Moon Knight, A Twist of Fate pt. 5

Time inches by in slow motion.  I’m sweating enough to be living in a fever dream and it feels like months since she asked that question.  She’s got a tight grip on my Silver Star, something I was a little too proud of from my stint in Grenada.  I wasn’t even twenty years old, one hell of an idealistic Lance Corporal, a fresh face in Force Reconnaissance and looking to make a name for myself.  Goddamn, I should have died then, just like so many other days.

“Did you?”  She repeats, even though my silence is answer enough, she wants me to say it.  Hell I wouldn’t doubt she wants me to deny it.

“Kiddo, look.  That was a long time ago, I was in the Marines during a violent era,” I keep speaking but she isn’t buying a word of my bullshit.

The twelve year old girl in my spitting image rolls her eyes, “You’re full of it Marc.  You and mom both have hidden this junk from me, why did she leave?”

“It’s too complicated.”

“That’s what she always said!”

She’s on her feet, screaming at me, to be fair I expected this much sooner.  I let her yell it out, ever word, every expletive.  If anything else she needs to get it out.  “Amanda,” I say in complete calm with my arms crossed over my chest.  “Your mom left because I was sick, there are words that make it complicated; but, if you want to know, you’re mom was worried about your safety.”  And looking back, I can’t say I blame her.

“Why.”

The look in her eyes is downright frightening, her mothers’ stubbornness living on in her big brown eyes, “You’re…”

“Too young to understand?”  She cuts me off.

She’s heard too many excuses through her life, and it’s apparent just how little my she honestly knows about me.  I’m silent for a minute and I realize – a little too slowly – that this is my chance.  “Alright, ‘Manda.  Get dressed.”

Her feet planted firmly in the ground, her arms crossed just like mine.  “I’m not going to school.”

“I know you want to know about me, and you deserve that much.  Dress nice, you’re coming to the office with me.  If anything, I want you to see the good stuff first.”

Just like a kid who just got what she wanted, she runs off to get ready.  My guilt still doesn’t fade; it follows me all the way back to my room, not leaving even after I lock my pistol back in the safe.  I look at the mess she made, and realize just how much snooping she had gotten into last night.  My closet is a mess, but that isn’t what I’m worried about.  I couldn’t care less over the mess of clothes.  It’s the false wall she pulled away has me scared.

She’s in the shower now; at least I hear the water running.  I fall to my knees, toss the clothes away, and stare at my own small pandora’s box.  Literally.  The locked wooden box I never wanted to see again.

“You’re not mad at me?”  Her sweet voice slaps me into reality.

“No, sweetheart, I’m not mad.”  Clearing my throat, I put my best face to speak to her, and yet I don’t look at her.  “Go ahead and get ready, we’re going to be late.”

She turns to leave, but she doesn’t let it go, “What’s in the box?”

“Remember when I said we’re saving the bad stuff for later?”

“Is the bad stuff in there?”

“Definitely.”

The answer is enough for her, and I’m thankful for that much.  Goddamn, I need a cold shower.

* * *

No one says a word to me as we walk through the main hall to my office.  I look down the hall, down to the table they’ve set up for him.  Frenchie’s office is within sight of mine, and a table overflows with cards and flowers.  Just goes to show how much he means to everyone around here, and not just me.

She’s pretending not to be impressed.  Devouring every bit of attention that my employees throw at her it’s funny when I remember the majority of the people we’ve hired didn’t know Amanda exist.  I’m Side-by-side with Amanda and reality hits them in the face.  To think, they almost had me figured out.  My personal assistant, whom I commonly call Chelsea, is ready for her before we come into sight; she’s almost too efficient as we discover the glass of orange juice standing next to my usual morning coffee.  Even she doesn’t ask me any questions, then again Frenchie probably told her last week.

“Brown noser,” I mutter to Chelsea as we pass her desk, she only smiles wider and waves to Amanda, completely ignoring me in the process.

There isn’t much business I need to press.  Being that Amanda is skipping her first day at the school, I shudder to think of explaining this to that Priest running the place.              Amanda has her nose in a book while I scrutinize the headlines about our fire a few days back.  Without Frenchie, I’m left fielding the press, and there’s really no telling what they’re going to be digging for.  At any rate, I’ve got to find some answers, and the kind I’m looking for aren’t the type to discover with my fists.

