From a (years-old) prompt on the kinkmeme speculating why, in the graphic novel, this tiny character Roy Chess looks so similar to Walter. Apologies for the temporal weirdness going on in this story. And the incidental OCs. It will... eventually go somewhere! And make some sense. Hopefully. Feedback always appreciated.
"When in the hell you gonna go straight, Roy?"
Roy didn't respond as he grasped the bag of day-old bran muffins in exchange for a wrinkled dollar: Monday special. The money was offered in a shaking, freckled hand. Snatched away.
"You're an ugly son-of-a-bitch, and you're not too bright, neither," Frank--as in Frank's Bakery Frank--sighed upon further inspection of the mutilated state of the greenback. As good as trash, the way it was taped together with Washington's mug fractured down the middle. "But I'm only saying this 'cause I care."
Roy was too hungry to mind the verbal abuse. Moist, greedy noises came from him as he struggled to chew and swallow one of the stale mounds whole.
"How old are you?" Frank couldn't help but be curious about the vagrant who darkened his doorstep every week. The store owner barely gave him a chance to reply before assuming someone so low-down knew nothing about himself. "Don't know, huh? Christ, what raised you? You're not young, but you can't be that old with that goon haircut of yours. You're definitely not on the bright side of your thirties, that's for sure. Forty at the oldest... on account of your wrinkles but that just might be the effects of street-livin'."
The man in question shrugged ineffectually, staring at the baked goods in the glass display. Too old to turn tricks when he tried to fit in with the hustlers who lined the streets dressed as cowboys. Too young to fit in with the bum community who haunted Central Park after dark. Maybe the right age to be mistaken for a shell-shocked veteran when he sat strung-out on the front stoop of a condemned house, begging for change when times got particularly rough.
"Shit," Frank watched the window as customers approached the building. "The biddies are coming for their strudel. Quick! Get outta here before you scare ‘em away," Frank tightened the back of his apron self-consciously, his baker's paunch heaving in obvious distress. He walked out from behind the cash register and hustled the red-haired man out the door, shopkeeper’s bell ringing behind him. The change from the air-conditioned bakery to the blistering August morning sun was drastic enough to make Roy sputter out some of his food.
Due to the lack of funds he'd been involuntarily clean for a week now. He was in hell, and it was only yesterday he resorted to sniffing Elmer's at the grocery store before some kid and his Ma buying school supplies saw him. They'd stared at each other for a minute, caught in the headlights of two different worlds clashing. Roy had broke the awkward moment and slinked away before they got a hold of the manager.
Roy found a nice, secluded alley to rot in. He closed his eyes to allow his internal, compulsive narrative to take over. He thought of the ocean- unharnessed, filthy and far. Used for drowning, swimming, and catching raw fish that lay in orgies in the Chinatown market. When the days dragged by like wounded animals, Roy needed something to dream about.
It was then a pair of polished, impossibly black shoes cut through the dust and stopped in front of him. Roy did not startle, he sat up to gaze at his alley's guest. His brown eyes met the other man's through his sunglasses. "Mornin’," Roy began quietly.
"Good morning sir,"
Roy stood and hooked his tattered rucksack onto his right shoulder. He gave the stranger a once-over, unashamed in finding the guy's cleanliness and trim figure accentuated by his dark suit a pleasant departure from Roy's usual clientele. A turn-on, even. The guy was almost as attractive as someone like Adrian Veidt, sans the blonde hair. Though from the clinically detached manner with which the gentleman returned his stare, Roy could tell he wasn't cornering him for sex. He regarded the man's manicured hands regrettably.
"Would you like to make $5,000?" His tone was absurdly rational, rehearsed for accuracy.
Roy willed his expression to remain impassive, but his heart stopped and his ears burned.
"Are you interested?"
"Yeah," he had a death grip on the strap of his bag. Roy wasn't an idiot. He couldn't put a name to what he suspected he was agreeing to; he knew it was something bigger than him. The the kind of stuff you saw in movies.
