Moon Knight, A Twist of Fate pt. 3

I hate hospitals.  The sterile smell of the halls, the soft colors on the walls, I’ve been to too many in my life time and there are too many memories attached to them.  None of it matters right now; I think my brain is entirely numb to anything except the anger.  Cops said this was a mugging, but what kind of mugger leaves behind an envelope of cash after shooting a man?

“Frenchie, what the hell were you doing with that money?”

He hasn’t been out of surgery long, an hour maybe.  That sound haunts my ears; he lays there motionless as the ventilator forces air into Frenchie’s lungs.  I stand in the doorway, either too afraid or too proud to admit that my greatest friend survives only because of machines.  A long time ago this was expected:  broken bones, surgery, gunshot wounds, all of it would have been just another day at work; but, in those days I had never seen Frenchie as weak as he is tonight.

I think back, remembering the first time I called him Frenchie.  The memory jumps out at me, a hot insertion into Israeli airspace, of course they had to drum up another conflict with some bunch of Arabs or another, and just like the rest of the crew he had been giving the new guy a hard time.  All of them laughed their assess off about the new Jewish kid hired by the PLO, laughing at the irony I suppose, but in those days who had much use for God anyway?

That was years ago, the beginning of my foray into the world of a mercenary.  Frenchie had a year over me, and despite my American borne hatred of everything French, he and I became good friends in short order.  We’ve been apart of, and have seen, the absolute worst humanity has to offer, and he gets gunned down crossing a street for all I know.  We left all that killing behind, after I lost it all to costumes and criminals.

Why now, being so close to peace, is he fighting for his life?

It’s been five years, and not nearly long enough, since I last saw a man fighting for his life like this.  Back when my delusion had relapsed, though I was the reason why he died in the hospital.  What was I thinking?

Seeing him lie here it brings me back, and I remember what anger truly feels like again.

“Excuse me sir,” the nurse from the waiting room, pretty little blonde, hour-glass figure, five foot four inches.  Her name is Alison, “We need you to go back to the waiting room, and the doctors have tests to run.”

My hands find their way behind my back, I take one last look at my once invincible friend, and I remind him:  “You won’t take the devil without me.”

The nurse breaths in, she’s about to ask me to leave again, and I don’t allow her to waste her breath.  I turn my back quickly, tearing my eyes off the source of my pain; but the vision, it never leaves.

She follows me back into the waiting room; the poor girl tries to speak several times, until finally she gives up.  There is only one person I’m interested in, and the moment my eyes fall on Amanda, my heart sinks.  Her eyes meet mine and she doesn’t have to utter a word to say she is ready to leave.

I take her tiny hand and pull her out of the chair.  The docs have my cell number, hell they have my office and home number, there is no way I’ll miss any detail and the way its looking Amanda could use a break from hospitals.

“Is your friend going to be ok?”

He used to bounce her on his knee, feed her too much candy when Marlene would go out.  So many little things, and she doesn’t remember.  “I don’t know, Manda, I hope.”

The elevator doesn’t take long to take us to the ground floor, the entire time neither she nor I say another word.

* * *

I used to think going into my own office was the measure of success.  I never had to worry about people trying to shoot me, kidnap my family, anything ridiculous.  There were no more villains chasing after me, no more skull painted losers trying to kill themselves over some pathetic idea of revenge.  No scarlet dressed nuns with crossbows.

Life was good for a while.  Five years of quiet business, where the only thing I had to worry about were worms like Jameson.

I slam the office door.  The same question plaguing my head since I left Amanda at home to go through her new school clothes and I sit down to think.  The view isn’t anything to marvel at all I have is the wonderful view of the First National headquarters building, but I’m not interested in the skyline or the ants that scurry about their lives far below.

I’m not at all surprised, as I couldn’t seem to care.

“Mister Spector?”

Chelsea’s voice is nervous; she hasn’t a clue how to act with me in this mood.  “Yeah?”  I answer.

“A cop is here to see you.”

What the hell does he want?  My watch says noon, he’s three hours early for the meeting he wanted to have in private, and I don’t like this for some reason.  My gut telling me he has something to do with this.

I turn on the mics set up all over the office; I want to hear every word.  “Send him in.”

The door opens and closes just as quickly, the plain clothes lieutenant that found me in the hospital walks in like he owns the place.  He knows Frenchie, he knows who I am, and the only thing I know of him is his first name.  John.

The empty look over his face as he walks toward me is the one thing I clearly focus on.  His eyes search the room, he doesn’t care that I notice that he’s studying me as much as I am him.  I hate him already.

“How’re you holding up Mister Spector?”

“Fucking peachy,” I catch him off guard, “you said you wanted to talk?  So here we are, talk.”