“Chelsea,” there really isn’t anything like being able to summon an attractive woman with the push of a button.

“What can I do for you Mister Spector?”

She never does walk much further than the doorframe, “Have you eaten breakfast yet?”

The look on her face is priceless; she’s usually the kind of girl that expects everything.  Her quizzical look landmarks maybe the first time I’ve taken her by surprise.  “No sir, I usually walk down to the cafeteria with Becky, but she’s taken vacation all this week.”

“This is an odd request, but, I have something I need to take care of that can’t wait.  Would you mind if Amanda tagged along with you this morning, she hasn’t eaten either.”

Her answer is as simple as a smile; she holds her hand out for Amanda.  “Just have them charge your meals to the petty cash, you shouldn’t have any trouble.”

“Never do,” she laughs and mutters something to Amanda about cleaning out the company, one meal at a time.  With the two of them down the hall, I’m on the phone with no time to waste.  Dialing the number Frenchie’s cop friend gave me; I check the clock only hoping he’s in the office.

His greeting is something I half expect to hear on an answering machine.  “John, this is Marc Spector.  Do you have time to meet and discuss something later?

Not surprisingly, he’s quick and to the point, reminding me that he can’t comment on an open case and all that nonsense.  And if I didn’t have my own resources looking into my warehouse fire, I’d give a damn.  “No, I want to discuss exactly what you and my business partner have been doing; I don’t care about what you’re doing about my fire.”

He mumbles something about being busy the rest of the day, and for a cop on the take, he’s not at all paranoid about speaking openly.  “Eight O’clock then, I’ll be in touch with the place.”

I hang up with Frenchie’s contact quickly enough to avoid any questions.  I’m in no hurry to speak to anyone wearing a uniform.  Not after the night, I had.

There is one reason that I decide to leave the office as soon as I hang up the phone and it has nothing to do with the office rumor floating about.  It’s an unexpected move — from what I read in many eyes of those on my floor — and no doubt seeing me out and moving around the accounting department has the floor managers and number crunchers running about like decapitated chickens.  I make time to speak to a few people, playing up the caring CEO role Frenchie told me to practice; and of course, some kid fresh from college has enough balls to walk up and start spewing his mouth off about changes that he believes necessary.  I pretend to pay attention; I let him ramble on about efficiency while my eyes set sight on the corner office that is my real reason for being here.

The kid doesn’t take a hint when I tell him ‘thanks’ and walk past him, I can’t say I’m surprised he’s following me and still running his suck.  I turn slightly out of my way to pass a supervisor and it’s amusing as all hell to watch the swarm of management swallow the kid at the second I glance at a floor manager with disapproval.

The thought of the hell that kid is going to be put through puts a smile on my face, and it doesn’t leave when I reach the accounting corner office.  I don’t knock – I own the place after all – I simply walk in and the thirty-year-old manager of ‘special projects’ drops everything he’s doing.  “What can I do for you Marc?”

“Morning Adam,” we don’t pretend to have any kind of professional courtesy.  He’s an old holdback from mine and Frenchie’s merc days, one of the better decisions we’ve made to keep an eye on our old ‘buddies’ and rivals.  We pay him well and just like the others, he pours his all into the company.  There really isn’t anything like hiring mercenaries to do your accounting, and those extra little things we find use for.  “Find anything new about the fire.”

“I’m still waiting for toxicology reports from the coroner’s office, but I don’t think I have to tell you this was arson.  Do I?”

Adam Kysler is a man of many talents; accounting is far from one of them.  His job is really a cover, as far as the rest of the employees are aware, his assignments concern special requests from our training staff and his only approval chain either Frenchie or me.  The degree of importance keeps him happy, his expertise in matters we cannot pursue as a public face keeps us happy.

“You know Marc; these guards are all products of this company.  These were not rental cops with stun guns, one of the men was top of his class in hand-to-hand.  Care to tell me why he was sent to guard a warehouse on an assignment that came directly from you?”

Sometimes, he’s a little too good at his job, “it’s not important, let’s just call it a personal storage area and be done with it.”

