“‘You can’t actually network with homeless people, Spider. That’s dumb. That only works in cheesy detective shows.’ Well, look who’s laughing now. It’s me. I’m the one laughing now. Haha.”
Mr. Nichols gives me a weird look, but I don’t mind it. Because A) I was totally right, this was an awesome idea, and B) I finally got the break I need on this little ‘case’. So, I grin behind my mask, and hand Mr. Nichols his share of the bounty. ‘The bounty’ in this case being a styrofoam container full of soup.
“Seriously though. Thanks for the tip.”
“Don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.” The old man grunts, snatching the soup out of my hands and trundling back to his little cardboard lean-to. Mrs. Ramsey, at least, offers a ‘thank you’ as I throw a web-line at the nearest fire-escape, and ‘Johnson’ actually waves. I might have taken a second to appreciate it more, if I wasn’t already in the process of jump-spin-yanking myself into the air.
“He acknowledged my existence!”
And wow, do I have some low standards. Is that a bad thing? Maybe.
Wait, that’s the corner ahead. ‘Not far’ was right. Okay. Time to hit the rooftops.
Three guys. A manager on duty and two meatheads acting as security. Pretty generic, all told, but...the goon on the right has a tattoo poking up from his shirt collar. Right shape. Right colors. Mr. Nichols has sharp eyes.
So. One definite target, two incidentals. I’ll probably leave at least tattoo-man conscious, but maybe the manager too? Multiple sources can only be useful, right? Right.
So goon on the left gets a foot to the face from five stories up. Minus some momentum bled off with a webline, because no matter what anybody (CoughJamesonCoughcough) says, I’m not actually all about that murder. A quick thwip thwip pastes him to the asphalt, just in case his head is harder than it felt, and then-
“What the fuck!?”
“It’s the Spider!”
Wow, manager guy is on top of things. He’s almost got his gun out, too. “You know who I am!” Web the gun, yank. It comes loose immediately, flying up, over my shoulder. “I feel so validated!” Another pull swings it back around, where it smacks tattoo guy in the stomach. Hard.
So hard, in fact, he doubles over to vomit all over the ground. Which is eww.
“Oh my God, I’m sorry!” Can’t focus on that, though, because the manager’s recovered. Wading in swinging. I catch (like I was taught), twist (like I’d practiced), and toss the guy headlong into the nearest dumpster. “I didn’t think that would happ--oh that’s so gross!”
More webs. Web the manager down, web queasy-guy’s hands to his knees. Seems like he’s done evacuating his stomach, so I jump, and flip, and come down behind him. Catch him by his collar to haul him back a few steps and put him on his ass.
And that’s that. Baddies disarmed but still conscious. Great.
“Hey, do you need some water or something?”
“Right, sure, I don’t have any, anyway.” I shrug and hop up to the nearest clear section of wall. It takes a second to get my phone out, but then I’m snapping pics and dialing the cops. “So hey, I figure you guys got about ten minutes before somebody comes by to check out your totally legit back-alley setup here-” Including open duffel bags full of saran-wrapped white. Which, you know, classy. Not ridiculous or stereotypical at all. “-but in the meantime, does anybody feel like sharing?”
Vomit-shoes curses me out a little bit, which is about what I could have expected. But manager looks curious. “Sorta sharing?”
I grin again, tucking my phone away and giving the guy a thumbs up. “I’m so glad you asked.” That said, I ‘stand’, walking sideways along the wall until I can look ‘up’ at the guy directly. “Let’s talk about home base.”
‘Home base’, it turns out, is an old factory complex on the river. Which is...wow. “How the heck does a street gang warrant a cooler hangout than an honest, hard-working vigilante? And come to think of it, how is it that they can operate out of a place like this without anybody noticing?” Because we’re not exactly in the middle of nowhere, here. “All good questions. I’ll have to ask the guy in charge.”
Once I get in and find him, of course. That comes first.
The outside is quiet, all smokestacks and tangles of pipes, but I can make out at least two lookouts tucked away on shadowy catwalks. They’ll have to go first. Then I can play it by ear. No big. That’s how I do my best work, anyway.
“You got this, Spidey.” I pop up from from my perch; the edge of a building that just-so-perfectly overlooks the place. “Big night. Big bust. You da man.” A couple steps back. A pair of weblines secured on the sturdy brick. A few more steps back, tension building. “Aaannnd-”
Flinging myself headfirst out into the void is still a heck of a thing.
