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"Yeah. My grandmother once told me that a you never catch anything alive with dynamite. We gotta keep this quiet, and the fewer that know about this, the better." Robin knew that a lot of her grandmother's saying were weird, but they seemed to be oddly fitting for a lot of the things she was experiencing as Justice.

 

So, the plan was set. She had to get out some leads, try and figure out where exactly Amber was staying. If she was in hiding, or if she was being paid off... heck, if she was even alive at all! It would hopefully not be that bad, but if not, they would have to go for the accountant.

 

Hopefully Jackson would be able to keep the protest going for a bit, so they could take the time they needed.

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GM

 

The next day, the next evening...

 

It took some questions, a little cash, and even, in one case, the promise of a stuffed parrot, but Justice managed to work through the sleazy bars, hustlers, hobos, and (in the case of the last item) the slightly insane. Amber was singing tonight in some crumbling venue called The Shuffled Deck where a drunken band played to a bunch of poker players. It was, predictably, popular with crooks and villains. Including...

 

...yes. By unfortunate (or perhaps fortunate) coincidence, Blowfish (and bodyguards) had arrived to drink and play. 

 

Justice stood in the shadows outside, scanning the building. Its security was mediocre architecturally, but it was fairly clear that with this kind of venue, with this kind of customers, guns and knives would be present. Although it seemed, from her questioning, that the "private room" where the high steaks were played (on the upper floor), no weapons were allowed. Bar fists. 

 

Amber sang there on and off. She was a reasonable singer, above average even. But her increasing use of alcohol had diminished her reliability and even, her performace. From what Justice could glean, she was getting increasingly erratic and desperate. 

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The stuffed parrot had not been easy to find, but Robin had managed. She still wasn't sure quite how. It had taken a lot of work, but she had managed to go through the leads that the Wall and Kidd had dug up, gone from person to person, and now, she was finally standing here, outside the Shuffled Deck. Getting all ready to try and find Amber inside. She was just about to enter.

 

And then she had spotted Blowfish and his guards arriving. Great. Her only advantage here was that Blowfish had no idea who she was, with or without the mask on. The question was whether he would try and get to Amber before Robin did, especially with the rumors about her getting erratic and desperate. She couldn't allow that to happen, right?

 

So, focus. She could probably bring the Justice Buster with her, but that was just part of her arsenal, right? She had managed to bring the improved Justice Driver along, and since it just seemed like a fashionable belt... well, that would be easy to bring along.

 

So, mask off. Robin didn't like the idea of going in like that, but it was necessary right now. She didn't really frequent these kinds of places, so she honestly had no idea how to dress. A pair of jeans, a nice shirt, which showed more cleavage than she was honestly comfortable with (it had been a joke gift from a friend), and for once didn't have any logos on. A fake mole under her eye, make that the focus. A small jacket, so she could hide the Justice Buster under it. She approached the door, getting in line to enter.

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There was a variety of gossip in the line, none of it particular pertinent. Amber was apparently beautiful, ugly, talented, and talentless all at the same time. The only persistent unchallenged comment was she was drunk. The rest of the band attracted the same mix of comments. It was clear that many here just came to gamble and drink and didn't care what the music was, as long as it was quiet. 

 

"20 Dollars" was the demand of the doorman, a very large man in black tie who sported a broken nose. Unfortunately, he had a very high pitched voice which was quite incongrous. He looked like he would rip the throat out of anyone who mocked him about it. 

 

Through the door, Justice could hear the sounds of Jazz and conversation, the smell of alcohol and sweat. It looked like she would be searched on her way in; a cursory pat down which would probably reveal nothing. As she understood it, it was the private room that had the tight security. The initial pat down at least meant that those inside were not armed with assault rifles or shotguns. Kidd would have been most upset. 

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"Sure, no problem." Good thing Robin had come prepared. She didn't have a lot of cash to throw around, but if she wanted to stop Blowfish, then that was what she had to do. Digging the cash out from her wallet, she had it over to the doorman, a wide smile on her face. "Here you go, sir." She had been taught to be polite in a situation like this. So she was.

 

The patdown probably discovered the Justice Buster, but it looked almost like a toy, so he probably didn't care about that. And it wasn't anything big, so hopefully, he would let her through. While waiting, for the patdown, she peered inside. She could hear the music, she could hear the voices. Didn't sound like Amber was on stage yet, so maybe she could make it backstage before then. If they would let her, at least.

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GM

 

Politeness was not a universal currency in such places, but it certainly did no harm. With a flick of an eyebrow, Robin was beckoned in. She got a pat down - rather cursory, even lazy - but the Justice buster was sufficiently small and concealed to avoid detection. 

