance of one Maxwell, James Phillip and his family.”

Falling to the floor the pen doesn’t make a sound and Frenchie’s relaxed posture is broken, “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”  He reaches for his pen and leaves the comfort of his chair, “I was under the impression this partnership was to benefit the both of us, get off your high horse John or I’ll go to someone else for my information.”

He slowly paces the room, resuming the clicking of his pen.  “Alright.  Fine.” his accent grows thicker with his rising irritation.  “Would fifteen hundred dollars make you forget about the complications?”

Chicken scratch quickly builds on the lines of the yellow paper; words constructed half in English half written in French.  “Let’s not make this complicated John.  Keep to the usual place with the same courier; I’ll have your money and his just be sure he meets me promptly.”

“Hopefully next time, business will be a pleasure John.”  A hint of sarcasm seeps through his heavy accent.  “As usual you’ll know about whatever we find out.”  The small telephone closes and the connection ends without as much as a single formality.

* * *

The black metal chair scraps across the ground, leaving behind the familiar ring almost like the days of the grade school chalkboards.  I can’t keep my left eye from twitching at the sound of the noise.  Draping my coat over the back of the chair I sit and come face to face with this overzealous detective, Brian Phillips is the name he introduces himself with, and without another word said he’s staring me down as though he’s already made up his mind of my own guilt or innocence.  I largely ignore his half squinted stare, forcing more of the blistering hot liquid down my throat.  With sugar or without, I can’t stand the taste of this mud colored ‘delicacy’ more than I can stand being at this open air cafe.

A slow breeze drifts the sweet French Vanilla odor away from his cup and I can’t help to be curious if it tastes any better than my own drink, the thought is much less of a waste of time than the part of his question I catch, “How’s business?”

I’m not sure if he is able to read the boredom on my face quite yet, but I’m not taking any great pains to hide it. He sits across from me, sipping at his hot drink perhaps waiting for me to crack a donut joke or two, “business is fine, nothing to be largely excited over,” I tell him, setting my drink down on the metal mesh table.  “Who doesn’t need security these days?”

His eyes search the street and some of the tables around us, and I pretend not to notice.  Every movement he makes screams to me as amateur, and yet at the same time I’m curious.  Leaning back in the chair I loosen my tie to breathe slightly easier, and I wonder to myself why he bothered taking me out of my comfortable office.  There’s more to this guy that he lets on.

“This fire on the south side,” he finally gets to his point.  “Have you received any threats?  Has there been any reason to suspect anything out of the ordinary like this to occur?”

Slow and methodical, he reaches into his pocket and removes a cigarette case, “you people still carry those?  Here I thought smoking cops gave the wrong image.”

“Yeah, good guys shouldn’t smoke; I think is what some coalition at the capital keeps saying.  Truth or some horseshit or another.”  He lights the white stick and inhales more than a lungful smoke, laughably to the disgust of the people behind him.  “Image or not, I’d rather not kick the habit.”

Sensible, cryptic, but sensible.  “So you asked me here, why?”

“No big mystery,” he says inhaling, “big company gets something blown up; I have to ask some questions.  Just like you’re supposed to answer them, that’s the deal right?”

Nice work, dipshit; way to be obvious, “so you wanted to talk to me?”

“Yes right,” he stumbles over his own words, smothering the cigarette between his thumb and forefinger.  Fishing a small notebook from the inside of his jacket, the same pocket he kept his antique cigarette case.  “About this fire, I need to know a few things.”

* * *

The clouds began to creep over the sky in the mid-afternoon and in only a few hours time the entire skyline is consumed in a menacing grey.  A storm is not far off as the sudden cooling air produces that indescribable odor of weather’s future violence.  More and more sunlight is held at bay, imprisoned by the darkening filth that covers the sky.  The sun’s defeat is celebrated by a faint crack of thunder in the distance, and slowly, the rain begins to fall.

Sporadic drops of rain fall without intensity, dark spots form on the skin of the tan coat that hangs just below Frenchie’s knees.  He stares upward cursing the sudden change in weather and the coming rain; he takes a second to adjust the parcel kept hidden beneath his coat.  With a lit cigarette hanging in his left hand he takes a seat at the small bookstore he agreed to meet his usual contact, and as per the usual he is waiting.

