#4: How To Make Friends And Influence People, Pt 4 May 3, 2016 13:42:07 GMT -5
Post by Charlie on May 3, 2016 13:42:07 GMT -5
Issue Four: “How To Make Friends And Influence People, Pt 4”
Written by UltimateDC
Cover by Roy Flinchum
Cover by Roy Flinchum
Edited by Charlie Wilkins
They were crammed uncomfortably in the back of the damaged limousine, and thanks to the events at Penguin’s club, nearly all of them were injured in some way. They had no idea if they were being followed and had little idea of where to go. It was entirely possible that one of them would die before the sun came up in a few hours.
All in all, it had been a bit of a rough night for the Secret Six.
Sickle was laid out, taking up the whole row of seats with his seven-foot frame. He had multiple stab wounds in in his stomach and Copperhead was doing her best to keep him from bleeding out.
Cluemaster and Double Down were sat opposite; the former dealing with the large bruise caused by a bullet that his him square in his flak jacket, the latter with all of his enchanted skin gone, leaving just exposed musculature.
Mr Toad was driving and had escaped their fight with his fair share of bruises and an exhausted voice that would need time to heal, while The Mist was in the passenger seat, having escaped the fight without any injuries.
“How’s he looking?” Cluemaster asked Copperhead.
“Like he needs a doctor,” she answered, not looking up from her work.
“Don’t worry,” Sickle said, “my people very strong, very resilient. This just paper cut.”
They all couldn’t help but notice how he winced when he spoke.
Copperhead looked to Mr Toad. “Where are we even going?”
Toad’s answer came in the form of him keeping his eyes on the road and pointing forward.
“Perfect,” Copperhead spat, “the Russian is going to die and the Voice is going to hang us all for it.”
“Wait, I think I’m getting something,” Mist said. She was referring to the electronic tablet on the floor of the passenger seat, which was lit up and making a pinging sound. Nash picked it up and looked at it, sliding her finger across the screen. “It’s directions to… somewhere upstate. It’s not marked on the map.”
“Probably where the boss’ll bury us,” said Double Down.
“It’s better than driving around until the cops or Penguin catch up to us,” Cluemaster said, “we should follow it.”
There was no conversation for the next hour. The only sounds were Mist giving Mr Toad directions and Sickle groaning in pain. As time went on, his voice faded, and he began to mutter and babble in Russian before he stopped talking entirely.
Eventually, Mist directed the limo off a highway and onto a dirt road through a forest. The car shook about on the uneven terrain, but Toad kept them on the path. After some twists and turns, they came to a clearing surrounded by trees, in which there stood a large mansion. As Toad parked the limo, a woman stepped out of the front door to meet them. She looked to be in her sixties, grey-haired and wrinkled, but still seemed poised and distinguished.
“I understand you have injured?” she said.
“Who the hell are you?” Mist regarded her, a hand reaching towards the Colt .45 at her hip.
“My name’s Dale. I work here.” She said. “Now would you like me to help your comrades or do you want to keep asking stupid questions?”
With that, the Six exited the car, with Cluemaster supporting Double Down while Mr Toad, Copperhead and the Mist supported the now pale-looking Sickle as they all made their way into the mansion.
“Welcome to the House of Strangers,” Dale said as the Secret Six entered, and she closed the door behind them.
Hours passed. Taken to a private room on the first floor, Sickle was being attended to by the woman calling herself Dale and she hadn’t left in all that time. Copperhead was with her to provide assistance; she said she had experience with treating stab wounds.
The other four spent their time by exploring the mansion. It was more like a hotel than a conventional home-- the second floor was lined with bedrooms and the occasional bathroom, while the first was a foyer, a kitchen, a lounge, and one room that was a redone to be like an operating room, where Sickle was currently being attended to.
The bedrooms were simply arranged with queen-sized beds, empty wardrobes and closets, and armchairs. There were also bars over the windows that none of them had noticed while outside. It became clear that the House of Strangers would not only be the place where they’d sleep, but the place where they’d be kept.