The stranger exhaled as if he'd been holding it in for a while, revealing a smile that was nearly genuine. "I hope I didn't come off too mysterious. I'm not in the mafia or anything, you know. But I think we should discuss this in private. If you'll come this way Mister..." He waited for the street-urchin to fill in the blank, content to remain nameless himself because that inherently gave him power. The man placed a cold, guiding hand on his shoulder, and as they walked together towards the black car shimmering in the heat. Roy suddenly wanted to hit the pavement. His spine stiffened instinctively in fear; it seemed imperative that he back out now. Now or never. Run away and don't look back.
"Chess," he replied as he climbed into the hearse-like vehicle. "Roy Chess."
His claws, freckled and pale, flexed at the sound of feminine snickering outside. He pulled his gloves on, experimentally took them off again. There were still a few hours to be wasted between his lives, before nightfall. He swept the purple leather over his forehead, clammy and sweating. Humidity. Sick air seeped in under the door like a horror film. Hunched over like an invalid on his bed, Walter waited.
Rorschach's journal was on the overturned milk crate beside him, open to July 20th, 1985. The entry had been bothering him for sometime, and these occasional purgings required he get rid of anything which could be used against him in the case of his death. He reached over and carefully tore the page out, mindful of the binding.
The gloves were placed aside; he held only the sheaf in his trembling hand, regarding its deceptive delicacy. Walter scanned through the entry once more, familiar enough with it that he merely glanced at the text instead of churning through every sentence. The way he read his journal was much different from how he read other things. Books were nourishment, they saved his life in Charlton. He savored the experience of reading, regardless of whether it was Milton or a discarded geology textbook.
His own prose was a different matter. Rorschach took pride in his writing; it served as testament to his life’s work. But when Walter read the entries in moments of idleness it was a shameful act; he knew and felt things Rorschach couldn’t reveal.
The entry began typically enough, sprinkled with turgid language expounding on how society is like worms dying on the pavement the morning after a rainstorm. Walter could recognize that it was an off-night. The analogy led way to an actual account of the bust––the brief part of the entry that caused him grief.
Man selling crystal methamphetamine to minor; was only able to corner dealer.
Let him go.
Walter crumpled the page in his fist, shuddered in misery.
Roy was escorted directly from the car into a warehouse. The stranger and his driver shrouded him, cutting off his view whenever his gaze searched for the nearest exit. He blinked in the sunlight streaming in through the high windows, relieved to have the blindfold off. Procedure, they'd explained, too casually and suddenly to Roy's protest when the black cloth was forced on him earlier in the car.
Inside it was blissfully air-conditioned. Boxes which could’ve housed army tanks littered the space as intimidating cardboard skyscrapers. Pyramid Deliveries, labeled each one. He was led through a series of fairytale doorways, up a flight of creaking stairs, and into a fluorescent-lit office with no view of the outside
"Mr. Chess," the surly driver left and only the attractive stranger remained. He sat behind the desk, inviting Roy to join him in the seat opposite. "You're warranted an explanation."
Roy could tell the stranger didn't really belong either, dressed up in his suit like a monkey in the circus. He was clean-shaven and composed, but the redhead could sense a deadness to his eyes, a darkness to his being, that he was on the brink of losing that calculated edge. Cleaned up. Maybe he started out the same way Roy did.
“What do you want from me?”
“Roy,” the stranger held up his hands disarmingly. “We just want to give you a job, clean you up. It’s sort of a... goal here. Taking young men off the streets.”
"The fuck did you blindfold me for?”
“Roy, you’re going to take part in a special project here. When we call on you, you must be ready. In the meantime, you’ll be working here, living here. We will prepare you. Discretion is all we ask for in return.”
The door opened with no prelude of a knock or buzzing or his mother's slipper-padded footsteps. A ghost had entered. Walter sat in the dark on the kitchen floor and heard the familiar succession of murmurings lead to the mattress creaking in grim rhythm. Yet tonight there was almost something dignified in the noises, hushed and swift. There were none of the usual vulgarities that frightened Walter.
The ghost didn’t leave until the morning, and only then did Walter leave his hiding spot and enter her room.
"He came back!" she cried, a bewildered expression emerging through the smeared mask of makeup. She was helpless in the way she could never be clean. Walter climbed up into his mother’s bed and for the last time she didn’t turn away. “Everything’s gonna be different now.”
