Cobra rubbed the side of his metal mask, still wearing his helmet from the field. A medic patched his arm, quiet and cold. He worked without saying a peep like a good underling should when their leader was in a bad mood. Despite the anesthetic numbing the direct area where the bullet grazed him on his bicep, his entire arm still ached. It’d been ripped out of the socket when Destro grabbed him, pulling him out of the way of the next shower of bullets.
He supposed he should be grateful Destro bothered to assist at all. The way things had been going between them, Cobra wouldn’t be surprised if the man celebrated the chance to steal command of Cobra with his leader mowed down by bullets.
But even Destro could sense a bad situation and the need for all the help he could get.
The Joes hadn’t pulled a single punch in their last battle, giving themselves the victory. They were too tired, too frustrated, and too strained after chasing Cobra and his army through the city that housed his latest plan to show mercy.
The miscalculated shot that took out the side wall of a hospital hadn’t helped their mood, either, and motivated the group to fight harder than Cobra’s soldiers.
“Careful!” Cobra screeched when the doctor tightened the bandage. “Watch what you’re doing or I’ll have you thrown in the stockades for a month!”
“Yes, sir,” the medic said, lowering his head. “It won’t happen again.”
Cobra huffed and returned to his thoughts. It was the Joe’s fault the shot had been off! They’re the ones that fired at the weapon’s operator, scaring him into falling backwards on the control panel. If they’d surrendered like they were supposed to, then that stray shot would have never hit the building!
He wasn’t opposed to destroying a hospital or two if it meant he’d win the war, but only when it benefitted him. Kill too many civilians and even the Cobra army might start to question what they were doing or who they’d declared their loyalty.
Not everyone had a ruthless, cold heart.
Cobra’s phone rang, the shrill sound cutting through the quiet medical tent.
Speaking of cold hearts, Cobra pulled the device out and stared at the “Boss” that appeared on the caller I.D. screen next to a small message that he had twenty missed calls over the past few hours.
He’d lost a battle with the Joes, lost his newest headquarters location, and now Eric was mad at him.
“Get out and leave me be,” Cobra said, pulling his arm back from the medic. It was patched enough. “I have a private call.”
Cobra waited for the medic to leave the small tent before he answered. “What do you want, Eric? I’m busy!”
“Ah, so you are alive,” Eric said, his voice strained. “Minx is convinced you’re dead in a ditch somewhere.”
Cobra’s head hurt. He wanted to go to bed and forget the past day happened, not discuss Minx’s imagination. “What are you talking about?”
Eric didn’t answer for a minute.
“Well? Spit it out!” He didn’t have the patience to deal with the other man. Cobra wanted to go to bed and forget the day happened. “I don’t have time for your whining or stalling. Say what you want or hang up.”
“You’ve been missing for two weeks and haven’t answered anyone’s calls,” Eric said, snarling into the phone. Cobra stared at the screen and the small call timer ticking. He’d remembered a call or two the past week, but he’d ignored them like usually when he was away on Cobra business. The Joes required all of his attention and he didn’t have time to play with the music company. Eric huffed into the line and continued his lecture. “I’m used to you ignoring my calls, but you didn’t answer Minx either.”
“I was busy.”
Cobra refused to feel guilty. He played games with Eric and the other bands and used him as an unwilling stress relief. World domination was his top priority and everything else could take second place.
“Look, Techrat. I know you like to run off and do your own thing and ignore calls from time to time, but it’s never been for more than a couple days,” Eric said. “If you’re going to be gone that long, you need to tell someone. Minx has been worried sick and couldn’t perform last night.”
If the Stingers didn’t perform, Eric lost money. No wonder he sounded cross, but Cobra could not bring himself to care about the man’s small problems when he had a bullet wound on his own arm.
“Let me make something clear, I may work for you, but it’s on my terms and my time,” Cobra said. “If I want to disappear for a week or two, that’s my business. Minx needn’t concern herself with my whereabouts.”
“Tell her that,” Eric snapped. He raised his voice and demanded, “Call her back tonight or you won’t be working for me at all. Breaking Zipper out of jail is becoming more and more appealing if you’re going to continue and pull this disappearing act on a regular basis. And another—”
Cobra hung up the phone.
Eric needed to take lessons from Destro if he wanted to threaten someone. The man’s words had had no bite to them when they both knew he’d never find another eccentric scientist willing to put up with his shady business practices.
Techrat was irreplaceable.
“Zipper, hah.” Cobra shoved his phone in his pocket after silencing the next call and left the medical tent. He saw his second-in-command waiting for him on the other side of the door. “Baroness.”
“Sir,” she replied, falling into step. “We have the reports for the final inventory after the battle. Shall we go over it on the trip back to base?”
Cobra climbed into their transport and let the woman’s word’s fill his mind with numbers notating their losses. He’d deal with Eric and the others later when his fury for the Joes subsided to a dull roar.