As the world turns around me, the factory comes into sharper view. I see the lookouts, three guys, not two. Too high to land as I am; I twist in the air to adjust, to orient, to latch a fresh line onto a smokestack and turn my flight into a nearly-horizontal swing. It takes a bit to kill momentum, but after a couple of revolutions (and some completely intentional flailing) I drop from stack to pipe to catwalk.
A successful infiltration, if I do say so myself.
“Stealth mode, activate. Bwee-yoooo.”
The lookout standing maybe ten feet behind me turns just in time to take a Spider to the knee. And then the jaw. And then he’s covered in webs and won’t be alerting any of his friends hopefully.
“Note to self: make adjustments to ‘stealth mode’.”
The lookout groans. I sigh, and get back to work.
“What the f-”
“Go to sleep.”
“Somethin’ weird is goin’ on. Frank! Jimmy! Get your shit together, we’re gonna check on the boys upstairs!”
“You guys need radios or something.”
“I’m not spilling my guts to some circus freak that runs around in fucking spandex.”
Wow, spandex jokes. I gasp, make a big show of looking down at my trusty old red-and-blues. “Hey, do you have any idea how many people can’t pull off ‘spandex body-sock’? Huh? Let me tell you, it’s most people.” I pause, rocking on my heels for a couple seconds. Then, I hop up on the heavy desk that takes up most of the office. Crouch there, cocking my head at the guy webbed up in his little swivel chair. “Plus, seeing as you and your guys have a strange and unnatural affinity for tracksuits, I don’t think you have much room to talk. And don’t even get me started on the gold chains. I mean, really?”
Yeah, that goes over well. Big bossman doesn’t say another word. Which is fine.
“Oh no! Stony silence and a disapproving glare! It’s so intimidating, I might just have to run away and never come back!”
Still nothing. Bleargh. “Look, I’m gonna level with you; I’m only here to rifle through your rolodex. Tell me where you keep your important files, your ledgers, whatever, and I’ll leave you and your little buddies to the cops.”
The guy snorts. “Oh yeah, tough guy? And what if I don’t?”
“Oh god please don’t please please-AAAaaaaaaaaaAAAAHHGH, FUCK!”
“You know, I was never really got why people liked yo-yo’s so much, but I gotta say this is pretty fun.”
“You’re a goddamn lunatic! Lemme go!”
“Well, since you asked so nicely…”
“WaitwaitwaitwaitWAIT NOOOOoyouffffucKING PSYCHO!”
“Maybe I should try some tricks next. Don’t think I could ‘walk the dog’ with this setup, but maybe an ‘around the world’? That’s supposed to be pretty easy, I think-”
“I’ll talk, I’ll talk, just fucking let me down, you fucking psychopath.”
“First, apologize for insulting the spandex.”
“SON OF A biiiiiii-”
The boss talks, of course. Tells me aaallll about their little computer lab down in the bowels of the factory. Apparently even guys like this are getting wise to the internet and all the wonders it provides. Supplementing their drug operations with 419 scams, sales fraud, and friggin’ gold farming.
Seriously, if they weren’t a bunch of scumbags, I might actually be impressed. It’s like a renaissance of petty crime. Diversification at its best. Worst?
Either way, it isn’t important anymore. I know where to find what I’m after, and once I have it I’ll call the cops in to break this operation into teeny-tiny little pieces. A heck of a good deed.
“And a great way to spend a Saturday night,” I gripe, padding down another set of stairs that creak ominously beneath me. “Getting out, seeing the sights. Of all the things I could be doing right now…”
Well, a dilapidated factory isn’t actually the worst place I’ve had the chance to explore. Heck, if I’d brought my camera I’d probably stop to get a few good shots. It’s too bad I probably won’t be able to come back for a little while. What with the place being a crime-scene in the making.
Oh, okay, there’s the door. Lights on inside. When I stop to listen (to really listen, eyes closed and breathing slow) I can tell there’s somebody inside. Creaking chair. Clicking keys.
I take a deep breath. Bounce back a couple of steps.
Then kick the door in with enough force to send it flying.
I was hoping for surprise or shouts or something, but instead the guy hogtied ass-up in the middle of the walkway just snores and oh shit-
A webline diverts that door into the nearest wall instead of the apparently useless guard. Because, c’mon. “Okay, uh...sleepover. That’s cool. Late night LAN party?” I hop to the ceiling. Better visibility.
