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GM

 

A high-rise apartment on 64th Street, overlooking Liberty Park

March 15th, 8 PM

 

Miss Tricia Thorne, head of the Thorne Foundation, socialite and all around rich woman had it all. She was young, she was beautiful, she was popular, and she was so very rich. And she was a good person, too! At only 20, she had started the Thorne Foundation after her parents died tragically in a skiing accident in Norway, using both her own money and donations to help whatever cause was most in at the moment, whatever would get her the most headlines and recognition for her effort to and attempts to help everyone!

 

This evening, the beautiful young blonde, now just 25 years old, was hosting a gala for the rich and famous, with all proceeds from the evening going to aid the refugees of the Middle-East. It might not be the hottest and most in topic right now, but Tricia Thorne was bringing it back! And of course, she had informed all the media, from TV stations to bloggers, and even some of the people that still worked on those old newspapers and magazines! See, Tricia wanted to be inclusive of everyone!

 

The gala was held in the 64th street apartment. Well, apartment was putting it lightly. It was quite a large place, with her owning several of the upper floors, including the huge ballroom at the very top floor. A multitude of round tables were placed around the room now, with an overly large see through trophy in the middle of the room. While it was slightly golden in color, it was clearly just made of glass. It was filled with money, mostly as a publicity stunt. A staircase led to the top of the trophy, where any of the rich and famous could walk up to throw their money in, which was of course just symbolic of their actual donations. Or so they said.

 

Camera crews surrounded the area, which was by now filled with people. There was a slight lull in the festivities now that the main dish had been finished, while they waited for Miss Tricia Thorne, dressed in a beautiful black dress to symbolize her sorrow at the plight of the refugees, to make a speech. Well, once she finished talking with the handsome young man at her table.

 

And one such guest from the media was one Buddy Brand.

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Cap Cosmos

 

Buddy sipped the champagne, popped a Vol au Vent in his mouth (mmmm.....salmon!) and politely declined the tray of fererro rocher that the French Ambassador was gobbling up. He gave a little humurous anecdote to the amabassador and his wife (something about a walrus and two pencils) and slipped off to get closer to Miss Thorne. 

 

Nobody was that squeaky clean. He thought to himself, as he relaxed. Buddy was fairly good at relaxing in social situations. Compared to the bright lights of a TV camera, this was easy. And he always had a knack for just appearing honest and relaxed. Even when he was neither. 

 

Even if somebody wasn't completely clean (and nobody was), didn't make them bad. Ghandi, Mandela, even the damn Dalia Lama. Nobody was perfect. But you could still be a good man. He wasn't so foolish to think he hadn't slipped up in the past, or would slip up again. But at least he tried to do his bit. 

 

Where did Miss Thorne fit in?

 

A thorny issue!

 

"Excuse me Ms Thorne?" he introduced himself with an offered hand an a smile. "Buddy Brand. Great Gala. You sure are a fascinating woman!" he said, voice velvet. "I'd love to have you on my show one day...."

 

She might be dull as ditchwater. But she might be as rivetting as a rivet!

Edited by Supercape

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GM

 

Miss Thorne had been moving around, mingling with her guests as one would expect of a gracious host. And she was good at playing the host. A glass of champagne in her hand, she turned away from the young man on her arm to face Buddy instead. 

 

"Oh, Mr. Brand! I absolutely love your show! I would love to!" She seemed at least somewhat affected by the champagne. Not drunk, but perhaps a bit tipsy. Enough to slur her speech a little bit, but she seemed to be still here. She quieted down a bit, backing down from the glee of seeing Mr. Brand and returning to a bit more proper behaviour. She was the host, after all. "How are you doing this evening, Mr. Brand? I hope that you have been able to make at least a small contribution to the refugees." 

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Faux delight. Media 101! She might not even be drunk - although in his experience it was usually drunk celebs pretending to be sober rather than the otherway around. Not to mention all the illegal intoxicants that flowed through this river of society. Perhaps it was more than the champagne?

 

"Of course" he answered. "My pleasure. Good cause!" he nodded. "I couldn't be more delighted!"

 

This was the dance of pitter patter. A superficial sheen of niceties that were half meant. It was not malign, merely ritualistic. 