The light popped and sizzled as it fried gnats, hanging heavy as a fluorescent moon above the two men. Roy shuddered out of habitual coldness. His battered body was being scrutinized by the stranger, who circled around him, again and again, always eluding his eyes. The movement made a slight breeze in the room, which looked and smelled like a gutted janitor’s closet. Roy wondered where his shirt was. It was the only one he owned.
"Who is your god, Roy?"
Roy summoned a cocky grin, flexed a malnourished pectoral. He appreciated the esoteric question, it seemed appropriate for the situation he was thrust into. “My god ...is my father. Can’t say I ever met the guy, but I’ve looked for him. Think he's still out there."
A skeptic quirk of the mouth broke the interrogator's equity.
"I know it's pretty far-fetched, but hey, gotta believe there’s something looking after me."
"Never met her either."
That cracked a chuckle out of the guy. "I don't think that's physically possible."
Roy had to wonder how much of this was planned. If the guy hired to find him was supposed to be this charming, because at this point the stranger was the only element keeping Roy from bolting. Even the money, real or not, lost some appeal in comparison. "Look, just so you know, I'm not... an experienced killer, or anything. So..."
"So, what?" It came from behind. A warm hand grasped Roy's shoulder, covering his Black Flag tattoo. The devil is in the details.
"I'm a fast learner."
Daniel turned the red pepper around in his hands, inspecting the glossy surface for flaws before dropping it into the plastic bag along with the others. He shuffled on with the briskness of a senile mental patient, pausing occasionally to add other vegetables to the squeaking shopping cart. Walter knew they'd all expire before they were consumed, left to rot in the refrigerator despite good intentions. Wasteful. Going through the motions of healthy conduct, but not following through. Gallivanting through the grocery store every week just to pass the time. Walter bypassed a young couple blindly approaching and found himself in the bread aisle, surrounded by a smell that nearly made him buckle over in hunger.
His former partner was out of sight. Daniel has always survived on oleaginous foreign take-out, even during peak physical condition. Memories returned unbidden as Walter tried to stare past all the food he couldn't afford.
It was 1967. They were recuperating in Daniel's kitchen. Back then Rorschach didn't think twice about these concessions of propriety, when he lifted his face and treated Daniel's home like it was his own. It had been a successful night, not much bloodshed but lives were saved. The pair sat, content to sip coffee as their sore muscles pulsed.
"You have any brothers or sisters?"
Rorschach shook his head in the negative before he fully realized what he was being asked.
"Me neither," Daniel's gaze was fixed inside his mug, unreadable. "I guess that's pretty obvious, huh?"
"Why do you say that?"
Daniel made a sweeping gesture around the kitchen, the action only diminished by his lack of energy. He barked out a belittling laugh towards his own surroundings. "I'm a spoiled brat."
Rorschach shrugged rigidly without reply. He wished Daniel talked less.
"Do you think there's any connection between being an only child and doing... what we do? Like," Daniel rubbed at his right eye, betraying his exhaustion and setting his glasses off-kilter. Rorschach wondered just how young he was. But he could easily find out. "I know for a fact Laurie doesn't have any siblings, or Hollis. So... maybe we're motivated to pursue this lifestyle because there was that void in our childhood. We were alone most of the time, so we had to compensate and create an imaginary presence. And the perception you have of yourself as a kid when you're an only child is blown way out of proportion. There isn't someone on your own level around you to put things in perspective. Maybe we never grow out of that."
"Don't reduce your pursuit of justice to an overactive imagination and a Superman complex. That's idiotic. Sounds like speculative pop psychology palaver from your Gazette. Trying to pigeonhole us."
Daniel stood and limped to the counter to grab the coffee pot. When he returned, Rorschach noticed he was suppressing a grin.
"There's no such thing as a happy childhood, Daniel. It's pointless to dwell on these things." Rorschach slid his mug across the table, silently requesting more.
"Not a big navel-gazer, are you buddy?" Daniel swallowed a wince as he settled back in his chair, an old injury flaming up. "I admire that. Hell, the things I dissect in my head, all the regrets I have..."
Walter jerked into the present when the strident wheel of Daniel's shopping cart came within earshot. Misery threatened to engulf him, and Walter knew he had to leave because if he was spotted at this weak moment everything would be compromised. Spectacled eyes would lift towards dead ones. Daniel would know, regard his familiar shape with interest, would approach the hideous vagrant, not ignore him like everyone else is conditioned to.
