SENT: Monday, April 22nd, 2019 9:30 pm
SUBJECT: The Infinity Gauntlet Matter Expenses.
Dear Mr. McCallion, CFO of MetLife:
It is my pleasure to come out of retirement to assist you and your fellows on this. Here, I’ll be detailing my expenses for my investigation into what I’ve taken to calling the Infinity Gauntlet Matter .
Expense #1 : $91.00 train ticket aboard the Amtrak Vermonter #55 from Hartford to New York.
I disembarked at the Port Authority bus station, which is as delightful as I remember it. I paused to enjoy a cigarette before heading onward, finding street level and getting a car to the Avengers Tower.
Expense #2: $9 taxi fare from Port Authority Bus Terminal to Avengers Tower.
Upon arrival at the Tower, I was greeted by a double-dose of gorgeous grief in the form of Ms. Pepper Potts-Stark and Captain Steve Rogers. Rogers had the look of someone who would rather be anywhere else, frankly, and Ms. Potts-Stark seemed ready to get things over with as quickly as possible.
“Mr. Dollar,” Captain Rogers said to me, “We’d heard you were coming by.”
“That I am, Captain, ma’am,” I said to him. “I’ll try and make this quick.”
Ms. Potts-Stark nodded. “We’d appreciate that.”
The two of them led me inside, and let me just say, it has been a good long while since I was in an office building of this magnitude. Every inch of it gleamed, and yet, Mr. McCallion, it was as though a pall hung over the whole of it anyway.
Up the elevator we went, all glass and chrome, and, not really too happy with the solemnity of the proceedings, I said, “You know, they put out a comic book about you, back in the day,” to the Captain.
“You had a radio show, didn’t you?” Captain Rogers asked me, raising both eyebrows. The tension in the elevator seemed to lift, just a little.
I gave him a laugh. “Now, I can give you an autograph later, Captain, once I have all this straightened out.”
Not that I’ve really ever straightened anything out, when it came to a good-looking young man like Steve Rogers, but, well, that’s the figure of speech. It made him laugh, too, a touch, so I’ll count that a win, given the circumstances.
Soon enough, the two of them led me into a boardroom, where the remaining Avengers were all seated around a long, slender table. Can’t say I’d quite expected that , considering at least a few of them are true-blue extraterrestrials. Nonetheless, there they were, and I sat down at the foot of the table, with Ms. Potts-Stark taking the head, and the Captain the seat at her right hand.
“All right,” I said to the group of them. “I know this can’t be an easy thing to have to sit through. But this is not your usual case, even for folks in your line of work.”
“I’m not sure what needs to be investigated,” interjected Colonel James Rhodes, a.k.a. War Machine. “We all know what happened.”
I nodded, conceding the technicality there. “The basics of the situation are well-known, and I’m not going to dispute them, Colonel. But Mr. Stark’s particular insurance policy is...complicated, and MetLife wants to be sure it has to make the payout, considering the amount.”
“Fair enough,” Ms. Potts-Stark said. “Who do you think you need to talk to, in particular?”
“Whoever was closest to the event we’re presuming killed Mr. Stark,” I suggested.
“That would be me,” said Thor, God of Thunder. He looked particularly low about it, even amidst this group of griefstricken superheroes.
I nodded. “Alright, then I suppose I’ll have to talk to you first. And then Ms. Potts-Stark, as you’re the beneficiary, I’d have to discuss the matter privately with you.”
That established, the group dispersed, leaving me alone with Thor. As the others left, he looked even sadder, and I knew then that, no matter what else was going on, what had happened was not his fault. After you’ve been in the business as long as I have, you get to know some things.
I stood up. “Well, I think this place is a little clinical, don’t you?”
Thor blinked at me. “What do you mean?”
“Might be easier to talk when it’s not the only thing you can think about.” I gestured for the God of Thunder to stand up. “Might as well figure out where they make good coffee in this neighborhood, while I’m here.”
“If you’re certain…” Thor stood, and, my, he was tall. Or, maybe, I’m finally shrinking with age. Horrible thought, that.
We headed back downstairs and out of the Tower, and I could tell that Thor was struggling with what had happened.
Once we were on the sidewalk, I asked him about it. “Why do you blame yourself?”
“I didn’t kill Thanos when I had the chance. I didn’t aim for the head.” Thor’s voice was full of self-recriminations.
I didn’t quite know what to do with that, but I gave it my best college try: “Not like a thousand things weren’t going on in that fight, though. Sometimes, the exact right set of circumstances just doesn’t come together.”
“Half the universe died, Mr. Dollar. Because of my failure.”
I determined we would need something a little stronger than coffee to push the God of Thunder through this one.
Expense #3 : $100 for drinks at the Pig & Whistle on 36th and 7th.
We sat in the back corner; I figured the measure of privacy might help. “Now, take me through what happened,” I asked him, once our first round of drinks hit the table. “Not sure if you’re familiar with the idea of life insurance, but I have to make sure it’s all above-board.”
“Pepper explained it,” he replies, tipping back his whole double shot of whiskey in about a second. Poor guy clearly needed it.