“You’re the boss.”  He laughs, “but I tell you, this wasn’t a bunch of punk kids with a gas can.  This was professional; everything in that building was a total loss.”

He’s not telling me anything I don’t already know, and he’s only politely forgetting to mention the vandalism of a few particular Egyptian statures that I’d like to put past me.  “Let me know when you have a theory, I’m giving you free reign to get to the bottom of this.”

“I assumed you would, this has personal vendetta all over it.  I checked the records; we’re not missing a single stick of inventory.  Someone knew this warehouse was full of your shit.”

I let out a long sigh, “and my list of enemies is not a small one.”

“At least most of them are locked in the looney bin.”

“You’re not helping.”

He laughs and quickly stops when he sees I’m not amused, “Do you want me to see what Bushman’s up to?”

“He’s the last person that would want to fuck with me again.  Besides, he’s got his own problems with that piece of shit country our government is about to throw sanctions against.”  It’s a laughable experience every time I hear that assholes’ name, “on top of that all his body guards are on my payroll, he could be dead with a snap of my fingers.  Trust me, that son of a bitch is on a short leash.”

“Shit, at least I’m getting paid.”

Adam is under no illusion why he’s here, we were up front with all of them when we hired them, they get a paycheck to more or less stay out of our way, they get legal work so they don’t  have to worry about Interpol.  It’s a win/win situation, but our friendship only goes as far as this, and we always get a good laugh at how much we’ve fucked over that asshole.  “Let me know when you got something, I’ve got to check up on Frenchie.”

Kysler’s eyes scowl with the mention of Frenchie, “you let me know when you find out who is responsible for that.  You’re not the only one with an itchy trigger finger over this.”

I haven’t said a word to anyone about my investigation, but trying to fool a merc about something this personal would be practice in futility.  “No worries, we’ll all get of piece of that fucker.”

* * *

Its midday before I have a chance to sit down with Amanda, the girl is much too popular already.  Today might be the first time I’ve seen her smile since we left Seattle.  As usual, I take lunch close to the office.  Amanda and I are seated and we order quickly, I don’t waste a second to my promise to her, my word is all I have with her.  “So, how much blackmail material did you get your hands on?”

Her mouth is half-full of breadstick by the time I ask my question.  She tries to answer, regardless of the food in her mouth, “Not as much as I’d like,” she laughs, hardly able to keep her gulp of water down.  “Uncle John has a lot of explaining to do, though.”

“John?”

She smiles again; it’s a nice thing to see.  “Uncle Frenchie just sounds stupid.”

“But his name is Jean-Paul”

She sets down the water glass, “Marc, everybody calls him John; he gets pissed when people can’t pronounce his name right.”

One day with the secretarial staff and she knows more than I do, “So playing hooky is working out pretty well for you then?”

“Chelsea says Becky might quit,” she shrugs, and gives me a haunting look of sarcasm.  “’Frenchie’ won’t date her if she words here.  Apparently, the idea of him and her might get serious.”

“Well, her vacation makes a lot more sense, then.”

I gulp down half my glass of water over that little bombshell, “So what else did you find out?”

“Not a lot, you’re a big mystery to everybody, not just me.”

There’s not a doubt in my mind to the degree of effort she put into her little investigation, it isn’t until she pulls out a small notebook and recites several things that I appreciate her want to know about why her mother and I split.  “There is going to be a lot that I won’t go into in this place, so don’t be upset if I put off your answer until we get home.”

“Okay.”

Her face is downright glowing with excitement; she’s probably been waiting for this her entire life.  “So I suppose I should explain the relationship between your mother and me.  There’s no way I could start at the beginning – at least not here.  So let me give you the gist of what I can, and we’ll keep the really complicated stuff private.”  Gulping down a healthy mouthful of water, I take a second to calm my nerves, “Fair enough?”

“Yeah.”

Not that often that she’s so monosyllabic, “Alright, first of all our marriage was only legal, it was an easier secret to keep that way.  There was no ceremony, well not one like she wanted.  You have an idea of things I did when I was younger, but without going into a huge amount of detail, let’s just say before I met your mother, I was a pretty bad person.”

It’s a little odd to watch her take notes as I unload all of this, but the arrival of our food gives me time to collect my thoughts of just how I was going to explain all of this and still avoid certain things.  At least until she’s a little older.