 

Given the look of the place inside there was probably more than one handgun in the joint. Probably more than a dozen, to be more accurate. People were playing cards left right and centre, with others just drinking whiskey or vodka. There was a smell of ingrained nicotine and spilled alcohol. 

 

Amber was singing along with a bass, drums, and keyboard. They looked rather bored, or even lazy, but they could play reasonably well, to the occassional polite applause. Amber was probably thirty years old, and looked ten years older. Her hair and makeup looked like she had done them herself, whilst drunk. And drunk she was. 

 

Her hair was however a lovely rich red, and her eyes dark and smokey. She had a kind of beauty that was treading with determination towards premature ruin. Her voice was fairly skilled, but again with a rasp and slur of heavy drinking. All in all she had a certain charm, in that devil may care attitude, but she looked, underneath, scared and empty. 

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There she was! Robin concealed a great big grin as she spotted Amber up on the stage, singing along to the music. She seemed pretty out of it, but maybe Robin could get to her anyway. She hoped she could, at least. 

 

Moving through the crowds, and doing her best to avoid any games and alcohol, if she was offered so, Robin found herself standing as close to the stage as she could, simply staring up at Amber. This close, Amber looked scared. Almost hollow. Kidd and the Wall was probably right about her being caught up with Blowfish, and that had to be a huge problem.

 

Moving away from the stage, hoping to avoid too much attention, Robin looked around, trying to find the backstage area, while keeping an eye on Amber. She had to get to her as soon as she got off the stage.

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Brapadapadum pdum tish! finished the band in a lazy paradiddle movement. There was polite applause, some of it even genuine, but few if any took their eyes of the cards. 

 

"Weeerrr going to take a quick break fffolks!" smiled Amber to the crowd giving them a wave. She staggered off in high heels and alcohol, which combined made her most unsteady. The band followed, and didn't look entirely sober themselves (although they had, at least, normal heels). 

 

The backstage was just to the left of the stage. It was not, as far as Robin could see, unguarded, but it was somewhat exposed. There might, of course, be other ways in - the kitchens? the fire escape? the ventilation system?

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Ow. Amber was really out of it. Her voice was completely slurred, she was stumbling around on high heels (Robin hated wearing those things herself, but she could guess it was a requirement for a job like Amber's). So, Robin watched as they left, and turned towards the backstage, which was of course not unguarded.

 

I really gotta figure out how to make a stealth field for the suit It would make things much easier, wouldn't it? Going in that way, Robin would probably get turned away. It wasn't like she would expect someone to just be let in to see the talent like that, short break or not. This wasn't some boyband concert, after all. She shuddered a bit at the thought of that. She'd never attended, but she had heard stories.

 

So, another path would have to be found! She looked around. Going through the ventilation system might be an option. Very old school action movie, but she knew it would much more noise and be much more cramped than in those movies. The kitchen? Too many to see her. Fire escape it was, then. It was probably all connected, if the building was up to codes. So, trying to be as inconspicous as possible, Robin started making her way towards the fire escape.

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The Shuffled Deck was a bit of a maze, when it came down to it, but Robin could work out the angles for the most part. The difficulty was first not being noticed, but given most people were nursing drinks or cards (or, often, both) nobody was paying a whole heap of attention. So far, so good. 

 

The fire escape ran from the basement to the top floor, and judging by the way Amber had keeled off, she was probably near the bottom (figuratively as well as literally). 

 

And here was the seccond problem. Locks!

 

Sure, she could blast the door down with a few shots from the justice blaster - but it would make a sound. The locks were not exactly high calibre, but they were still locks - and barred her way up and down the escape...

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Grandmother once said to always bring hairpins. Guess I know why. 

 

The locks on the fire escape took a bit of work, but with a bit of tinkering, she managed to make it through, and slip out, hopefully with nobody any wiser. It really would be best if she wasn't spotted, especially by Blowfish and his crew. First thing she did once outside was ditch the fake beauty mark (safely hidden in her wallet) and put on her mask. Not a big thing, but better than nothing, right? So, she moved up the fire escape, until she found the window to the room that Amber and the rest of the band were staying in. Robin could see the booze being passed around. Great.

 

So, she snuck in through the window, moved closer to Amber, and whispered. Hopefully, she wouldn't scream. Robin really hoped she wouldn't. "Hey, can we talk for a moment? I'm a big fan."

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"Whhhhrrr?" mumbled Amber, in the middle of untangling her hair with limited efficacy. 

 

It was close run thing between her being to sleepy to do anything but mutter, and to disinhibited to do anything but shout. So far, however, it looked like Justice's luck was holding. 

 

"Of course....darling..." she muttered again, doing her make up with clumsy hands. "I love to meet fanssss. But no funny stuff. Unless you are paying for kisses!"

 

Her eyes clearly showed dolls eye movement. 

