Misty went into the squad room and the familiar sounds of keyboard pressing, yelling and usual routine surrounded her. A tired looking detective was shouting at a suspect who seemed to be in drug heaven. Telephones rang constantly. People were stomping to-and-fro in the whole place. The smell of the heavy wooden furniture attacked her, causing her to think of the hours she’d spent in rooms like this. She was attacked by a sense of nostalgia and grief. She needed a period of time to settle down. Then she walked to the desk with the name saying Detective Ramírez-Arellano, her old friend on the Homicide squad..
Misty said, "Hello, Celestina. I need your help."
Detective Ramírez-Arellano was typing with one hand and holding a phone in another. She signalled at a chair opposite to hers. "Hi, Misty. Sorry I am busy. What do you want to know?"
"I want to find out a case of a Mr. Grand two days ago," Misty said.
"Mr. Grand..." Detective Ramírez-Arellano said something to the phone, then she typed on the old keyboard. "What for?”
“For a client.”
“Well, you are a freelancer now. I envy you. Oh sorry.“ Detective Ramírez-Arellano paused to speak to the phone. “Yes, it’s like this, not that.”
“Maybe I should come later?” Misty suggested.
“Crime never sleeps. I will always be busy,” Detective Ramírez-Arellano said. She looked at the screen. “Well, you may not like this case."
Curiosity piqued, Misty asked, "Why?"
"Mr. Grand was a supervillain, codenamed Enforcer."
Misty frowned. "Never heard of him before."
"Neither had I. C-list fodder as far as I can tell. A witness said a woman ran away from the scene. Let me tell you, I think it's a squabble between the supervillains themselves," Detective Ramírez-Arellano said.
Misty nodded. "I see. Anything more to tell?"
"One thing: the witness said he heard the woman shouting something like ‘just served’ when she left." Detective Ramírez-Arellano pointed at the screen.
Misty said, "Intriguing. Thanks for your help."
“Well, don’t be a stranger,” Detective Ramírez-Arellano said, then said to the phone, “Hello? Hello?”
Misty left. No one noticed.
“How was your trip?” Colleen asked, jumping from her perch on her desk when Misty returned to the office
Misty repeated the conversation to Colleen. Something in her tone may have given away more than she wanted to say because Colleen looked at her concernedly. “Are you all right? I mean, it‘s the first time you’ve been back.”
“I’m fine. It’s been a long time so I stayed a bit longer. Anyway, back to the case.”
Colleen raised an eyebrow but she wisely change the topic. “The bad guys killing each other, right? It’s a boring case.”
“Colleen,” Misty said, “We still have a client to consider. Besides even if he was a supervillain, it doesn’t mean killing him is right.””
Colleen raised her hands as if she were giving up. "All right, let's find more clues."
It was time to report to the client. Misty took the phone and dialled the number.
“Hello, Mis Grant?”
“Do you have any news?” Mrs Grant asked.
Misty said, “We have been making progress. Mrs Grant, are you... are you aware that your husband was a supervillain?”
Silence. Misty patiently waited for an answer.
“I only knew when the police called me,” Miss Grant admitted. She paused and then said, “No matter what, he was a good man, a good father and husband, He shouldn’t...” The sound of sob transmitted through the phone.
Misty wriggled uncomfortably. How could Celestina deal with so many grieving family? It had been more clear cut on the bomb squad. “I understand. Was he nervous before his death? Did he say he had something to worry about?”
“He didn’t talk about his job, and no, everything was normal.” Misty heard a scream from the other side of the phone. “Sorry, I need to tend to my daughter. Please keep in touch.”
“Goodbye, Mrs Grant,” Misty said. When the call cut off, she still held the phone for a long time.
For several days, Misty searched information about Enforcer on the Internet. Just like her friend said, the Enforcer had been such a minor supervillain that there wasn’t much to be found. She tried to ask on the street and the result was similarly depressing.
“Enforcer? Who is he?” Dan asked when Misty phoned her contact on the street.
“A man who was killed a week ago. His real name was Grant. There was a woman involved.”
“OK, I will ask , but be warned that there may not be much to tell. He was such a small fish.”
“Try your best,” Misty said. So that’s it. A man dies and no one remembers him, except his family.
Colleen looked at her for a long time, wanting to say something but kept silent after all. She handed her a newspaper and pointed her at a small corner of news. “I think it may be of interest to you.”
“Miracle Man’s miraculous death by a bus.” Misty read. “Who’s he?”
“I am not sure. It said he wanted to take over the world, but Fantastic Four stopped him,” Colleen smiled and said, “Those supervillains, always so magnanimous. .”