I clear my throat as soon as the waiter leaves, “our marriage was ‘difficult’ to say the least.  Not on account that we didn’t love each other, but when you have the kind of sickness I had, it is such a drain on a relationship.”  I take a drink and she never loses interest, “if I could keep it simple I would, but kiddo, your mom didn’t want you growing up with a crazy father.  She was afraid.”

“Afraid of you, or afraid for me.”

It’s painfully apparent this wasn’t the answer she was expecting, “To be fair to her, I think it was a little bit of both.  She and I never spoke again after she took you away, and I kept my distance like the divorce stated.  It took that for me to get my head together.”

She’s glaring at me with a look in her eye as if I gave her a dead puppy for her birthday.  The poor girl has no idea how to take this.  She doesn’t ask a single question, allowing me to go on and on about how I screwed up my marriage and how some good friends pulled me out of my psychosis.

I leave out the details of alter ego, specifically my blind friend who put all the legality of my business together, I give her names like Murdock, Sable, Hobie Brown, she’ll never know whom those people are, and their connections to me have all but dissolved.

Amanda drinks it all in, without much expression and everything goes better than expect.  She never takes her eyes off me, “You never spoke to mom again?  So how did you have all those pictures of me?”  her voice cracks with every word, forcing it was harder than she practiced apparently.

“Kiddo, I knew my contact with you was going to be no better than nothing.  I struck a deal with your mother – through our lawyers – to know how you were doing.  I could never call, write or visit; but I made your mother a promise that you would never go without in exchange for regular pictures and notes of your progress and activities.”

The whole thing sounds as empty as a contract negotiation now that I admit it to myself.  “I couldn’t let go entirely not even if the law required it of me.  Separation from me was claimed to be in your best interests,” I pause for some water; I can honestly say I hate Marlene for that.  “The judge agreed with your mother, and the pictures were all I could get.”

“So they’re locked in a safe, why?”

I can’t believe I didn’t lock that when I left last night, “It’s going to sound corny, but some people lock up their jewelry, and I don’t wear that crap.”

“But you lock up bullets?”

Shit, I know where this is headed, “I can’t leave those out in the open, kiddo.”

“Where is your gun?”

I drop the tone of my voice; I’m going for the best ‘stern father look’ that I can manage.  “It’s in a safe place, so I don’t have to worry about someone snooping around and finding it.”

The sarcasm is enough to sop her round of questions for a few minutes and I’m able to attend to my plate of cold chicken.

“Why do you have a gun?”  She finally speaks up with the question I’ve been waiting for since admitting about the damn thing.  “You said that you didn’t like the things you did, the violence and all that.  Why have guns?”

“Sweetheart, there are worse people out there than me.  Sometimes things like that are necessary.”

“Where do you keep the crosses and holy water?”

There’s only one place she is taking this conversation, and I play it down.  “I was raised Jewish, Amanda.  What use would I have for those?”

“What use would you have for silver bullets?”

Our waiter shoots me a strange look and I dismiss his concerns with a fake laugh and a comment of a young girls’ imagination.  He walks away, not likely caring about what my daughter and I discuss and I snap my head to her direction, “Look Amanda, there are simply some things I will not talk about here.  Those ‘items’,” I pause and check my surroundings out of nervous habit, my voice oddly enough drops an octave, “are just another example of how complicated my life once was.”

Several minutes pass without another word.  I can’t tell if she’s pouting or thinking but I’m leaning toward the latter.  She’s glaring at me now, dipping bread into the remnants of her lunch and I’m finally aware of her intentions.  I could swear that it was her mother staring me down from the grave after giving her that line of bullshit.

Her fork stabs through one final pile of vegetables, her eyes fall onto her plate and the latest bombshell leaves her lips:  “Adam says you used to kill werewolves.”  Her voice is calculated, and she speaks direct to a point.  Just as I’m sure she practiced.  Lifting her glass, she looks me in the eye just like her mother used to, “How crazy do you have to be to believe in werewolves, Marc?”

I smile back at her, and though I probably couldn’t stop myself if I tried, I remember giving Marlene the same remark, “About as crazy as a man who swings around New York, wearing red underwear and beating on a man with four mechanical arms.”