But he told me, explained step for step what went down that day in Wakanda, and let me tell you: there wasn’t much I could say that would comfort you, Mr. McCallion. It all seemed pretty clear cut: Thanos was responsible for the largest mass murder in the history of the discipline.
That said, I couldn’t help but think we were missing something. Partly from the fact that folks didn’t leave so much as a scrap of body or clothes behind, and partly just a hunch.
Anyway, after finishing my drink, and Thor finished more than a few of his own, I led the God back to the Tower, only to walk into the kind of excitement I haven’t seen in years, really — a good-old-fashioned fistfight between a pair of Captains.
Captain Marvel, clad in red and blue, her hair piled atop her head, was having some words with Captain America. The nature of the argument isn’t worth relating, ultimately — they were talking past each other about duty and honor, and it didn’t really matter, just that it had come to blows.
“Steve,” Ms. Potts-Stark said, descending from several stories up in a modified Iron Man suit, “This isn’t the time. Captain Marcus is trying to help. So let her help.”
It’s clear, I’m sure, who the boss of this whole operation is, by now.
“Do you even have a plan?” Captain Rogers asked Captain Marcus, and I decided that now was the time to cut in.
“Excuse me,” I said, smoothly. “I need to talk to Ms. Potts-Stark, but I think things oughtta smooth over before she and I head inside, don’t you both?”
Captain Marcus nods, disengaging. “And who are you?”
“Johnny Dollar, freelance insurance investigator.” I offered her my hand. “And I imagine that you’re Captain Marcus?”
Her eyes widened a little. “Wait, the radio personality? My mom said she listened to your show when she was a kid.”
“One and the same,” I said to her, giving her my best leading-man smile. “Captain Rogers had a similar reaction, if I remember correctly.”
Maybe that would help, I thought, and it did.
The situation defused, Ms. Potts-Stark stepped out of her armor and led me back inside, Thor hanging back to talk to the Captains.
“I really do apologize, Ms. Potts-Stark,” I said to her, and I was sorry; it was clear she was going through more than most, and having to deal with taking a leadership role when the others were also suffering.
She shook her head, smiling a little. “No, it’s not your fault. It’s...comforting, almost, to know that someone out there is just...trying to get on with normal life.”
“Fair enough.” I nodded. “Now, the first question I have for you is maybe the hardest — are you absolutely sure the man is dead?”
“As sure as I can be,” she assures him. “We’ve been sending out scans for weeks. If he was alive, he would have heard them and responded.”
I was about to ask my next question when a huge crash shook the building. Ms. Potts-Stark armored herself, heading out the window, and so I did the next best thing and took the elevator back down to street level.
Turns out, my hunch was right. Tumbling through a series of portals were Thanos and one Mr. Tony Stark, caught in a life-or-death battle with each other.
I managed to miss what must’ve been a hell of a moment of stunned silence; by the time I was on the sidewalk, Captains Rogers and Marcus had already thrown their metaphorical hats — and Captain Rogers’ entirely non-metaphorical shield — into the ring on Mr. Stark’s side.
There wasn’t much for me to do, until opportunity came knocking. Captain Marcus blasted Thanos’ shiny golden glove right off his hand, and it happened to land just next to me.
Let it be known that age has not soured my ability to seize an adventure when it comes. I picked up that gauntlet and slid it right on.
Around me, the battle slowed to a crawl, everyone realizing what I was doing even as I realized what I could do, wearing the gauntlet. Power flooded me, such as no man has ever felt before, but more than that, I had my job to do.
The easiest way to do it, ultimately, was just to undo what had already been done. Not sure how I knew what I was doing — call it luck, or a hunch, or the glove itself guiding me, I don’t know.
I snapped my fingers.
A flash of light blasted out from me, though, curiously, I didn’t feel it at all. As the light faded, people all up and down the street suddenly realized where they were.
And none of them had been there before.
I smiled, satisfied. My job, it seemed, was done. I turned toward the Avengers, who had restrained Thanos, and saluted them with my bare hand.
“Well, that’s an impressive display,” came an unfamiliar voice behind me.
I turned, and found a man who was a dead ringer for Jeff Goldblum, dressed in a long, bright robe, clapping slowly. “That’s just delightful,” he continued. “I’m a particular fan of the golden glow.”
I looked down at myself, and sure enough, my whole body was glowing gold, and I was floating about half an inch from the street. How I hadn’t noticed it, I didn’t know.
“Just seems like the right thing to do,” I said. “Now, who might you be?”
He smirked a little, and while I try not to go for actor lookalikes, well, a man is just a man in the end. “I’m called the Grandmaster.”
His words dripped with promise.
I smirked back. “And I’m Johnny Dollar, Insurance Investigator.”
Please be sure to forward payment and reimbursal for my expenses to my niece, Joanne Dollar, as I won’t be back on Earth for a good long while.
[attachment: a photograph of Johnny Dollar alongside the Grandmaster; both look a little too much like the cat that got the cream. Dollar is wearing the Infinity Gauntlet. Between them, a very confused and bleary-looking Loki stands, holding the selfie stick they’re using to take the photo. A caption reads: ‘yours truly,’ and then Johnny Dollar’s signature, capped off with a lipstick print emoji. ]