Lied to you, Daniel. In a rush, Walter tested the penny candy machines by the exit, thrusting greedy fingers in the slots for something hard, sticky, sweet. No luck. He found his doomsday sign where he abandoned it outside, propped against the trashcan. Had a brother, once.
"Tell me, Roy," the stranger lit up his next post-coital cigarette with the breeziness of someone who's too tired to keep up an act anymore. "How'd you get so roughed-up?"
Roy was too engrossed in his microwave TV dinner (which he'd specifically asked for) to answer.
"All those bruises, on your ribs, your back. You must run with a bad crowd."
Roy couldn't help but feel like he was being made fun of. Ever since he sucked the guy off, he was liking him less and less. A nuclear bite of stuffing was swallowed, leaving a numb, but not-unpleasant sensation in its wake. At least he got a hot meal out of it. "Well, they're no boy scouts, but they wouldn't beat me to a pulp or anything." None of them will notice I'm gone. "Nope. I got these badges of honor from Rorschach. About a month ago."
The stranger didn't respond, but his expression glazed over in deep curiosity.
"Henh. The freak nearly killed me! He went crazy on me, the stories are all true, man." Roy stabbed at his food with the spork to drive the point home. He continued until the neatly segregated servings were grinded together in a brown paste. "But then, all of the sudden he looks at me funny, like through his mask, I can't see his eyes but I know there's something about me that's keeping him from finishing the job. And he just. Stopped."
"Like I said, man. Someone must be looking out for me."
There was something wrong with that lost night in July. Though Walter removed its significance from the stitched spine of Rorschach's journal, other natives of the city could testify (once their memory was pressed enough) that the weather alone was unusual. Unseasonal coolness crept up the buildings and chilled flesh exposed in the shortened sleeves and hems of summer wardrobes. Sweaters were brought out of dormancy and their owners lingered outside in the false autumnal atmosphere, standing among the debris from fireworks.
Dan woke up to midnight stirring on his generally quiet block. He poked his head out of the nearest window and was surprised to find the temperature outside as pleasant as the air-conditioned brownstone. He gripped the sill as he leaned away to take in the stifling familiarity of his bedroom, from the sheets stale with his solitary sweat to the first editions artfully crammed into their shelves. Wind from the cracked window sighed around his back and pushed him into action.
Clothes, clothes didn't matter. Dan found something in the dark and threw it on, more interested in the night birding gear he hastily collected in his pack.
Spirited away to the outskirts of Central Park, Dan's mind finally caught up with him. He brought the binoculars up with a sudden jerk that jostled his glasses. Dan aimed away from the trees and strayed to the skyline above, attempting to track Rorschach and Nite Owl's patrol route from his disadvantageous field of vision.
Dan couldn't see inside the alley where Rorschach, impervious to the cool night air under his layers of uniform, pushed the peddler's head into the brick before him. Roy could feel his cheek tear, swallowing blood. He was numb to the pain. Shock stiffened his limbs, rendering him defenseless against the icon wringing the hair from his scalp.
Roy never knew such intimate violence. Rorschach lingered, he didn’t pass and go. He didn't carry a gun or a knife. These were facts Roy stored, desperately holding onto the idea that he'd survive to share this with others someday. The gloved hands were brutally efficient, bringing Roy to his knees with all the determination of a lover he'd never had.
"Puh-Please man, let-" Roy caught a scream in his throat, head slammed against the wall again. The back of his neck was seized by leather fists and he was thrown to the ground.
Rorschach cocked his head in a false show of consideration, watching as the man lay wild and shaking. His own assault felt languid; the man put up no fight, was pathetic. Clearly a patsy but still a cog in the system, deserving of reparation. He studied the concrete the dealer writhed on; it had been defiled and urinated on so many times it was lustrous in the darkness. Rorschach untangled torn hair from his fingers: Red, he noted in disgust.
Roy's sobs sounded like the reciting of some alien alphabet with short outbursts of moaning vowels. The pain was catching up to him. He held his bleeding face as the vigilante flickered like a hallucination above.
"Don't call th-the cops, kill me but don't call the cops. I can't. Just-just I’d rather die, please, you don't understand..." The torrent of pleading was interrupted when he gagged out the contents of his stomach into the palm of his hand.