* * *

Lunch lasted much longer than I thought it would, but as the day wound down to a close, Amanda spent more time investigating me through my employees.  This time; however, I have enough sense to keep the people with damnable information on me too busy to speak with her.  However, Adam Kessler and I did manage to find enough time to have a few words.

Thankfully, Chelsea offered to take Amanda home after I make clear my intention to look in on Frenchie.  Imagine my surprise to find his dirty cop, John, waiting for me in the ICU waiting room.

“You didn’t call back, so I took the liberty of tracking you down.”

He speaks to me even before I step off the elevator, “Must’ve been difficult to call up my secretary and find out where I was headed when I left early.”  I laugh at him and walk past, catching a nurse on her way out of the ICU.  Nothing about his condition has chanced much; though she tells me they got the internal bleeding to stop and removed the last bullet from his spleen.

I walk into his room, with the cop still following.  It’s hard to ignore all the electronics and the ventilator, I half expect him to sit up and declare himself my father.  The cop is curious of my smirk, truth be told I’ve always found that irony hilarious.  If only my father was that evil.

“Do you think he will recover?”

I don’t turn around, “If he doesn’t, I’ll kill him.”

“Hard to kill a dead man, don’t ya think?”

“Depends on your perspective really, most of the time head trauma does them in a second time.”

He’s not sure where to take our small talk that happens a lot with me.  “I just want you to know, I covered your tracks last night.  Greene owed me a few favors and I was able to get my hands on something.”

John lays a sealed envelope on Frenchie’s table, and I’m not entirely sure why Frenchie needs a food tray with that feeding tube sticking out of him.  “You’re being very helpful, mind if I ask why?”

“Don’t worry; I’m not going to feed you a line of crap about being noble.  My partnership with Mister Duchamp is extremely profitable for me and my people, and on top of that we’re able to put a lot more nasty men behind bars than we could without his help.”  His tone almost a whisper, “how else do you think Fisk’s top men are all headed to the electric chair without a hope for a successful appeal?”

“Keeping the mad men in jail and a good profit at the same time,” I say with my eyes on the small package.  “Looks like a pretty good situation.”

“None of us need side work, that’s for sure.  But we’re not greedy men, a lot of that money goes to informants and widows; but we do keep a nice quality of life.”

I pretend to be interested for at least half of his rant, but his monotone voice just trails away, drowned by my friends’ ventilator.  Then of course, there is the notion that I couldn’t care about what he has to say, “That’s all well and good, but what were you two looking into that made him and myself a target?”

“That’s the big mystery actually,” he says, “no one but me knows where the money really comes from, and the only person that dealt with Jean-Paul is dead.”

His lack of emotion sets off every bullshit detector in my brain, “so you have all your resources looking into this?”

“This, the drug dealers and the prostitutes of course.”

I’m not entirely sure if he’s trying to be funny, “So, what’s this new lead?”

I turn and look him square in the eye for the first time all night.  Leaning against the door with his hands in both pants pockets, he’s much too relaxed for my tastes.  “I don’t know if I should trust this guy or not, he’s some cabbie that waltzed in this morning, apparently his brother was found dead last night after spilling something to the D.A.  I did some checking and this guy is cleaner than soap, his brother though, not so much.”  He fishes a stick of gum and forgets to offer me a piece and to continue the rudeness he chews like a cow.  “His brother, it turns out, was an informant of ours.  Looking in on that little fire your company had the other day.  Apparently he had other shit going on too.”

“It would seem.”  I’m more interested in the package and most importantly, the face I recognize.  The cab drivers’ face instantly rings a bell, but I study it in order to play dumb to this cop, “Emanuel Williams?  What makes him so special?”

His face shifts to the ground, “I’m stretching thin here, but he’s bailed his brother out of jail more times than I can count, the lived together, and worked for the same cab company.  Chances are if the dead brother knew something, than so does Emanuel.”

The last honest face in New York City is staring back at me through a picture, and handed over by a dirty cop no less.  John doesn’t know the half of it, if something shady was going on, and it usually was, Manny knew something about it.  At least this time I won’t have to pound my knuckles into a face to get some answers.  Not to mention it’s always nice to see an old friend.

* * *

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