While Copperhead and Sickle were based in the operating room, along with Dale, the rest of the Six each claimed a room and retired; the day had been a long and exhausting one, and they needed to rest. Even still, the Mist found she couldn’t unwind, couldn’t sleep. Nash’s heart was beating fast, her body tense, and her mind was crowded with thoughts of her abduction, her near death at the hands of Sickle, her rescue of the team from the Iceberg Lounge and her fear of what might happen tomorrow.
Nash heard noises coming from downstairs; someone rifling around in the kitchen. It made her nervous. Throwing her clothes back on quickly, she grabbed her gun, shifted into a cloud of green fog, and drifted under her closed bedroom door.
The Mist crept down the hall, around a corner, down the stairs and towards the kitchen. She saw, to her surprise, Cluemaster standing in front of a stove holding a spatula. Nash returned to her normal form and said, “what are you doing?”
Arthur jumped in surprise and turned to face her. “Jeez, give a guy a little warning. I couldn’t sleep, so I’m cooking. You want some eggs?”
Nash sighed and tucked the gun into the back of her pants. “Yeah, sure.” She sat down at the counter and said, “so let me get this straight: we go through all this crap with the Voice, with Arkham and Cobblepot and everything, we get out by the skin of our teeth, and at the end of it all, your first instinct is to make breakfast?”
“Cooking relaxes me,” Arthur said as he cracked open two eggs into a bowl. “It’s straightforward, algorithmic. Mix milk and eggs, apply heat, stir it when needed. Easy work, easy reward.”
“You make it sound so fun,” Nash scoffed.
As he cracked open two more eggs into a bowl, he said, “can I ask you something?”
Nash shrugged. “I won’t stop you.”
“Is this your first time?” Arthur asked. “Being part of the game, I mean. Have you done anything like this before?”
“Oh yeah, loads of times,” she lied, “I said I was a professional, didn’t I?”
“Really? Because you seemed more than a little green out there,” said Arthur. Nash raised an eyebrow at him. “You know what I mean. You were rash, impulsive; you ran in there half-cocked and left us high and dry. Your performance was… messy.”
“What are you, my supervisor?” said Nash. “Besides, I came back and pulled your asses out of the fire. I could’ve left you to die, snatched the diamond and ran, but I went back for you. I saved you.”
“Yeah, you could’ve run off, but you wouldn’t, because you and I both know that the Voice would be very unhappy if this team died on day one, and he’d take it out on you.”
She wanted to argue, but couldn’t come up with a counterpoint. “Yeah, you’re probably right,” Nash sighed, looked down at the table, then glanced up at the ceiling. “You think he’s got this place bugged?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” he answered. Arthur took the pan off the stove, slid its contents onto a plate, and presented it to Nash with a fork. “Bon appétit.”
“Thanks,” she said as she started eating.
“For what it’s worth, that stunt was some quick thinking, and it did save our lives. Thanks for that.”
Nash was taken aback by this. She didn’t hear things like that very often. “You’re welcome.”
They both heard footsteps coming towards them, and saw Mr Toad walk into the kitchen, rubbing his eye with one hand. His usual attire was gone, replaced by a white t-shirt and grey shorts. He stopped when he saw he wasn’t alone, looking to Arthur, then Nash, then back at Arthur. He chuckled and nodded, as if he understood something. Toad walked towards the refrigerator and opened it, sifted through its contents, and pulled out a six-pack of beer.
Toad headed out of the door, stopped, and turned towards Arthur and Nash. In a wheezy rasp, he said, “don’t stay up too late, kiddies.” With that, he turned and left them.
As the two heard his footsteps ascend the stairs, Nash looked at Arthur and said with sudden excitement, “we have booze here?” She leapt to her feet and hurried to the fridge, throwing it open and looking around inside. “By the way, I gotta know,” she asked. “Is this your first time being part of ‘the game?’”
Ignoring her question, Arthur pointed at the open door of the fridge. “I think there’s something in there you might like.” Nash looked and saw an unopened bottle of red wine. She grabbed it, closed the door, went back to the table, and resumed her meal.
Sickle awoke with a start, and opened his eyes to see a high roof with a light fixture hanging above him. There was a sharp pain in his stomach, and he saw that his torso was wrapped in bandages and an IV hooked up to his arm, connected to a bag of clear fluid that was hanging from a pole next to him.