He takes the liberty of sitting in one of my chairs, feeling the lining under the table top of my desk he pulls out a dummy microphone, “Paranoid a bit are we?”

John is too busy looking down to see my scowl form, studying the room.  No doubt looking for the rest of the mics he’ll never find.  “He was looking for your missing employee; he and I have been working hand-in-hand for a year, maybe a little longer.”

Quite the bombshell, not that I ever would question his methods, but Frenchie swore he was out of the cloak and dagger game.  He lied to me, what the hell.  “So you two had something going on yesterday?”

“There is something of an arrangement we have, a cops salary isn’t the greatest, and the things he asks of us are sometimes a little out of our league, he compensates us.  That is what the money was for, paying for a snitch who knew something about the troubles your company had been facing.”  He says, I almost believe him, but there is something he’s not telling me.

His hand reaches inside his rain jacket, slowly he slides a white letter-sized envelope across my desk, “my man disappeared last night, but that isn’t anything the Bugle is even aware of at this point.”

“So why tell me all this?”

John stretches his legs, moving his body in the chair; he crosses his right leg over his left knee.  “Mister DuChamp left strict instructions in a situation like this.  If he were to be killed or incapacitated no one but me would come to you and tell you everything.  Nothing held back, and to hand over everything.”  He pauses, taking the time to breathe several times before continuing, “There is a picture of the informant we were dealing with when everything went wrong.  Mister Spector, this was no mugging, a street officer called in for backup when this all went down, there were a large mass of people Mister DuChamp had faced, nothing we were looking to reveal to the press, but give it a few days, it’ll be all over the place.”

I open the envelope as this story gets thicker, a color picture of some punk kid smiling in his mug shot.  “James Castel?  What is he nineteen?”

“Career criminal by the age of sixteen, incarcerated twice as a minor and recently released from his first outing as an adult car thief.  He’s twenty-one, and he had a talent for getting himself into interesting information.”  John clears his throat, stopping all this for a moment, “he hasn’t been as cooperative lately, always asking for more and more money.”

Silence falls over the room and this conversation stirs my gut in more ways than I can count.  “I can see you have trouble believing me, and that’s fine, but everything else is on the table Mister Spector.  Our department has kept a lot of heat off your company for the exchange of intelligence to make the streets a little cleaner.”  He says, utterly believing every last bullshit word, “I wish this world was black and white, where the letter of the law would rule, but sometimes we have to step outside the lines.”

“Those lines just might have got my friend killed.”

His eyes don’t waiver in the slightest, there might be a little regret in him, but there is something about him that makes me hate him.  “Mister DuChamp has his enemies, and I’m not talking about the corporate clowns you face in the press, the Kingpin might be long gone, but a leaderless mob is much more dangerous.”

John’s hands grip the chair arms, he pulls himself out of the chair, apparently he’s told me too much.  The dirty cop doesn’t say anything else, he just walks to the door of my office and lets himself out, “Mister Spector, there isn’t much time left to find out about this before the press is all over it.  I don’t know why DuChamp trusts you as much as he does, but he pays me enough not to care.”

And with that, the door latches closed and I’m left alone in my office to absorb it all.

* * *

The cabbie wonders why I want to get out here, but the twenty I give up keeps him from asking.  I tighten the coat as the cold rain strikes me for the first time, its only mid-day, three pm, and the sky is dark as night.

The rain refuses to let up, annoying me with a continuous pounding and soaking of my clothes for hours.  Every random thought in my head tells me I’m wasting my time, my mind feeding into the discomfort of the cold water running down the back of my neck.  As I’m the only idiot standing in the rain, watching every person run from building to vehicle in order to shield themselves from the rain.

For all my irritation, my petty thoughts of being elsewhere, it all disappears the moment my eyes lock on the one individual I’d been searching for.  After a long two hour hunt in the rain, I finally stare at the face who can give me what I want.  Everything suddenly seems worth it, not surprisingly the ridiculous sum of money Frenchie spent to obtain his picture from a not-so honest police officer.  I can already feel my adrenaline begin to rush.

I follow his movement as he leaves a broken down apartment building.  The rain doesn’t bother him.  He walks slow, waving to several more people that dress much like him. A gust of wind makes him pull his jacket closed, and I finally get a look at his face; the picture is dead on.

It’s hard to tell every bit of detail from across the street and through the weather and the captive sun, but there are only a small few walking along the street.  He sees me staring and he sends a mock expression my way, blowing me a kiss and sending it off his middle finger on his right hand.

I smile back at him, and he has no idea how badly I want to break that finger.

He turns into an alley and the prospects couldn’t be more in my favor.  With his back turned to me, I follow him into the darkness forgetting all about the ski mask I once thought about wearing for this confrontation.  I’m far too excited to take my time, and before I know it I’m face-to-face with the only possible person who can tell me what I want to know.  It’s a clumsy mistake, almost tripping over him, not the kind anyone would see on the somewhat well practiced entertainment on television.