“That rat hung up on me!” Eric shouted, standing in the middle of his office. He growled at the device and slammed his hand on the table. “When he gets back, he is going to regret that. I’m going to make him Pizzazz’s personal servant for a month!”
Eric sucked in a breath and forced himself to calm down.
Techrat was alive and well enough to be a brat.
That was good enough.
He pulled up his contact list and scrolled down until he found the name he wanted. Eric dialed and spoke before the other party could answer. “I got Techrat to answer and told him to call you. If he doesn’t, that’s on him.”
Eric left out the part where it took twenty straight calls to annoy the man into picking up his phone.
He was half surprised the man hadn’t just turned the thing off, but he was a tech addict.
“Is he well?” Minx asked. “Did he tell you what happened?”
“He’s well for now, but he won’t be when I get my hands on him,” Raymond said. He huffed into the speaker and shook his head. “So I suggest you talk him into apologizing for hanging up on me when he calls you.”
If Techrat called her.
The way he sounded on the phone, Eric would give it a fifty-fifty chance the man called Minx to let her know he was alive.
“I will do that,” Minx said. “Though there may not be much left after I’m done with him first. How dare he worry me!”
“Have at him.” Eric took a seat behind his desk and put his palm over his forehead. “Be on time for your practice tomorrow as well. I don’t want to hear Riot complaining again.”
“How awful for you.”
She hung up the phone after him and he set it aside on his desk. Eric folded his fingers together and stared at his office door in the dim light. Techrat had a tendency to disappear for days on end, but never for as long as he had.
He never ignored Minx’s calls, no matter how “busy” he claimed to be.
“Just what are you up to?” Eric spun in his chair and looked outside the window. The city buzzed outside beyond him with people running around tending to their business and hopefully buying a Misfits album. Was Techrat out there somewhere? Or had he gone further away? Eric didn’t know where the man ent when he disappeared. It had never bothered him before, but—No. He didn’t care. “This better not be a regular thing.”
He had a feeling Techrat knew he was bluffing when he said he’d get Zipper back from jail.
“You better have a good excuse for your disappearing act!” Minx screamed through the phone. Cobra covered his ears through his cloth mask and winced as he jerked away from the speaker. “I can not believe you!”
“Lower your voice,” Cobra said. “I have the worst headache, Minx.”
“Poor baby,” Minx said. Her voice had a sneer to it that sounded like it belonged to Rapture. Minx tended to treat him with more kindness, though that was on days he hadn’t blown her off for two weeks. Minx continued her onslaught of questions, barely stopping to take a breath. “Where are you? Why didn’t you pick up the phone? When are you getting back?”
“None of your business, I was too busy to answer, and I don’t know,” Cobra said. He collapsed onto his bunk and pulled off his mask. The Joes continued to be the pests they were and were watching the area closely. Cobra and his army couldn’t afford to leave their hiding place yet, or they’d lose even more. “I’m fine.”
“Are you in trouble?” Minx asked, her voice turning softer. “I know Raymond is an unreliable idiot, but myself and the Stingers can get things done if you need help. Riot used to be in the army, you know!”
Cobra snorted and cracked a smile.
The Stingers versus the Joes. What a sight that would be! They’d never know what hit them when the rock band showed up with their flowing hair and flashy outfits to fight in the dirt and mud.
Maybe it’d give them pause long enough for Riot to be useful in one way or another.
“I am not in trouble, I just…took some time for myself,” Cobra said. He stared at the clock and closed his eyes. “And I am going to bed. I will call you when I return.”
“You had better.” Minx paused. He heard a chair creak on the other end. “We were worried, you know. Even Eric kept asking me if I’d heard from you.”
“Yes,” Minx said. She huffed over the line and Cobra shifted on his mattress. “He tried to hide his worry by complaining he had work for you, but he was fidgety. I could tell he was worried.”
“So you had better not pull a stunt like this again,” Minx said. She sucked in a breath and shouted, “And you’re fixing my synthesizer when you get back!”
Minx hung up the phone, leaving Cobra alone to his thoughts.
“Worried. Eric Raymond?” Cobra scoffed and threw his phone on the other side of the bed. It bounced on the stiff mattress and he covered his eyes with his arms. “Nonsense.”
That man only knew how to take care of himself.
Like the Stingers only cared about the Stingers.
Like Destro and the Baroness looked out for their own interests.
The way Cobra looked out for himself.
Although, Minx did care about “Techrat.” She may have considered considered the like-minded tech genius as one of her own, creating an exception. But there was no possible way she was right about Eric.
“She must have been projecting her own worry,” Cobra said. He sat up again and pulled out his uniform, preparing for bed. “Nothing more.”
He set the alarm for the morning meeting and went to bed praying the Joes gave up their search sooner than later.
If he went missing another week, Minx might actually try and hunt him down.