“Keep still,” came a voice, “you’ll pop your stitches.”
Two women were in the room with him. The first was Copperhead, who was sitting in an armchair, reading a book. The other one, who was checking his bandages, was a stranger to him.
“Where… where am I?” he asked, the words coming out of his mouth weak, but his intent clear. “Who are you?”
“You’re in the House of Strangers. You’re safe,” said the woman. “My name’s Dale. I saved your life.”
“Is that… first name… or last?” Sickle asked.
“Y’know, most people say ‘thank you’,” said Dale. “I need to get your medicine.” She turned and walked out of the room.
Sickle looked over to Copperhead and asked, “Are we…safe?”
She folded over the corner of the page of her book and closed it. “Well, Penguin and the cops haven’t tracked us down and you’re not dying anymore, so, given the circumstances, we’re as safe as we can be.”
He grunted. “I’m working… for this ‘Voice’… for less than… day… and nearly die. This not work… I want when I come… to America.”
“There’s not much we can do about it,” said Copperhead.
“We can escape,” said Sickle, the strength back in his voice. “There is six of us and one of him. We have number, have power-- we are clever. All he has is words-- scary picture and empty threats.”
Copperhead gripped her book harder. “We’ve seen what he can do. Planning a job like that on someone like Penguin? Having the means to pull it off? To collect us and then blackmail us into doing it? I’ve worked for powerful people my whole life. The Voice has knowledge, he has power, and he has reach. If we run, he’ll find us and punish us for it.”
“If Voice is so strong, why does he need us?” Sickle asked. “Why not take diamond himself? Why send us to do it? I tell you: because he does need us. We have leverage. We can take control.”
“You need to abandon your pride. It’ll get you killed, or worse, it’ll get us killed,” she said. “We weren’t picked for this because we were the strongest, the fastest, or the smartest. We were picked because nobody will miss us if we disappear. If we die, we can be replaced. We’re not the best of the best, we’re pawns. We’re expendable, Abramovichi, and the sooner you realize that, the better.”
There was silence between them for a moment. Then, Sickle broke it by saying, “you take comfort in being slave, in having someone make your choices for you. I don’t. I spent years under thumb of man who hated me, treated me like filth. I won’t do it again.”
The door opened and Dale came back in, carrying an IV bag filled with what looked to be blood, but darker, almost black.
“What is that?” Sickle asked.
“Medicine,” she said as she hooked the IV tube up to the bag. “It’ll make sure you heal nice and quick. The boss wants you back on your feet soon.”
He looked over at Copperhead and asked Dale, “does he?”
The burgundy liquid reached his body, and a wave of sleepiness washed over him. Sickle felt alarm for a second before he succumbed and fell back into a deep slumber.
GOTHAM CITY, THE NARROWS:
In the Narrows of Gotham City, at just past two in the morning, a car pulled up in front of a dive called O’Leary’s Bar. In front of it was a man-- tall, slim and handsome, with slick blond hair and a rather nice ensemble; a sharp, slim-fitting blue suit that made him stick out against his more run down surroundings. The door of the back seat opened and the man got in and closed the door behind him.
Sitting behind the wheel was a woman with short black hair, wearing a tuxedo, who regarded the man with quiet distrust. Sitting in the back seat with him was a short, round man. He was dressed in a black tuxedo and had his hands resting on the handle of an umbrella. The Penguin.
“Mr Forbes,” said Cobblepot. “I trust you’re doing well?”
“Oh, you know me, Ozzie,” he answered, “making a living, sleeping with one eye open, same old same old.”
Jack Forbes was once Lieutenant Jack Forbes, part of the Gotham City Police Department’s Internal Affairs division. During his tenure on the force, there were multiple reports of him using his position to blackmail his fellow officers, but they were either dismissed, withdrawn or buried by the corrupt infrastructure. Eventually, enough accusations piled up that it looked like a case would be made against him. Forbes then decided it was time to get out of law enforcement, retiring from the GCPD and becoming a private detective, frequently servicing clients with less than savory reputations.
Forbes glanced out the rear window and said, “does your girl know you were tailed here?”