 

Refugees? I wonder why. And if ones wonders, one asks!

 

"Can I ask why you chose this cause? Something close to your heart?"

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GM

 

Miss Thorne giggled at the question, and shrugged. "Its like, you see all those people and kids on television? And they're all just running around and have nothing and everyhing? All that used to be so big and important. The news used to talk about it all the time, right? But not so much anymore. You don't really talk about that much, do you, Mr. Brand?" She emphasized the mister again. It sounded rehearsed, a way of speaking that she had spent hours practicing. "Just because we don't just speak about it all the time doesn't mean a problem goes way, right? So, I guess I'm just trying to do better. To help the people that's been forgotten."

 

It was probably not entirely true. As far as Buddy knew, Thorne was well meaning, but she did tend to switch causes that she would champion at the drop of a hat. Anything that was a popular cause, had recently been, or would be. Tricia Thorne wanted to do good, sure. But she also wanted to be seen doing it.

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Cap Cosmos

 

Buddy was beginning to feel that Miss Thorne had all the depth of a petri dish that had entered the "shallowest petri-dish of the year" award, and was likely to win. Vapidity was a common enough trait in the world of Media, but it usually concealed itself with a veneer of intelligence. He didn't feel there was any veneer here. But perhaps he was being too cynical. 

 

Then again, perhaps he was being too perceptive. 

 

And he felt there was a bite to Miss Thorne. 

 

"I see your point" he said. "Very charitable of you, shows your heart!" he said, giving her a smile and a lift of his champagne glass to salute her. He was already changing his mind about putting her on the Brand report. It would only be of interest by making her look foolish. And he really wasn't inclined to do that. 

 

It was always possible she was a crafty manipulator who presented herself as vapid. He had seen that more than once, too. 

 

"Just hope you have a good agent to make sure the world sees that golden ticker of yours!"

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GM

 

"The best that money can buy, Mr. Brand." There were a bit more to the tone, now. Maybe Buddy was right. Maybe Tricia Thorne was really as vapid and shallow as she first appeared. Or maybe not. He could maybe see something in her eyes, some hidden brilliance. Or maybe it was just whatever eye color her contacts gave her. It was kind of golden, really. It could hardly be Tricia's natural eye color.

 

"Hey babe, who's this guy?" came a voice from the side, Tricia's boyfriend. Or arm candy. All depended on how close they were. Buddy knew that Tricia had a string of romances, new ones often blooming even before old ones had ended. And she did not seem to like being called babe, judging from how cold her voice. "Simon, this is Mr. Buddy Brand. He's on television, got his own show."

 

Simon quickly puffed himself up, making sure he stood taller than Buddy, a smirk playing over his lips. He was tall, yes. And muscular, which was showing through the suit he was wearing, dark blue, white dress shirt, matching dark blue tie. His curly blonde hair looked like a mess, and he probably wanted it that way. "Buddy Brand, huh? You don't look so tough! Pretty sure I could take you!" Buddy could smell the alcohol on his breath without any trouble. 

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Cap Cosmos

 

"Whoa buddy, I'm sure you could!" said Buddy, taking a step back despite himself. "Good thing this a gala rather than a boxing ring, huh?" he smiled. 

 

He didn't wish to rile up a drunk, although he was pretty sure he could. Buddy always thought the best way to get people to hang was feed them enough rope. Suck em in, then hang them high. Sure, people were getting wise to his act, but it was still his trusted technique. 

 

Well, it was probably based on Frost/Nixon, but still. It worked for him. 

 

Buddy had the rather sinking feeling that sooner or later Tricia would torpedo her own boat. Probably later, but she had a kind of lazy craziness. Maybe she could ride that train for a while, but the wheel would come off some day. 

 

Media being media, maybe she could ride the wreckage too. 

 

Why is she calling me Mister like that? he honestly had no clue. He caught the emphasis, but...

 

I wish I could read minds sometimes. Then again, maybe I don't. 

 

The fool worries what people think about themselves. The smart don't. 

 

But the truly wise?

 

They realise that people probably weren't thinking about them in the first place....