 

"Ill putsch my best lipstchtick on for that hehe hehe!" she giggled, and hiccuped. 

 

"I like a bit of exshitement. Mysterious voice in the shadows!" she smiled. 

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Huh, no screaming or yelling. That was nice. Even if Robin could totally smell the alcohol on Amber's breath even from the short distance away. 

 

The way she was talking was a bit much. Robin was really not into the idea of kissing someone like this, so not that big a fan, she supposed. "Ah, that's... fine. Just wanted to make sure you're alright and everything."

 

Mysterious voice in the shadows? Bit long a name, but hey, she could roll with that. "I saw a guy in the crowds tonight. I think he goes by Blowfish. I heard you two have some history, so I wanted to check up on you." Again, going for the long shot here. They had history, but what exactly were the current relationship? Robin guessed she was about to find out.

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"Ssure honey, I'm schwell!" she drawled. But Robin could see her hold her head in her hands and tears smudging her make up. "How did I get here?" she asked, voice cracking. 

 

"Blowfish...he's a sweetheart, really....well...he's sweet on me!" she said, half succeeding in pulling herself together, but her eye makeup was now a mess. 

 

"Thinks I'm damaged goods, I sshupose" she whispered, again locked in melancholia. "Probably I am...but he used to be sweet on me, made shure I got this job after Mexico...made shure I....keep my mouth shut...."

 

She leaned forward to the mystery voice. 

 

"You be careful of him, y'hear? He's bad news! If you knew what I knew...." she said with a violent shudder....

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If you knew what I knew.

 

Yeah, Amber certainly sounded like she knew some things. Enough that Blowfish wanted her to keep her mouth shut, and if he had been in love with her at some point (or maybe just in lust, but Robin wasn't about to try and make any guesses there), then that was maybe why Amber was still breathing at all.

 

"That's... kinda another reason that I'm here." Robin admitted. No point in lying here, even if Amber was scared of Blowfish. Or rather, maybe no sense if lying, because Amber was scared of Blowfish. Was this what it was like outside University Hill? Robin had seen so much already since she had first put on the Justice Driver. If this was what it was always like outside the safety of her home, then she needed to do more.

 

Robin resolved herself in the shadows. Alright, then. "Me and a few others, we're trying to expose Blowfish. Get something on him that we can throw at him in public, force him into a conflict and stop him. So please, whatever you know, tell me. I promise I will help you, and I will stop Blowfish."

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"Yer trying to expoje Blowfisjh?" mumbled Amber, almost letting a glint of hope in her eye for a second. "No...no...." he added, looking away as fear kicked in. "You dont know what he can do...." she shook her head. 

 

"He'll kill you. And do worsh to me if I open my big mouth. Only shinging he wantsh me doing izsh on  the shtage!" she said, and to drum home her point she took another swig of whiskey. It was a miracle she was still upright, let along singing. And a few more months her skin would probably turn the colour of a banana from liver failure. 

 

"What maksh you think you can fight Blowfish anyhow?" she said, interested, again letting that spark of hope illuminate. "Hesh got more gunsh and tough guysh than I can count!"

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What made Robin think she could fight Blowfish? A good question, really. She was out of her depth here, she admitted that much. She'd dealt with monsters, but not organized crime like this, that was something different, right? She had backup here, if she could trust the Wall and Detective Kidd to have her back, or just to not start fighting each other. 

 

So, what made Robin think she could fight Blowfish? Or rather, what did Amber need to hear from her? Was that it? Inspire others, right? That was part of being a hero. Right?

 

"Because I'm Justice. I'm a super hero. And trust me, I got all kinds of tricks that Blowfish has never dealt with before. There's a lot of people that want to stop Blowfish, but we need your help to take him down. We need to get some dirt on him, something to expose him." Robin paused for a moment, waiting for Amber's answer. This was the first time she had used her chosen code name like that, she realized. Others might have done it, but it still felt a bit weird, like a chill running up Robin's spine. 

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"Ah...ah Superhero?" she asked, her hope beginning to smoke and catch alight. She almost sobered up t the thought. "....I can help. Just don't hurt him...."

 

It appeared that in the tangled mess of her brain she had somehow developed a strand of love for Blowfish. Only a strand. 

 

"...and you got to protect me!" she hissed, still afaraid. "I got dirt on him, per-lenty of dirt on him. Murder. Extortion. Blackmail. Intimidation" she said. "...but I don't know how thats gonna help. Its my word against his, and that ain't gonna count for much....a washed out drunk like me..."

 

She started sobbing. 

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Well, that worked. Maybe Robin should try pulling the super hero card more often? It would be a bit weird to do, maybe.