Misty couldn’t help but smile. “That’s why superheroes are supeheroes and supervillains are supervillains.”
“How was your call to Dan?” Colleen asked.
“Nothing good. He said he would call back, but he warned that there might not be much to tell.”
“Pity,” Colleen said, “Take heart, I’m sure things’ll get better.”
Dan returned her call and made an appointment at a diner Misty was not familiar with. She looked for it on the Internet and arrived on time, picking a seat at a quieter corner. The diner was busy with the sound of hustling and bustling. Misty wondered why he chose this place.
“Hello, Dan.” Misty waved when Dan entered. He looked around nervously and took the seat with back to the wall. It was a bit dramatic, actually, but Misty wouldn’t begrudge someone of his own comfort.
“Well, I put out the feeders on the street. No one remembered Enforcer, except for some credit card debt he still owed. But there’s a funny thing. The mortality rate of C-list fodder is abnormally high these days. I would have suspected Punisher if it looked like his M.O. Too subtle,” Dan said.
Misty said, “You mean...”
Dan put out a newspaper clipping from his coat pocket. It read, “Magatek shot by pedestrian. Not so maga after all.” There was a subtitle written in smaller font, “‘Justice is served.’ Witness heard.” He continued, “There is only one of them. A lot didn’t make the paper.”
Misty said, “So some more small-time supervillains were killed in three days. It seemed like too many to be a coincidence.”
“I don’t know. I only collect information for you to judge. There were other guys being killed. By different people, it seemed. There would be much more panic if they were more memorable. Even I only found out when I really looked for them.”
“Thanks. You’ve been helpful, “ Misty said, “Anything more for me?”
“I’ll try, but the problem is they were so small potato. No one missed them when they were gone, “ Dan said.
Misty started to stand up. “Let me know if you get more. “ She paused when Dan deliberately held a hand face up. “Oh I forget.” She took the money from her wallet. “Here you are.”
Dan held the bills to the light, then carefully put them in his bag. “Thanks.” Then he left.
Some people are killing small-time supervillains. But why?
Misty returned to the office and filled in Colleen.
Colleen was playing with a pen held between her fingers and looked thoughtful. “It could still be a coincidence. Super villainy is a high-risk job.”
“I thought of that too. But in the case of Miracle Man, a witness heard the killer shout ‘Justice is served.’ It makes me think of the the words the witness heard in the case of our client’s husband.”
“That is suspicious,” Colleen admitted.
“It’s the best lead we have now. I wonder why someone would start to kill supervillains.”
“Well, they are evil, at the very start. I don’t know the killers, but I would like to cheer them on. Whoever did it should get a reward,” Colleen said, “I just want them to go for bigger fish.”
Misty hesitated. “Do you really think this is right?”
“It’s not like I’m, killing them. The supervillains are hopeless anyway. They only exist to cause trouble,” Colleen said.
Misty argued, “We have a legal system to deal with these kind of people. We don’t need vigilantes.”
“Funny you say that, with so many costumed guys roaming on New York street.”
“But they don’t kill. They don’t make themselves the police, judge, executioner ..”
“It’s only a matter of degree. What about the Punisher?”
“You know my view on him. He’s just a sick man who needs therapy.”
“I think we need to agree to disagree.” Colleen wanted to continue, but a phone call interrupted their conversation. She picked the phone up.
“Nightwing Restorations, Colleen Wing speaking. You are looking for Misty? All right.” She took the phone to Misty.
“Hello! Oh, Celestina, it’s you. There’s another case and you want me to come over. Tell me the location. Wait a minute.” Colleen handed the pen to Misty. Covering the phone, she said thanks to Colleen. Misty started to write the address on a piece of paper and, after finishing the call, she put down the phone and took her coat. “I need to go now.”
“See you. “ Colleen waved at her. But Misty had a feeling that the conversation wasn’t yet over.
“The killer was slippery. He pretended to be a male nurse came up and shot Constrictor. Some passerby startled him, and the nurse escaped, shouting, “Justice is served.” The passerby phoned the police and ambulance. Fortunately the bullet missed main organs. He was conscious for questioning. The Lab guys returned with a report that the bullet came from the same gun that killed other villains,” Detective Ramírez-Arellano said as she walked along with Misty in the hospital corridors.
She opened the ward door and said, “Hello, Constrictor.”
It was a single ward and was filled with the large man lying on the bed. He winked. “Don’t be too loud.”
“What do you remember about the man who shot you?” Detective Ramírez-Arellano asked matter-of-factly.