Walter inexplicably recalled white, foul liquid staining the carpet of his mother's bedroom, settling into an amorphous form. His own hand grasping a horribly small, pink fist. Guiding the phantom away from the mess, moved by pity for something that never had a chance.
"Understand perfectly well," Rorschach seethed, still in the act. He kicked the begging idiot onto his back, holding him down with a heel to his clavicle. Tears and blood streamed out between the fingers that obscured his face. Rorschach discreetly pulled flexicuffs from an inner pocket and kneeled down next to the prone form. It was almost too easy.
Roy moved his hands away. Rorschach froze. Walter was peering back up at him through a sheen of bile, trembling and wincing with the anticipation of the final blow.
Rorschach couldn't breathe as he reached out to examine his own face. Tactile investigation did not break the spell, did not throw a stone into the pond's reflection. He thumbed the chin, turned the likeness left and right, opened each eye wide to see dull, unimpressed brown irises matching his own. All the while the specimen remained still, bewildered, as if programmed to fall into submission once discovered.
You can see right through me. Rorschach bit his tongue before he could ask any questions; nothing could prepare him for the answer. His hands fell away from the other man's face, defeated.
Roy only paused for a moment before bolting down the alley, sensing that against all common sense he should stay, read the inkblots and find out who this asshole was and why he was letting him go. Maybe they had more in common then they knew. But this is luck, Roy decided as he sprinted, unpursued, through traffic. This is why I'm still alive. My fuckin' guardian angel.
Rorschach was alone. In an unthinking moment he rolled up the latex to collect air, paced the length of the alley until malodorous rainwater splashed at his feet. If he looked down at his reflection in the puddle to confirm that Walter hadn't crawled out and escaped, he couldn't say he was relieved Walter remained, unaltered.
Rorschach shivered against the unexpected wind and fixed his face back into place. The only other explanation was far worse.
Maybe imprisonment wasn't such a bad state to be in. After a modest lifetime of transiency within the gray, unforgiving city he confined himself to, years of sleeping on steaming, fetid manholes for warmth under the cloak of twilight and wandering the streets by day, Roy eventually settled with good cheer into his cement cell. While this complacency only emerged after a harrowing couple of weeks of detox and existential terror, it was calming to now refer to this underground space as home, the only one he ever truly had.
A term occurred to Roy one night, when the shakes receded enough for him to burrow into the nest of his cot. He couldn't glean its precise meaning, but he'd heard it once in conversation with Calypso, an old acquaintance. She'd been talking about her friend, staring off into space with a wistful expression while a younger Roy squirmed, impatient for her to pass the joint. Apparently this friend was involved in an unhealthy relationship with some pimp, if any relationship with a pimp could be healthy, and it was bad enough the girl couldn't be out of his sight for a second. "But," Calypso exhaled, using her world-weariness as an excuse to bogart. "She loves him. I'd say she's got a bad case of that Stockton syndrome." Stockton was far away from Stockholm, but Roy recognized how the condition could apply to his current situation.
Roy spent his days in the warehouse basement. Even without drugs he was in a permanent state of disorientation. There were no bars on the single high, narrow window that offered a glimpse through cobwebs at the pavement outside. No armed guard stood behind the door, but Roy knew better than to escape. He'd made the decision long ago to ride this pony out, and, as he'd been reminded periodically, money was coming for his cooperation.
The lack of daylight was making Roy gullible. Soft.
Whenever he read the comics that were delivered to him from upstairs he skipped over the dialogue crammed into the pages. Pictures held far more interest than the mundane presence of words he never learned to read. Roy shifted in bed one morning, holding one above his prone form. His vision blurred as he ran his thumb over the flimsy paper, slowly tracing the inked contour of Superman's red cape. Red like the flag, like blood. Superman, now that guy's a hero, Roy thought. Superman had real powers and airtight morals. He didn't hide under a shifting mask; he didn't reek of death.
The door opening at the top of the steps was like release for Roy. It was a phenomenon he couldn't experience as a passive observer. He froze, propped up on his forearms with his eyes trained on the descending figure. If Roy had a tail, it would be wagging. The never-ending stream of comics, porno, and junk food paled in comparison to this man, his finest source of entertainment.
