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The Maltese Gecko [IC]

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Rain cascades down my coat, soaking me to the bone. At least I wasn't as cold as this schmuck, lying face-down in the alley in a pool of blood and vomit. The rain was causing it to dilute and snake, leaving a sticky coating on my shoes.


Using my collar as a windbreak, I light a Marlboro. Well, hats off, buddy. On the downside, you're kinda dead. Upside, I'm actually going to find who did it, unlike some of the assholes who'd just take your wallet and run. That's an idea. I reach down to grab his wallet from his pocket. Oh, great. Someone else has. Kids today, taking the whole thing and not just the cash and cards. Not that cards help nowadays.

Might as well look at his face. When I flip him over though... oh, Christ. Melvin Blume. Fear-Master II. An old enemy of mine.

I could turn away. Hell, I should. In life, he was scum. Thing is, I'm not. So I kneel down. "Bet you're laughing your ass off," I tell the corpse as I set to work on him.

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The rain had messed up the scene just enough that all I'd managed was to take some samples from Fear-Master. Blood, vomit, skin, some clothing... the usual. Thing is, I lack a lab for analysis, and I lack the skill to do so effectively. Time to call the boys in blue.

A few cops had somehow managed to acquire funding for an under-staffed, over-worked "police department". They try, but frankly, who the hell doesn't these days? I lean against the wall of the alley. "Giordano," I say in greeting as the phone is picked up. The cell network works... barely. I helped get some pylons up again, back before my technical knowledge vanished in the dusty library of memory.

"It's me." Well, duh.

"What do you need, Chris?" He sounded tired, and old. Hell, he was in his fifties to my knowledge. Shouldn't be stuck in this literal hellhole.

"Lab access. I found a stiff. Remember Melvin Blume? Reason we first met." Long time ago, I took a dart of fear poison aimed for Dick Giordano. The Raven had to restart my heart.

"Fear-Master? Dead?" He sounded interested, as he should. This was messed-up.

"Send a team. Bottom of 23rd." I hung up abruptly. Small talk? Well, we're not friends, me and Giordano. Had a slight falling-out when I swapped my tights for a trenchcoat and a trigger finger. Lighting another cigarette, I smiled. When we first met, I was a dumb kid. Didn't see this ever happening.

Life, eh?

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While I'm waiting, some scrawny kid in an outsized leather jacket swaggers over, letting me see the gun in his pocket. "Wallet, now," he mutters. Oh, isn't he precious. Apparently didn't recognise the coat.

"Hey, kid, word of warning. Don't." I think the words are casual enough. Kid doesn't scare me. The fact he immediately pulls out the gun does. "Oi vey, muggers today. Heh, rhymes."

"You nuts? Give me your wallet," he hisses. There's no passers-by. Why seem so worried?

"Prise it out of my cold dead hands." I blow smoke in the kid's face. Poor choice of words. I think he's on something, he looks strung-out. So I lunge at him. The kid's not too slow, going to raise the gun to shoot. Thing is, I'm not too slow myself. The gun is soon in my hands, cheap piece of crap that it is.

Aaaand... definitely on drugs. He's pulled a knife now, despite how obviously good I am. Ah, what the heck. So I let him knife me in the gut. The wound scabs instantly.

"Boo." I whack him in the gut. Tough kid. Ordinarily, I think he'd have kept standing. Thing is, I had the edge. I took advantage of him being off-guard from my little knife feint. He dropped like a sack of bricks.

That's what this town is now. Thugs, kids on drugs, trying to cope. I don't understand why people stayed. Would they have had they seen this ten years on?

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"Giordano." He arrives with his Lieutenant as I'm tying the kid to a lamppost. "Dumb kid knifed me," I explain, in mock outrage.

"Where's the locus, kid?" Still calls me kid. Grrr. I gesture over my shoulder. Watching Giordano walk past, I notice how old he's getting. It's been a whole decade since I met him, a portly middle-aged cop just doing his job. Now, he's getting on a bit, and is doing everyone else's.

"My theory?" I say, leaning against the wall as the two cops poke and prod. "Someone wants a new Moore era, just to make it all worse. Kill the criminals, they don't come back to haunt us. Can't say they're wrong." Giordano just looks at me.

"Chris, go. This is our job, now." Like I said, we're not friends. I just nod.