“I was walking on the street, minding my business. Then this guy came up and said hi. I ignored him. Then the damn guy shot me and shouted something like ‘Justice is served.’ He must be crazy.”
“What do you remember about the appearance of the man?”
“About forty, white. Brown hair and eyes, really non-descriptive. Dressed like a male nurse.”
“Does he remind you of the Punisher?”
“I don’t think so, unless the Punisher started to dress as a male nurse and dropped the skull. I need police protection.”
“I will talk to my boss. Meanwhile, you’re going to face the charges you have been evading. “
“Hey! I need my lawyer.”
Leaving the ward, Detective Ramírez-Arellano commented, “Sometimes I don’t know whether I should wish the bullet had hit several inches over.”
“You won’t want that,” Misty said.
Detective Ramírez-Arellano said, “Arson, assault, robbery... He has a long list of charges, and a good lawyer will be able to get him out in few years. Then he’ll be out again and do crime.” She sounded very tired, “I’ve seen too many criminals escaping their crime. And I don’t believe in rehabilitation, really. The jail is like a rotating door.”
Misty put a hand on her shoulder and commiserated quietly. There was a weight in her heart.
Detective Ramírez-Arellano shook her head. “You don’t need to hear me whining. Anyway, it’s lucky that it’s not the Punisher. There’re reported sightings of him. We tried to bring him in for questioning, and it was not pretty.”
“It must be hard,” Misty sympathized. It’s one of the most cliche thing I can say, she thought.
Detective Ramírez-Arellano said, “Anyway, you owe me a burger. Let’s grab one.”
“No donuts?” Misty teased.
Detective Ramírez-Arellano smiled. “I have enough donuts. Burger, now.”
Several days later. “I have some news for you,” Dan said over the phone
Misty asked, “What do you have for me?”
“A group of supervillains is planning to gather at Riker‘s Bar to discuss the recent threat to them. Your guy may show up.”
“Thanks.” Misty jotted down the address and filled in Colleen.
“Funny how our lives turn out” Colleen stood up and put on her coat. “Guarding a group of supervillains.”
Misty said, “Remember our client? We still have a duty to her.”
“If you say so. Now let’s go,” Colleen said, opening the door.
Riker’s Bar was a typical Irish bar in Hell’s Kitchen. Loud music, loud noises, and tired bartenders passing out beer. No mixed drinks here. If not for the gathering crowd of costumed people, it would be like any other bar. Misty and Colleen sat at the corner and asked for a drink. Many men were eyeing them but so far none approached them. Maybe the katana hung at Colleen’s waist scared them off. It’s better this way, Misty thought.
Grappler told the bartender. “Lock the door. The crowd is here now.” There were several dozens of supervillains here including the Fly, Bluestreak and Hellrazor. Misty tried to place herself in the shadow, to get herself unnoticed because she recognized some familiar face. Too her delight, they seemed to be too worried to notice them. The bartender obediently did so, but murmuring protest under his breath.
“Listen! Attention!” A supervillain Misty recognized as Fireband shouted, “I call the meeting to attention.”
There were sounds of murmuring in the crowd and Misty could hear someone grumbling. “Who died and made you the boss?” But gradually they grew silent.
“You all know why we are here. For the Scourge,” Fireband continued to say.
The Fly shouted, “Anything known about him?”
“We have a description from the Constrictor. He’s a forty-year-old white plain-looking man,” Fireband replied.
Another person shouted, “It’s not very specific.”
“It’s the best we have here. The case of Constrictor shows that he can make mistakes. Together we can get him.”
“Really?” The bartender asked.
“What was that, man?” Fireband asked.
“Nothing.” The bartender washed the last glass, then he disappeared into the staff area behind the bar.
“Hey, where’re you going?” Hellrazor shouted, but he was already out of sight.
“There was something weird about the bartender. Follow him,” Misty whispered to Colleen. Colleen nodded, put down her half-empty glass and left her seat.
“Anyway, where were we?” Fireband asked.
Then a loud recorded voice suddenly transmitted from the back of the bar. “Attention!” Everyone looked around to look for the source of the message.
The message continued, “Listen. There’s a bomb set to go off in five minutes. Very soon you’ll all become a ball of fire. Justice is served!” The voice stopped there.
“What?” someone asked. Now everyone stopped speaking and looked tensed. The bar was completely quiet. Misty put her ear to the bar and now she could hear the tickling sound of the bomb.
The crowd started to panic and went for the door. Grunts and sounds of pain were heard
as people stepped on each other and tried to rush through the crowd.