 

"I'll do my best to keep you safe and to stop him, miss, and I promise I'll do my best about him not getting hurt, but can't make any real promises there." She paused, thinking things through. Of course, Robin could reveal the entire plan, but that would probably not be the best. If Amber was scared, and Blowfish got to her, then they couldn't really let her know too much. "I can't really tell you what it is, but we got a plan, but I'll need all that you got on him. If you got any proof to back it up, that's great, but if you don't, then I can use that too. I can use just about anything."

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Amber was far from certain. She was lost in her own self pity, and drowning in the months of alcoholism that befuddled her brain andjudgement.

 

"I can't go on like this. Its gotta end..." she said, which of course had multiple meanings from optimistic to bleak. "...this is my best shot, I guess. Alright, darling, I'll help you. Although it could have an unhappy ending for both of us. That's on you, though. Don't say I didn't warn you!"

 

She straightened up. "Proof ain't easy to come by. And this ain't the place to talk about it either. Tell me what you want, and I'll come meet you after the show, round the back..."

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Robin suppressed a frown. It really wouldn't help anything with the situation if she didn't seem fully confident that it could work. Amber's line about how it had to end didn't sit well with Robin, either. Sounded more ominous than she would have liked. "Figured something like that. I'll stick around for the show, just in case." It would be easy to get out back, and sure, she could just wait there, but would that really be smart? Who knew what could happen during the show, especially if Blowfish was around already?

 

"Thank you for this. I promise I'll do anything I can to stop Blowfish and keep you safe." Could they maybe get Amber police protection or something like that? She didn't know anything at all about any of this... The best bet would probably to get her to Kidd or maybe the Wall. Time's like these she really wished she knew some more super heroes around town.

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"Sure honey, I can rustle up something..." said Amber, seemingmore resolved to the peril now. A desperate woman, once she knows she is desperate, gets some iron in her backbone. 

 

"...like that building. The Sunny Sun thing" she mumbled. "I know he's been meeting with a local politician. Pushing through the planning permission. Greasing the wheels with some cash" she said, proudly. 

 

"Don't know how you would prove that" she added, less confidently. "But I know it!"

 

"Get your ass in gear, Amber! Its showtime!" called the tipsy drummer as the rest of the band trotted out (still not seeing Justice, and thinking Amber was mumbling to herself). 

 

"Gotta go, honey!" whispered Amber to Justice, and stood up. She tried to put her hair in place, then tottered out to the stage on high heels...

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Now that was something they could use! Robin tried to contain her smile. No reason to break character here, right in front of Amber. If Blowfish had bribed a politician to grease the wheels on the building permits, then that was something they could catch him on. If they could get some evidence of it, at least!

 

Of course she had no idea how to prove it. That would just make things too easy, wouldn't it? Still... it was something. 

 

"Alright. I'll be there to keep watch."

 

So, while Amber moved towards the stage, Robin slipped out back again, moving down the fire escape. Hopefully nobody noticed her exit, so she could come in the same way. She pulled the mask off on the way down, and put back the fake beauty spot. She'd keep watch, just in case.

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A little later...back in the club...

 

Amber finished her second set quickly. She looked distracted, and her singing, whilst servicable, took a dive. The applause was considerably more muted and even even the three piece band gave her withering looks. It wasn't painful to listen to, but it had become almost amateur. Her head was not on the job. 

 

It was now well past midnight. The lights came on, subdued, and the music finished. It would stay open another hour or two, as stragglers finished their drinks and the last cards were dealt. 

 

Robin saw Blowfish get up, put on his jacket, light a cigarrette, and speak to one of his large aides who nodded dutifully. She couldn't catch what it was - he said it softly and there was a hubbub of noise. What she did note, however, was that the large aide cracked his knuckles. His impassive stony face gave a little smile. 

 

Amber, if she had kept her word, would be waiting out the back of the club. 

 

 

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Yeeeah... Amber was not doing well. Amber stayed, sipping on a coke. No alcohol. Now, she wasn't somebody who didn't like a drink every now and again, but she really needed to stay on point here. The audience didn't really love the show, and she couldn't blame them, but they didn't need to know that Robin was the reason. 

 

She did her best to keep an eye on Blowfish while trying to remain unseen. Make sure he didn't make a move or anything, and... whatever he said to his bodyguard, it didn't sound good. Had the bad song made him finally tire of Amber? Or did he just get pissed off because she didn't live up to his expectations? Robin frowned, as she made her way to the back of the club, to where they were supposed to meet. Hopefully Amber would be there, and the bodyguard wasn't going for her. If not... well, the Justice Buster was under her jacket, a weight against her ribs, and she was wearing the Justice Driver.

 

While moving out, once she was in a blind angle, she would quickly put on her mask again and get rid of the fake beauty mark. Time to go, and to put Robin away. It was time for Justice again.

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