There has to be at least half a million dollars worth of equipment in here. How long has this place been running? And why do I not have a bad feeling about all of this? I mean, there’s still someone in here, typing away. Behind...an absolute mountain of stuff. Some of it’s tech; mismatched computers and a surprisingly high end server tower. But then there’s a box of documents threatening to spill loose, a couple bags of that ‘mystery powder’, and what has to be a gallon ziplock of counterfeit...diamonds.
“Seriously, Spider?” The irritation is as familiar as the voice. It’s Cat (because of course it is). She’s somehow been here long enough to clean the place out (because of course she has).
“I’m more of Jokey-Spider. Wanna hear my standup routine?” She groans, but still hasn’t looked away from the screen. “It’s mostly knock-knock jokes.”
I drift down on a web line, turning my attention to the screens laid out in front of her. It looks like she’s deleting security footage, at least on one display. The other’s migrating files. “Knock-knock.”
It seems Cat’s found what she’s after. She hits the spacebar and my voice plays back, “Stealth mode, activate. Bwee-yoooo.”Apparently Cat has jokes too. It’s a bit weird watching myself from the grainy off-angle of a security camera.
“I think that’s my new ringtone, so, thanks for that.”
“I aim to please.” And I can’t believe they’ve actually got a security system that’s wired for sound. At least she’s enjoying herself, I guess? “So what’s with ye-olde loot bags? I can make you a backpack, you know.”
“In those colors?” Cat arches a brow, spinning in her office chair to face me. “Pass.”
“My other suit’s at the dry cleaner.” She has a little flash drive in her hand. It’s black, because if nothing else Cat certainly understands consistent branding. “I thought you were busy tonight.”
“I am.” She huffs. “I thought you had nothing planned?”
“I didn’t!” I hold up my hands in mock-defense. “I got a guy, you know, on the streets. Gave me some real good intel.”
Her cat eared headband is askew. Did she have to do any fighting, coming here? The guy on the way in didn’t seem to indicate as much. I adjust, smoothing her hair as I puff up my chest a bit. “Yep. So I came in, dispensed some justice. Figured I’d crack the whole place open before dinner, you know.”
God she’s merciless. “Right, well, you’re lucky I was here, because this uploads offsite.” A gesture at the rapidly wiping security files. There’s a file uploading, too.
“Working on it.” She spins, and I catch a faceful of silver hair. Cough.
“Okay, Pantene. So, uh, Did Mister Nichols give you the intel here, or…?”
“Ohho-ho. The shoe is on the other foot, now. It is I that has sources.”
“Did you get a tip from the pizza guy again?”
“I could go for some pizza.”
“What, there’s not takeout in your bag of goodies, there?”
“All they had in the fridge was vodka and week-old kimchi.”
“You raided their fridge?”
“My lunch date flaked.”
“That was very rude of them.”
“I’m sure they had very important things to do.”
“You’re not gonna let that one go, huh?”
“I’ll treasure it always.” Cat’s smirking now, as she pulls up another folder, but the expression goes brittle as she clicks through it. Pictures, mostly women, and girls. Dates, and-
Yep. Those are prices.
My Spider-Sense buzzes a warning as Cat takes a deep breath and offers the flash drive over her shoulder. I take it, and while I’m at it I bundle up her bag of loot too. Drop to the floor to get a better look at things.
“Some of those are local.” Some of them are next week. “Say, what are you up to next Friday night?”
She looks up at me. Her goggles are recording, the polarized lenses glowing in eerie LED green. (And that had not been easy to get working right). “Working. You?”
“Same.” She touches my shoulder wordlessly, then stands up.
“Alright. I got a spin class later, so-”
“Oh, yeah, wouldn’t want you to miss leg day.” Because obviously the sudden urgency has nothing to do with the fleet of cars pulling up on camera one. “You get cranky.”
“Sure do, Spider.” She’s heading out on foot. I’d kind of expected a vent crawl, but she’s really just speed-walking up the stairs. Toward open doors, where there’s already some orders being shouted.
Three cars full of guys, that makes about...fifteen of them, maybe? Armed and sweeping the place with flashlights. I almost feel sorry for them.
I mean, not that sorry. Like, just sorry enough that I take a minute to lug Cat’s goods out the nearest window before dropping in. Give them a little time to think they might have a snowball’s chance, facing off against one pissed off ‘concerned citizen’.
Of course, then-
“Hey, is this a private party, or can anyone join the beatdown!?”
Yeah. This wouldn’t take long.
(Probably better than a lunch date. Right?)