Misty quickly scanned the bar for the bomb and found a CWMD under the bar counter. Time was tickling down and Misty started to sweat. She was thrown back to the time of the bombing that cost her arm. What if this time... Calm down, Misty! Misty told herself. She reached for the multitool in her belt. Colleen always teased her about it, saying that, “once a cop, always a cop.” But who know when old habits would be useful?
Misty examined the bomb. She needed to cut all the three wires in the right order. and cutting a wrong one would detonate the bomb. She needed to be fast and accurate. More time slid away. There’s the primer, Misty thought, cutting the wire connected to it. Bingo! Then she reached for the second wire. There were only two minutes left and the screaming around her didn’t help. Next, the reaction timer. She identified the wire and cut with her tools. Now, the final one. Her hands shook with tension. It had been a long time since she’d done this. She hoped she would get it right. She used her tools to cut the final wire feeding the ignition timer. The ticking sound of the bomb stopped. She’d done it!
Misty raised her head and saw that someone had already broke the door open. The remaining supervillains heard the ticking sound stop as well and they erupted into a cheer. “Thanks God!” someone shouted. Some broke into tears and hugged each other, basking in the relief. Misty thought it’s a bit extreme for the situation, but maybe that was what adrenaline did for you.
Misty quickly walked through the crowd. Someone must have knocked himself against the door and broke it open, because there was a hole here. She went through the hole, left the bar and found Colleen. She ran along the street and finally arrived at a car park. She saw Colleen’s back, started to yell and stopped abruptly went she saw that Colleen was standing her ground against the Punisher. He had a gun aimed at the bartender at his feet, while Colleen had her katana to his neck. They were in a stalemate.
Misty took out her gun and levelled it at the Punisher. “Back off, Punisher. We’re two to one.”
He didn’t look at her. “Why do you care?”
“This man belongs under the jurisdiction of the law. No unlawful execution here,” Misty said.
“He is a murderer,” The Punisher said. “ I am serving justice.”
Misty said, “Then you will be the same as him, a murderer.”
“I already am,” The Punisher said, with amusement in his tone,
“You don’t need to be,” Misty said.
Colleen said with a smile, “I think you should listen to her. She knows best.” Misty could see sweat drops coming down her neck.
There was sound of siren in the distance. The Punisher tensed. Colleen used this moment to push the Punisher away.
“It seems better retreat now,” the Punisher said, “Bye, ladies.” He looked at the man trying to crawl away on the ground, and shot him. Then he turned and walked away.
Misty jumped a bit. “You...”
“Do we try to stop him?” Colleen asked.
Misty pointed at the bleeding man. “No, this man is of higher priority. Phone 911.” She put the gun back into her shoulder holster.
Colleen picked out a phone to make a phone call. Misty checked the ABCs, then pressed directly on the wound. The man grunted weakly. When the bleeding seemed to slow down, she raised his legs.
A police car arrived at the site. A patrolwoman got out of the car. “We received a complaint for a robbery... What happened here?”
“The Punisher,” Colleen said.
The patrolwoman looked resigned, “The Punisher strikes again? What did this man do? Did you call an ambulance?”
Misty said, “We did. He tried to ignite a bomb in a bar, and we suspect that he’s involved with a number of murders.”
“Did you witness it?” the patrolwoman asked.
Misty said, “I nearly became a bombing victim.” Colleen turned to Misty, visibly swallowed a breath, and threw a hard look at the man on the ground.
“This’s a tough costumer,” the patrolwoman said. She turned her head. “Listen, an ambulance is coming.”
After giving evidence at the police station, talking with a tearful and grateful Mrs Grant and receiving a check, Misty and Colleen were having tea in their office.
“What’re you thinking? You’re awfully quiet. Are you brooding?” Colleen asked, putting the tea cup down.
Misty held her own cup of tea in midair. “Nothing. I just … I was just thinking about what you said about vigilantes.”
“So?” Colleen prodded.
Misty said, “I was a cop. I’d always longed to be a cop since I were young. But now people are killing others in the name of justice. Today I defused a bomb, just like I had done before. I don’t know... Things are getting confusing.” She put down her cup of tea and held her head in her hands.
“Hey, you still have me. We can figure out together.” Colleen put an arm on Misty’s to stress her words.
“You’re right,” Misty smiled. At least she still had a good friend. “Why don't we grab Chinese food for dinner? I know there’s a good restaurant nearby.”
"Deal," Colleen said. She stood up, put on her coat and said, “What’re you waiting for? Business always makes me hungry.”
Misty put on her coat and followed her, their shadows overlapped on the floor.