Oswald and the tuxedoed woman both looked alarmed and looked out the window. They only saw rows of cars parked on the street. None of them seemed out of the ordinary. “We weren’t tailed,” she said. “I made sure of it.”
“Well, unless Detective Ernie Gomez from the 5th Precinct sold his car-- a silver 2006 Kord Stallion, license plate CDR-S66-- he’s parked back there, in front of that mailbox,” said Forbes. “Don’t worry, I can handle him.”
Cobblepot muttered a curse under his breath. He turned to his driver and said, “Ms Raven, you and I will have to have words when we get back.” He sighed and looked back at Forbes. “I have a job for you.”
He handed Forbes a folder. The PI opened it and found a series of photographs, stills from security footage from inside a nightclub. “Three night ago, the Iceberg Lounge was attacked by six super-criminals. They tore up my club and stole property from a client. I want you to find out everything you can on them and bring it to me. That file should have all the information you need; anything else, you call my assistant Jay. Not me, my assistant. If the cops are tailing me, chances are my phones are tapped too.”
Forbes flipped through the papers, skimming through pictures and notes before closing it and saying, “I’ll take the case for double my usual fee.”
“You’re asking me to hunt down dangerous super-criminals and deliver information on them to you while you’re under police surveillance,” Forbes said, “so yes, considering the risks, I think double is fair.”
“Fine,” Cobblepot spat, “but if you show up empty-handed, you won’t get one red cent from me.”
“A pleasure as always, Mr Cobblepot,” Forbes smirked and offered a hand. Cobblepot grumbled, but shook his hand none the less. With that, Forbes tucked the folder under his arm and got out of the car, then watched as it sped off into the night.
He saw another vehicle peel away from the curb—the silver Kord stallion-- with its headlights off, and it made its way down the road after Cobblepot. Forbes casually walked into the street and stopped in the middle, with the car halting just in front of him. He smiled at it, walked over to the driver side window, and knocked on it. The window rolled down, revealing a man in his forties with messy, dark hair and a nervous expression on his face.
“Hey, Ernie,” Forbes said.
Detective Ernie Gomez from the 5th Precinct regarded him, doing his best to act casual. “Hey, Jack. What’s, uh, what’s going on?”
“Nothing much,” Forbes shrugged. “Just talking to a friend. You know something about that, don’t you? Friends, I mean. There was that one girl a year back you were friends with, what was her name?”
Detective Gomez felt a lump in his throat.
“Charity? Chastity?” Forbes said, before snapping his fingers. “Cassidy! That was her name! You remember her, right? Blonde girl, real pretty, worked a corner at 42nd and Walter, said she was twenty-one but was actually seventeen?”
Jack didn’t say anything else, but he could see beads of sweat forming on Gomez’s forehead, reflecting the light from the streetlamp.
Forbes put a hand on Gomez’s shoulder, faking a gesture of sympathy and comfort. “Ah don’t worry, buddy. We all have our indiscretions. Tell you what: how about if I keep your secret, you’ll keep mine and my friend’s, hmm?”
“Y-y-yeah,” Gomez stuttered, “I-I can do that.”
Forbes smiled. “I know you can, buddy.” He pulled away his hand and began walking away. “Give my best to the wife.” He said, just before the window rolled up and Detective Gomez’s car drove away, turning a sharp corner and disappearing from sight.
Jack Forbes smiled to himself and walked down the street, whistling a tune to himself in the dark, lonely backdrop of the Narrows.
THE HOUSE OF STRANGERS:
A week had passed since their arrival in the House of Strangers, and the Secret Six were beginning to go stir crazy. They hadn’t heard from the Voice during this time, but Dale assured them that he would make contact with them soon. She also made it clear that none of them should leave the premises until he gave his leave, and while the team resented their imprisonment, they chose to stay put; the presumed safety of the House was preferable to risking the wrath of the Voice, or the attention of the cops and Penguin.
They each found their own ways to pass the time: Cluemaster and Copperhead found books to read in the massive library, Mr Toad spent time in the gym when he wasn’t flipping through channels on the television, while Double Down tried to get his teammates to play cards with him, but found few takers.
