Extensive Enterprises booked the Stingers for an in-house company party for the VIP investors and high ranking employees. The CEOs themselves had taken Eric’s call and he was able to speak with the famous Rouge twins themselves.
They even accepted his offer of the Misfits doing a pre-show performance.
Pizzazz would throw a fit about being the “opening act,” but she’d do the concert regardless. She was a smart woman and Extensive Enterprises would be her chance to get one over on Jem.
Eric sipped a brandy at his work desk, feet kicked up on the desk as he leaned back in his seat. The television played a news broadcast at low volume, filling the room with background noise. One of his bands had a gig with one of the largest and richest companies on the planet. They were so high above him, even in his most ambitious plans he hadn’t considered them an option. Eric put his glass on his drink and placed his head in his hand.
Techrat scored him that job—Techrat.
The man that never left his lab unless Eric dragged him out of it. A man who had one friend, zero social skills, and had a single-minded focus dedicated to his tech and inventions.
That same Techrat managed to not only to meet a contact with Extensive Enterprises, but kept their attention for an extended amount of time, and then convinced them to hire Stingers Sound.
Something wasn’t adding up.
Eric dropped his feet off the desk and got up, loosening his tie. He opened his office closet and pulled out his foldable cot. He unhooked the side and flattened it. Eric tossed his suit jacket over a chair and slipped off his tie.
How did Techrat do it?
He kicked off his shoes and climbed onto the cot. Eric laid back and stared at the ceiling, biting the side of his thumb as his thoughts raced. He had made the assumption that whenever Techrat disappeared into radio silence, he was hunched over a workbench in his warehouse and ignoring the phone. Had that been a mistake?
To meet a contact, Techrat would have had to leave the warehouse for something other than his usual grocery trip.
Eric felt his stomach twist.
Techrat wasn’t like Zipper or Torch and Mickey. Eric sat up and folded his hands on the back of his neck. Techrat wasn’t mindless muscle that did what Eric told him without question. He cooperated because he wanted to build machines or cause some chaos. Techrat was smart.
Lacking in common sense and clearly needed employment or he wouldn’t have come running when Eric threatened to fire him for real, but still smarter and more capable than everyone else under Eric’s employ (that wasn’t a band member—Riot and Pizzazz had their own set of goals).
Was he looking for contacts with Extensive Enterprises for himself?
“Get the Stingers hired and show off his skills,” Eric mumbled under his breath. “That would get him noticed.”
That had to be it.
Techrat had ignored Eric’s calls more often the past few months. He’d been busy and irritated more easily. The last project he’d thrown himself into had been that flying drone to ruin the Jem charity concert for the troops.
“Unacceptable,” Eric said. He threw himself off his cot and shoved the thing aside, not bothering to fold it up again. Who could sleep? Eric returned to his desk and pulled out a notebook. “I’m going to keep that man so busy he won’t have the chance to look for another job.”
And he wasn’t going near that Extensive Enterprises gig.
Cobra pressed his fingers into the eye sockets of his mask.
Even forcing Tomax and Xamot to hire him for a fancy gig hadn’t truly curbed his anger. His demands had increased and he would not stop calling until Cobra answered his call, only to receive yet another assignment that Eric wanted done.
A part of him enjoyed it.
He’d taken on the guise as Techrat specifically to get ordered around by a demanding, overbearing boss and Eric was fulfilling that role to a T. Cobra shivered in secret delight every time Eric dared to shout at him, unaware that he was lecturing a man who commanded armies.
But the other part of him also had to run the Cobra organization and that made things difficult when Eric wasn’t letting him “out of sight” so to speak. He hadn’t seen the Cobra base in a week, trapped in his warehouse knowing that Eric could show up at any moment to make a new demand for a new advertisement method or to once again try and hack into the Holograms’ main computer database.
Cobra enjoyed the second half, at least.
The Holograms’ computer held secrets that continued to escape him and one day he would figure out what they were hiding.
“You should file for a vacation,” Baroness said. She sat on the edge of the table and crossed one leg over the other. “Your little double life is giving you eye bags deep enough to see through your mask.”
“I can’t,” Cobra said. “He’s still hot over the G.I. Joes interrogation.”
“Then why are you here and not hiding in your little Techrat warehouse?” Baroness asked. She snickered and leaned back, letting her hair fall over her shoulder. “Destro is loving being in charge while you’re gone.”
“Come now, Commander,” Baroness cooed. “You know I’m teasing—if anyone is in charge while you’re gone, it’s me.”
Cobra dropped his hands and looked up. The woman was sharp and wouldn’t hesitate to throw him in front of a missile if it would save herself, but she was loyal in her own way.
Perhaps he could…share.
“Eric is supervising the Stingers and Misfits at their concert at Extensive Enterprises,” Cobra said. “He’ll be gone all afternoon, so I had a chance to check in back at base. I’m the leader of this organization! I can’t not show my face.”