 

"You to make a great pair!" he lied, raising his glass again. Wondering if fireworks would light up the evening. 

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GM

 

"Damn straight!" Simon replied, pumping an arm, before planting a somewhat sloppy kiss on Tricia's cheek. "Gonna go check out the cash, babe!" And he happily moved on, none the wiser.

 

Tricia, on the other hand, did not appear all to happy about them being a great pair, seemingly not catching Buddy's lie. "Thank you, I suppose." Her reply was short and sharp. Yes, it would appear that Simon would soon be replaced, but that was not really the point of the evening, was it now? "Was there anything else, Mr. Brand?" She seemed genuinely curious at that one. It was, after all, Buddy who had sought her out. 

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Cap Cosmos

 

Was there anything else? Buddy had the sense he was missing something. Maybe he was blocking it out; he realised he didn't like Tricia, and didin't like her boyfriend either. Perhaps, perhaps he was even bored of them. They were the rotten side of celebrity. 

 

"No, I wouldn't detain you any longer, ma'am" he said graciously. 

 

He tried to think of a good excuse. But he could only come up with a cutting one. And couldn't resist saying it. 

 

"Besides, I must excuse myself. My hyena is on fire" he said, dead-pan. 

 

Before she could respond, he turned around and took a generous gulp of champagne. 

 

 

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GM

 

Tricia made a loud "Tsk!", clearly annoyed with Buddy's deadpan excuse for leaving. She might not be the brightest, but she got his bad excuse, at least. With that, she turned away, turning to the next person to catch her interest. She seemed to quickly forget him.

 

The sounds of the party continued as the dessert was brought in, and everyone returned to their seats. Amaretto meringue cake with various fruits and berries, different kinds for each table. It all tasted very well. 

 

And scream broke the party atmosphere in an instant. It came from the kitchen, followed by the sound of gunfire and loud cursing. Then all the doors to the ballroom was kicked in one by one, at least 12 men clad in black ski masks and camouflage fatigues, each wielding various rifles or guns. 

 

 

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Lingering regrets about his caustic remark were soon forgetten when the Gunmen came in. For an instant, he forgot he was almost bulletproof and had the strength to crush steel. That was Buddy Brand from last year. 

 

But then...

 

He had his costume tucked away in his wallet (that was unstable molecules for you), but he had no where to change. He wondered if he could turn one-dimensional, hide from view. But too many eyes. He didn't want to reveal his super secret identity!

 

Selfish, he knew. What if someone died because of his reluctance?

 

Decision made. He could lament its lack of wisdom later. 

 

Instead, he upturned one of the table and took cover in case they started firing. He started looking for an exit. Maybe somewhere to run and hide? Or at least somewhere he would not be seen?

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"EVERYBODY FREEZE!" one of the gunmen shouted, firing a few shots into the ceiling to make a point. A few others had scampered behind the table that Buddy had upturned, hiding with him, but if anything, the quick act had only gotten the attention of the gunmen. "You! Everyone behind that table, get out right now, hands where I can see them! We're not playing around here!"

 

Around the room, the Buddy could see and hear the other gunmen shouting. The kitchen staff and waiters was led into the room, no loose ends behind. Whatever guards were around were quickly disarmed. Nobody being hurt. Not yet at least.

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Cap Cosmos

 

Well, this looks like it was going to be a long day!

 

He wasn't frightened. Bullets would have little effect on him. But other people could shot. Should he really risk their lives just to maintain his secret Identity. 

 

It was a terrible conundrum. But, he rationalised to himself (and as when most rationalisation occurred, it was not entirely rational), as long as they didn't start firing, he could wait. 

 

"OK OK! Hands up! Don't shoot!" said Buddy, popping his hands and his head over the upturned table. 

 

"What do you want? You didn't come here for the champagne and scintillating conversation, I guess?" he said, trying as always to get an angle on what was going on. Maybe somebody was even filming!

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"Yeah! What he said!" Tricia Thorne piped up, standing up straight before a strong hand on her shoulder pushed her down to sit again. 

 

"Shaddup and siddown!" the gunman behind her yelled, keeping her down with the hand on her shoulder. "You'll get yours, Thorne."