"You gonna tell me your name today? I've been callin' you Rico in my head."
As Roy spoke the other man approached, sat down on the cot. He looked absurdly overdressed as he grasped Roy's bare foot and rolled it back and forth against the bedsheets.
"Or how about tell me what exactly it is I'm gonna be doin' for all that cash?"
His thumb pressed into Roy's arch ever-so-slightly, a silent threat. "Maybe you're doing it right now," he said levelly.
Roy glanced back at the comic, forgotten on the floor where he'd tossed it moments before. "Did you know Superman can move planets?"
"You ever shoot a gun, Roy?"
A Christmas Eve tradition came in the form of a strange, elderly woman named Miriam, who darkened the doorstep of the Kovacs home to spend the subsequent week leading up to the new year. Miriam was a rundown streetwalker who'd rouged herself into an indistinguishable age. She cut a haggish figure, yet Sylvia had come to know her as somewhat of a mentor. Despite their lack of relation Walter had been coldly instructed to refer to her as Auntie Em. On his part, he never called her anything, never spoke in her presence, but looked forward to her arrival every year the way someone out of solitary confinement looks forward to a cellmate. When Miriam was around Sylvia subdued her behavior towards her son, partially because she didn't want to embarrass herself by appearing to be a bad mother, and she was too occupied with the novelty of feminine company to pay him much mind.
One year Miriam arrived while Walter was camped out on the kitchen floor, eating from a pile of ribbon candy that had been dropped unceremoniously before him by his mother in a rare act of charity. He watched as their warm embrace turned cold. Miriam drew back first with a astonished expression stark on her painted face.
"Sylvie, how could you?" She gawked at her younger friend's center, which was swollen to a greater girth than her accustomed shape. When Sylvia only covered her stomach protectively in response, Miriam pushed further, raising one finger in accusation down at Walter. "You really think you can handle another one? How selfish can you be, woman? You need to get rid of it, this ends today."
"No, no no no.This is different," Sylvia hunched over herself, a violent gleam to shining in her eyes, "This is his."
Walter didn't understand how something could be inside you if it belonged to someone else.
"Is that it, you think that prick still loves you?" Miriam shot back. "You're dumber than I thought if you think this'll make him come back. You should be ashamed. Bringing another poor, wretched thing into this world!"
Walter's attention waned as they continued to argue. He wondered over a biographical detail of his mother's friend, something he'd overheard about his Auntie Em once living in a convent, studying to be a nun. The conversation had deteriorated into sobbing. Blood from his gums filled Walter's mouth, somehow complementing the peppermint on his tastebuds. He continued to chew vigorously, blank on the dirty tile floor.
Over the next couple of months his mother continued to grow, bigger and bigger, until she seemed to take up the entirety of whatever room she stood in. Walter couldn't escape her, she was larger than life and her moans and retching haunted his already bloated nightmares.
No, going along with everything demanded of him was much more fun. Roy found it miraculous that whoever dreamed up his new home managed to fit an entire shooting range inside of it. He fired another round, proud that this time he locked his wrists like he was instructed to do and didn't wince as noticeably. He removed the earmuffs shakily and just breathed for a while, a smile splitting his features on every inhale.
"I'm impressed, Roy. Recoil's still poor but your aim's improving nicely," the other man held out his palm for the gun. Roy returned it obediently; he was a good pet. "You think you could ever hit a moving target?" He asked as he slid the weapon under his jacket.
Roy stilled, crossed his scarred arms in thought. It was exhilarating to have something so powerful at the mercy of his own unworthy hands. He was troubled by the abstract fantasy: ending a life. But the notion of fulfilling a mission was drawing him closer, making him itch to hold the gun once again. "With a few more lessons, definitely."
Walter's preemptive glances both ways before he crossed the street were punctuated by the thumping bass from a car stereo. The source zoomed past, carrying along with it the traces of an alien, excessively proud lifestyle. He offered the vehicle no more than his perennial scowl as it cut the next corner. There was no time or necessity to pursue. Walter reached his destination on the other side. Why did the chicken cross the road? "Henh."
He stopped. His gaze, calculating behind dull, drooped eyelids, was fixed downward. Human traffic split around him, instinctively avoiding contact with the creature who challenged their easy wealth with the breathing infusion of his own squalor. Walter watched his own holey shoe trace the marking imbedded in the concrete.