He puffs on his cigarette, and checks his watch.  Fifteen minutes have passed since his arrival and he notes the tardiness of this errand boy.  “What do you mean he isn’t there?”  Frenchie assumes the other voice asks through the static connection their cellular phones share.  “He left to meet you an hour ago.”

Frenchie studies the crowd closely, “It stands to reason there is more going on here that meets the eye,” he speaks into his phone just before closing the connection and stuffing the folded device his pocket.  He eyes the cab sitting on the curb nearly a hundred yards from his table, and he feels several sets of eyes burning into him.

His heart beats faster and he makes his first steps toward the cab.

The sidewalk is blocked by four men, dressed casually, and they each stare Frenchie down with fire in their eyes.  The smallest man tries for the first blow, from his direct left the pathetically slender man strikes to Frenchie’s face.  The former mercenary simply moves from the skinny man’s reach, grabbing his arm and tossing the garbage away.

“That all you got old man?”  The slender man stands, displaying a pair of straight bladed knives, “We’re just getting started.”

All along the sidewalk, commuters running from the rain stop and they stare.  Several more stand from their seats at the bookstore and walk to join their apparent comrades.  Calm and direct, they walk slow and tower over the small man with his knives, stepping over the unconscious fool.  Frenchie wipes the blood from his brass knuckles and tightens his fist again, watching the bookstore thugs grow in force.

Frenchie smiles as the slender man speaks.  Yellow light flickers from the failing street lamps, reflected three times with swift motion.  The little man is almost able to finish his ramble, until an ear-piercing ring explodes from Frenchie’s hand.  He can almost swear to feel bone crack as he makes contact but it is not worth delaying action.

The two knives are cheap knockoffs of anything a professional would purchase, but the poor quality and weight hardly slows Frenchie from sending both into the chests of two of his would-be assaulters.  Four of their number falls without as much as a bead of sweat on his brow.  The crowd of men quickly surrounds him, sending the onlookers into a fit of panic.  Screams fill the air, drowning out the sound of flesh pounding solid flesh.

The coat falls to the ground, the money inside being of no importance any longer.  A pair of frenzied fists flies into the faces and ribs of his attackers, blood spatters against the pavement, covering the sporadic raindrops.  A thin bead of red coats the concrete, a mixture of life sustaining crimson and rainwater.

Frenchie’s knuckles split; blood smears across his attackers faces.  A new wave of attackers comes right after another, a relentless horde of thugs without a soul to stop their advances.  More and more break through Frenchie’s expert defenses, his fury slowing as his muscles tire.  His lower back fires an electric pain up his spine, a blow from behind, bruising his left kidney at impact and Frenchie falls to a knee.

A pair of thumbs digs into the pressure points on either side of his collar bone.  Frenchie grits his teeth, staring into the face of perhaps a wrestler on too many steroids.  The crowd of men back away enough to allow the enormous man to throw Frenchie down to the pavement.  His vertebrae pop and crack and his entire back screams with pain, yet his face shows none.  Sluggishly the battered man turns to rise to his feet.  His vision is blurred and blood streams from his mouth and nose.

An eye is nearly swollen shut, his every muscle aches, and still he ignores it all.  His left calf cries out with a nearly galvanic pain shooting through his entire leg, even before he leaps.  His open palms make a futile grasp from the larger man’s face, tearing for his eyes.

The large, beast of a man laughs.

He laughs, and then…abruptly he screams.

Blood flows from the brute’s face as though it is a fountain.  His screams fill the air and many of his compatriots vomit at the site of the large man tumbling to the ground.  A massive hand covers his now empty eye socket; the futile effort his hand makes to stop the blood is useless.  Collapsing to the ground the only sound he makes is a gargling attempt to breath through the pool of blood and water swallowing his face.  Frenchie’s knife falls, he stares into the crowd of retreating me, battered but not defeated he doesn’t attempt a word.

A crack of thunder fills the air, and a body falls to his knees.  Grasping the exit wound just under his rib cage, Frenchie collapses face first into the bloodstained pavement.  “He said this one would be trouble.”

Voices fade in and out as darkness takes hold of his senses.  Words are spoken, but he cannot turn them to coherent sentences.  He tries to pay attention to their words, give his mind something other than pain to focus, until the sirens catch his hearing.  They inch closer as time seems to slow.  His vision is completely taken by the darkness as sleep takes its dominance over Frenchie’s mind, his hope fading with consciousness.

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