 

It looked like it had hurt. Tricia winced, at least, grimacing at the feeling, and glared up at the man. If looks could kill, or she had laser eyes, the man would be very dead. 

 

"We want money, of course," the leader finally replied. He didn't seem to be hiding anything here. "Remain calm, and no one gets hurt."

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Cap Cosmos

 

Money? it seemed plausible. But this was a risky and ineffective way of getting money, surely? Still, he was no criminal. What would Buddy Brand know about how to make a living as a criminal. 

 

"Sure, sure. Everybody, remain calm. As a cucumber" he said, trying to reassure everyone around me. "Nobody wants to get shot". 

 

"I got my wallet and my watch. But its slim pickings, I'm afraid" he said, apologetically to the leader. If he could keep up the image of slightly ineffectual, passive and reasonable Buddy Brand to the leader, perhaps he could lever something out of him. Or at least, lull him into a false sense of security...

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GM

 

"Yeah, that is slim pickings. Not really worth our time, Mr. Brand." The gunmen's apparent leader seemed to know Buddy, not that it was a great surprise. "You go sit down, and nobody gets hurt. I don't want to shoot anyone, but some of the guys here would love nothing more than to put a bullet in your pretty little heads."

 

He turned around, pointing with his rifle towards the some of the three cameras placed around the room. There were still someone stationed at each, and a gunman had taken his place next to each. "Listen up, anybody watching out there! We're here for money, nothing else! Look at all the rich and famous people in here, how much do you think they're worth? Five million? 50? Nah, we'll go high. Bidding starts at 1 billion." The gunmen by the cameras took out a strip of paper each, holding it in front of the cameras, while other gunmen moved around the tables, putting the papers out of the table. "Everyone in here, show how great you are at working together! You gathered so much money for the poor refugees, now go get some for us! You got an hour, then we start shooting!"

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Captain Cosmos

 

Buddy caught the same inflection on the word "Mister"...

 

Now, it was entirely possible that Trishia and these goons were in cahoots. No evidence, but it was sure possible. Why, though? What motive did she - or they - have?

 

Money?

 

It felt too obvious. Too clumsy. 1 billion? That was an unreasonably high figure. Did they really expect one billion dollars to be mobilised in an hour? Buddy thought it unlikely. Just how "professional" were these guys?

 

"How are we going to get a billion dollars together sitting here?" he asked the leader, politely. "How is anybody going to get a billion dollars together anywhere...in an hour?" he asked, again trying to be polite. 

 

"You gotta be reasonable, or we are all going to lose...."

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The leader appeared to be annoyed by Buddy, quickly approaching him, he pulled out a smaller sidearm, placing it directly at Buddy's forehead. "Well then, Mr. Brand, then I suppose all the rich and famous people here have better hurry, don't you think?" He pushed the gun a bit into Buddy's forehead before pulling back and holstering it again, then turning back to the cameras, pointing at them with his rifle. "You hear that, everyone out in TV-land? You better make hurry up and get those payments processed, or we'll make sure that everybody here loses! You heard it from Buddy Brand himself!"

 

Around the room at the tables, more than a few of the guests had started using their phones, texting or calling or just starting bank transfers themselves. It seemed that even if Buddy Brand had started standing up to the gunmen, they were not quite as brave. Further away, Tricia Thorne had been handcuffed, her arms behind her back. She struggled a bit, but did not seem entirely uncomfortable. Maybe not her first time in cuffs? And Simon was sitting by a table, looking around.

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Cap Cosmos

 

Buddy kept his cool. A point blank shot at this range would sting even him; but it probably wouldnt splatter his brains all over the floor. 

 

As far as he could see, the chances of rustling up a million dollars in an hour was slim to zero. If one was being generous. Surely some other game was being played here? Tricia looked remarkably cool. His suspicion that she was in on this ratched up from possible to probable. But why?

 

"OK OK, I get it" he said, placatingly, to the leader. 

 

As far as he could see, then, he had an hour. After that, he would have to swing into action; and probably everyone would learn that Buddy Brand was Captain Cosmos. He didn't like that, but he didn't like blood on his hands either. 

 

"Maybe I can help, somehow?" he asked the leader. "Nobody wants blood, right?"

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