All that survived the routine power-washings: a broken sanguine ring.
The hunched, small shadow his form made against the afternoon sun protected the Comedian's blood. The substance lay dormant, preserved as if the man could resurrect from the dregs of himself that instant, under Rorschach's watch. After uttering a grim farewell Walter left the purged crime scene behind. The doomsday sign, the burden of his disguise, was hefted from the ground once again to rest on his shoulder. As Walter walked he shifted his right wrist closer to his line of scent and discreetly inhaled the lingering trace of Daniel's cologne.
Nostalgia. The connotations the name carried were too insipid to apply to Walter's life. If there was any time to look back on fondly, to yearn for, it was before 1975. Walter shook his head. It was a coward's trait to long for a return to blissful ignorance, idealism. Friendship.
The flesh of his broken pug nose twitched and greedily smelled more of his wrist, forgoing prudence altogether. It had no place in Walter's pathetic existence.
Daniel. He would always smell Daniel. See Daniel, in his home like before. Except now, with stiff greetings, stilted apologies, skeptical winces (pity?), shirts filled-out to stress their buttons. Walter swallowed as he grieved and tasted the day-old metallic beanjuice. Veidt's surprisingly conservative-smelling cologne didn't evoke its namesake for Walter, but it did remind Rorschach of the one person left worth saving.
All things considered, Gene's life was a relatively simple one. He worked during the day, no more bum-pay graveyard shift security job. Not anymore. Operating as a go-between for important people earned a lot more money.
Gene was your man, if you needed ride in any number of vehicles (perks didn't include his own car), it was no-problem, cash up-front. Deliveries, any size any shape. He worked hard. And like the forces command, he played hard too. Late nights at the bar with his buddies, placing bets, breaking bottles, it was the kind of life he never dreamed of before when he was a drone. A simple existence, as uncomplicated as he could manage. Whatever he enabled or assisted in was none of his business.
Engine killed, stereo off, Gene turned his attention towards the vanity mirror of the rented car and tweaked himself to respectability. With spit-moistened fingertips he shaped his mustache into a neat 'V'. A wink at himself, for good luck. He collected the envelope resting on the passenger seat and grunted his way out of the car, not for luck but out of necessity. It was a difficult maneuver for a guy his size. Gene sincerely felt the powers-that-be were making these cars smaller and lower to the ground and would continue to do so until the feet of the average driver were dragging on the street like Fred Flintsone.
Some of the meathead freight guys nodded in greeting as Gene passed by, and Gene returned the gesture out of sincere respect. The delivery was now tucked under his jacket, documents safe as he progressed through the warehouse by passage of a series of unremarkable rusted doors. He stopped once, breath short, to reorient himself. He peered at the directions he'd scribbled on a post-it, dusty from his pocket and found the entrance to the cellar moments later.
Gene opened the door to noises of male exertion, sounding not unlike his own struggle minutes earlier. The heavy man balanced on the top stair, dread pooling in his gut as he pictured what kind of stark activity was going on under the fluorescent light. Gene knew his boss had... queer tendencies, and he could very well be witnessing the guy's way of getting his kicks with the goat. He proceeded down into the basement, protecting himself with a cringe. He was relieved to find instead a solitary man performing crunches with rapid fervor in the center of the concrete floor.
At the sound of his name, the man aborted his ministrations and looked up with obedience that was downright Pavlovian. His expression fell at the sight of Gene, who was pulling the envelope out into the air.
Boss sure did a number on him, Gene thought as the man approached. Chess was practically a different person, a robust, clear-eyed version of the tramp they'd picked up in the limo only weeks ago. Some people thrived in captivity, though Gene couldn't help but think of a pop can that was incessantly being shaken, only to explode and make a mess once it was cracked open to fulfill its sole purpose. Meanwhile Chess' expression was fixed into blankness, the only betrayal of his curiosity about the contents of the delivery was the sweat that pulsed on his flat forehead.
"Chess, huh? Roy Victor, victor... of chess. You ever play the game, man?" Gene was just trying to make conversation.
Gene figured his boss could very well transform Chess into a killing machine, but nobody could change the nature of an idiot.