Sickle recovered in his bed, getting up occasionally to stretch his legs and use the bathroom. Mist spent her time exploring the House; she said she was simply ‘getting a lay of the land’, but most of them suspected she was trying to find spy cameras, hidden passageways, and any other secret the House of Strangers may have been hiding.
After the first three days, they began eating their meals together, taking it in turns to cook the groceries that Dale supplied. They were quiet at first, but after a few shared meals, they began chatting, swapping stories; they even began spending time with one another outside of the kitchen. It wasn’t a conscious effort on anyone’s part, but incarceration was difficult enough to deal with, and none of them wanted to be burdened with loneliness on top of it.
During the afternoon on the sixth day, Dale called them to the library. It was a massive room; two stories, high ceilings, and walls lined with books. Some of them looked to be decades old, possibly even centuries, filled with faded ink and chipped, yellowed paper. In the center was a long table, with seats enough for all of them. They sat down, and Dale pulled a small remote control from her pocket. She clicked a button on it and the group heard the groaning sound of gears turning. Bookshelves on a wall facing the table shifted back and pulled apart, revealing a large television screen. It lit up to static, and in front of the static appeared the white silhouette of a man’s head, with two black eyes staring down at all of them.
“My Six,” came the distorted sound of the Voice. “I trust you’ve recovered since your last assignment?”
None of them gave a direct answer, but they all seemed to be back in one piece. Double Down’s skin had completely grown back, Toad had made liberal use of his voice over the past few days, and Sickle was able to walk and move under his own power without wincing.
“Your next mission begins today,” he continued. The screen switched to an image of a man: olive-skinned, with a well-trimmed mustache and beard, wearing a fine black suit and a white sash. He was standing on the balcony of a palace, smiling and waving outward. Around him were two stern-looking men in military uniforms and a beautiful woman in a silver dress, smiling alongside him.
“This,” the Voice said as the image zoomed in on the face of the smiling man, ”is Colonel Rumaan Harjavti, the leader of the ‘free’ nation of Biyala. Tensions between Bialya and the neighboring country of Qurac have been high for decades, not made better by Biyala’s rumored nuclear program and Colonel Harjavti’s notorious temper. There’s concern that after the Annihilator incident*, he’ll fire on the Quraci capital soon.”
*Justice League #51-52
“And you want us to take him out before that happens?” Copperhead asked.
“No.” said the Voice. “Threats have been made on his life, and the Colonel has hired you to protect him.”
“So just so I understand what’s going on here,” said Mist. “You want us to travel halfway around the world and work to keep a violent dictator with a nuclear arsenal alive and in power?”
“I want you to do as you’re told,” said the Voice.
He explained the particulars of their assignment: travel information to the capital city of Mirahd, layouts of the royal palace, persons of interest, likely suspects, and everything else they would need to know. At the end of it, the Voice instructed his soldiers to leave the House of Secrets. Parked in front of the mansion was a humvee, which the Six loaded into and prepared to leave.
On his way to the car, Sickle was stopped by Dale, who placed a hand on his shoulder and said to him, “A word in your ear, Mr. Abramovichi. As your physician, I should warn you to refrain from any activity too strenuous while you’re on the job. Like running, for instance.”
Sickle turned to face her. Dale’s expression was grave. “Don’t run, Mr. Abramovichi. It would be terrible for your health.”
She left him there and went inside the House. Sickle looked after her for a moment, thinking on her words, when the honking of a car horn pulled him back to reality and he went to join his comrades in the humvee.
EARLIER THAT DAY
THE HOUSE OF STRANGERS:
THE HOUSE OF STRANGERS:
Subject: First Report
First things first: you never told me how I’d be meeting the rest of the team. And sure as hell didn’t tell me I was going to be kidnapped. Some warning next time would be appreciated.
Enclosed is my initial report on the Six after our first mission. Suffice it to say they’re raw, untested, and seem to lack anything that would compromise teamwork. However, they’re also capable, and quick on their feet. There may be hope for these people yet.
I’ll keep an eye on them. You’ll get your next update after the Harjavti assignment is completed.
- The War-Born Hurt
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