“You know what I meant!” Cobra said, slamming his hands on the command table. “I don’t know what’s gotten into him. I knew he’d be mad, but I didn’t think he’d retaliate by giving me more work. If anything, he should have figured denying me work was a punishment!”
“Having nothing to do would make me bored, and I wouldn’t get paid,” Cobra said. He shook his head and sat back in the chair. “That’s the weirdest part of this all—he’s paying me for all this work. I don’t even know where he’s getting the money for it.”
“His new gig you got him?”
“That or personal funds,” Cobra said, crossing his arms. “Eric’s a cheapskate. He only hires me for what he absolutely needs. This is odd for him.”
“You did mention he was angrier than usual.”
“I’m not sure that’s all there is to it.” Cobra closed his eyes and thought about the past week. What else had been off outside of the onslaught of new projects and demands? Eric had hovered more, but that wasn’t entirely unusual. He liked to watch “Techrat” work if he was bored himself. “I’m missing something.”
“I hate to point out the obvious,” Baroness said, rubbing her fingers together. She adjusted her gloves around her hands and snorted. “But you are the head of an international terrorist organization full of well trained operatives, proficient in espionage and information gathering—why don’t you send someone to spy on on him and find out what he’s up to?”
Cobra glared. “Because I don’t want to explain why they would be following around some hack of a businessman!”
“What about Zartan? He already knows about it, doesn’t he?” Baroness hummed under her breath. “I’m sure he’s been bored with you busy and Destro would love to get him out of the base for a while.”
Cobra curled his lip under his mask. “Zartan wouldn’t be a good fit.”
Because Cobra threatened him to forget he’d ever so much as heard the name “Eric Raymond.”
“Then have fun trying to run Cobra while your boy-toy runs you ragged.” Baroness hopped off the desk and walked away, waving as she left the room. “Destro and I will be more than happy to pick up the slack and be the face of your organization while you’re hiding in a warehouse.”
Cobra slumped in his chair.
Zartan would never let him live this down.
“Who is my target again? I can’t say I’ve ever heard of an ‘Eric Raymond’ before.”
Zartan couldn’t help himself.
The illustrious Cobra leader stood in front of him, his blue mask in place and eyes narrowed behind it. His tense body and shaking fists told him everything he needed to know about the man’s patience.
But he still relished the teasing.
Cobra turned on his heel and stomped away in his polished boots. Zartan cursed under his breath and chased after him, grabbing his arm.
“Hey! It was just a bit of fun, Commander!” Zartan soothed. Cobra Commander ripped his arm out of Zartan’s hold and scowled at him. Zartan took a step back and cleared his throat. He squared his shoulders to present himself professionally. “You’re here to talk work and I’m more than happy to listen.”
“Are you?” Cobra asked. “Because what we are discussing is strictly confidential. I want your word that you won’t tell a soul about this job, not even your group of Dreadnoks.”
“A job’s a job and I will honor my contract,” Zartan said. He wasn’t the best of the best for nothing. “What do you need?”
“Find out why he’s increasing Techrat’s workload.” Cobra cleared his throat and shifted from one foot to the other, in an nervous fashion. It clearly pained him to talk about himself in the third person. “Whether he’s being petty about something, or has a new project up his sleeve he’s hiding, or whatever else—find out why and report back to me.”
Zartan licked his lip—extra work for his side job would explain their Commander’s absence around the base.
“Is there anything I should know?” Zartan asked. “Anyone who would be a bad choice for impersonation?”
“Stay away from the Stingers,” Cobra said. “That group is too close knit—even you’d have a hard time fooling them. Anyone else is fair game.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Zartan rubbed his hands together. “Now then! Let’s talk compensation for my time.”
Cobra Commander groaned but indulged Zartan’s price.
Zartan would have taken such a fun job for free, but money was money and he had a reputation to keep up. Cobra had the money and Zartan loved to take it—his own entertainment was an added bonus.
“Eric!” Pizzazz shouted, throwing open Eric’s office door. The woman’s wild hair bounced around her head as she stormed inside, putting her hands on her hips. Eric held in the groan when he saw her scowl. “We need to talk.”
He needed to get work done.
“If you’re still angry about being the opening act for Extensive Enterprises, I can’t help you. They asked for the Stingers, I gave them the Stingers and got you an in.” Eric pulled over a notebook and flipped through the pages. He had to have another job that would appease her. “I’m sure the calls will come in from everyone your group impressed.”
“Stop it, Eric,” Pizzazz said. She crossed her arms and huffed, tilting her head up. “That’s not what I’m here about.”
“It’s not?” Eric looked the woman in the eye. She glared right back with the same fire she was famous for. “Then why are you storming into my office?”
Pizzazz slammed a hand on Eric’s desk. “I want to talk about Techrat.”
Eric closed the notebook on his desk. “Then let’s talk.”
Maybe Pizzazz knew what that man was hiding.