“You lost pal?”

He exhales the question with the same ease his lungs let out the acrid cloud of smoke.  My fists tighten as every assumption tells me beating on this fool will make me feel better.  But I know violence this early in my search won’t bring me any kind of satisfaction, “I’m not lost, I’m exactly where I ought to be.”  The cold snap of my voice wipes the smile off his face, and I get right to business.  “A man was mugged here two days ago, shot and left for dead.  I’m told you can tell me why and who was responsible.”

He tosses the cigarette onto the ground, its smoldering end meeting a quick demise on the rain soaked pavement.  “You think because I don’t dress in a fancy shirt and tie I gotta kill people to make by?”

The apathy in his voice is almost enough to bait me into losing focus on what I need.  This man is a felon on several levels, and it isn’t a debate on social differences that I’m searching for, “Who said he died?”  I return with my own forced apathy, “People are turned into victims often in this neighborhood, and according to the cops you know a lot about that.”

My accusation puts him on the defensive, for a scant second I can see fear in his eyes just before he attempts to walk past me.

Rage takes over, and I forget all about civility.  His pathetically scrawny frame is regrettably easy to push into the brick he formerly used to support himself.  His lungs labors to return the air forced from his body, wheezing and coughing over my assault.  “Now, I think I have your attention Castel, James R.”  I recite his name; make it sound official enough as though I pulled it straight from some official court record or another, “how about you tell me who shot my friend?”

His cold grey eyes shake with fear, closed in between me and the darkened alley.  I lean in closer and ask again, tightening my grip on his shirt.  “I hate to be cliché, but you know how this can play out.”  I inform him, projecting my hatred of his kind into my voice.  I have no use for guns or knives, courts or jails, but I do have use for what you can tell me.”

I pull his shoulder from the coarse wall, only a few inches, and slam the air from his lungs again.  My knuckles are white and my anger builds in my chest, as every desire on my mind prays for a release.  His silence hasn’t broken, and by the sweat beading on his face, I wonder if it’s really me he’s afraid of.

‘Either way, I can play with fear.’

My thoughts close down and I key my hatred onto him.  Releasing one hand, I toss my play-thing aside, sending his body along the colorless wall in the minute light.  James cries out, his head bouncing into the soaked pavement.  He falls face down into one of the many pools of water, filled pot holes, worn and battered from neglect.  Blood streams down his face slower and thicker than the water that runs from his unkempt hair.

He holds his forehead, backing away from me slowly.  I keep our distance close, releasing the shirt button strangling my throat and loosening my red tie.  James has no idea he’s backing himself into another corner, but I step forwards and send my knuckles into his face anyway.

Something small hits the water close to his collapsed frame.  I take a knee and show him the tooth that had fallen from his mouth, “You have many more of these, Jimmy-boy, and you have nowhere else to go.”  His eyes soak in his surroundings.  The dread look in his eyes lets me know he’s fully aware.  “What’ll it be?”

He doesn’t utter a word, and I introduce him to the rubber beneath my foot.  Jimmy-boy grasps his face, sobbing like an abused child would, but he still isn’t talking.

“Listen kid.”  I don’t bother to kneel down to the twenty-something punk.  I let my voice project my power down onto him.  “You don’t look terribly bright, so forget the loyalty already.”

Trembling, he looks up to me; whipped and beaten I can’t tell in the sparse light if tears fall from his swelling face.  His mouth opens, and it shakes without words, and his right hand digs something small out of his pants pocket.  The tremors affecting his entire body make it hard to see what he holds between two fingers, “I…I don’t want to die.”  Jimmy-boy speaks and I know he’s not addressing me, rather what I’ll find in that paper.

His words tear at me, but I refuse to let him see it.  My bravado in full force I snatch the folded paper from his fingers, “Good, kid.”  I pretend to ignore his words and the pleading eyes that wordlessly ask for help.  My back turned, I read the address scribbled on the paper, the ink fading in the increasing rain.  Trading the paper for something heavy in my rear pocket, I slip a cold metal over my fingers.

He’ll have a headache I wouldn’t wish upon a murderer in the morning.  The ringing of my brass knuckles, make it hard to look down on the kid, as I turn his body away from the water.  From the name I read on that paper, he’s not going to thank me for what I’ve done, but he’ll be alive enough to hate me for it.

The cop was right about the mob; sure it splintered into god only knows how many pieces when the leadership was taken down.  The docks quickly turned into gambling central, all owned and operated by one man who was smart enough not to go any further than gambling, “Cristobel Greene,” I whisper and almost laugh, “You have no idea how badly you fucked yourself.”

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