"Time was, you'd ask for my help." He laughed, more bitterly than I'd heard before.

"Time was, you wanted to help." I can't reply to that, so I turn and, drenched to the skin and craving yet another smoke, walk out into the soaking streets.

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  • 4 weeks later...

By the time I get to my apartment, I'm just ever so slightly damp and soggy. Freezing cold, I open the door and stroll in to find that, quelle surprise, the heating has died. Again.

This has happened so often that I have a camping stove in the corner for these occasions. My landlord wouldn't be happy I was making fires, but I'm not happy that he can't get the heating fixed. Sure, many homes still lack amenities, but heating isn't one. That got prioritised during rebuilding. Sitting on a stool next to it, I have to wonder who killed Fear-Master. Frankly, there just aren't that many people in Freedom City, and none skilled enough to casually kill a supervillain. He'd had no noticeable wounds on his body, that takes some skill.

Of course, this period of thought was disrupted by something hard hitting me in the back of the head and pitching me towards the fire.

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I crash off my stool, landing sprawled on my face against the hard, wooden floor. Behind me, it finally registers that my window has shattered, as a dark shape flows through it, kicking my stove, and with it my source of light.

Springing to my feet with a surge of anger, I find my .44 Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver in my hand. Yes, the gun from Dirty Harry. I thought it was cool. Yet I digress. Squeezing the trigger even as I find my feet, the shot goes wide. Despite apparently having scaled a rooftop, shot me then swung across and in my window, the attacker doesn't look warm. Or fazed by my awful aim.

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"C'mon, strong and silent," I taunt. "You get off, sneaking into people's homes and attacking them?" I flip in mid-air, planting my feet on the ceiling as I shoot at the guy's chest.

Before my eyes, almost in slow motion, he moves out of the path of the bullet. I kid you not, the guy is fast. And then he was flows at me, hands stretched to grab. Almost too late to dodge, I crouch down... well, crouch up on the ceiling, his hands pass under the top of my head and I straighten again behind his back. All in a couple of seconds.

My assailant is clearly a dangerous man.

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Dropping from the roof in a flip and landing on my feet, I raise my gun. "I think you missed. Want to take another shot at it?" I snarl, with squeeze of the trigger. By the time I hit the firing pin, he'd dropped into a crouch and was spinning up with two fists in a rabbit punch.

The blow connects with my face, cracking a tooth. Blood seeps into my mouth, briefly, before my healing staves off the pain. "You'll need to hit me harder," I warn, levelling my gun. "You can't dodge forever."

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  • 1 month later...

"C'mon," I growl through reknitting tissue. "This is a very powerful handgun, and when it hits you, then it'll make you cry like the sneaky little girl you are." Ducking and weaving, I notice my words make him hesistate. For a second.

Looming over me, I hesitate. Then, pain as he flicks a leg out deftly, sending me crashing to the floor. A nanosecond before I hit it, even through my vest, I feel an armoured boot crack into my ribs. While I try, I ultimately can't stop myself crying out in pain. But I still have the gun in my hand.

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  • 5 weeks later...

Still as fast now as I was in my youth, as soon as he raises the foot for another kick, I'm up on my feet and racing away, feet kicking off from my desk as I land on the opposite wall of the room. I turn my head at the same time I raise my arm to fire my gun...

A foot lashes out of the gloom to deflect my hand, the gunshot echoing pointlessly as the bullet shatters a floorboard. Before I can even think of a witty retort, let alone speak one, the foot has pivoted the other way, smashing me clean off the wall and into unconsciousness as my head crashes through a second floorboard.

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I wake up to pain. Oh god, pain. Pushing myself to my feet, I look around my office. Yep, a few shattered floorboards, bullet holes, a broken window, the whole shebang. I sigh and pull my coat around me tightly as realise how cold it is with that gaping hole in the window.

I damn near *$%& myself when the phone suddenly rang. "Kenzie," I say apprehensively, holding the receiver to one ear.

"Chris, get down here," says Giordano gruffly. "You'll want to see this." I can just imagine him looking grumpy as he says it.

"Right. See you in ten," comes my terse reply, and then I'm out the door, not caring about getting robbed while my window's gone. There's little of value anyway.

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  • 1 month later...

I'm standing in Giordano's office, cursing to myself and dripping water off my trenchcoat. It always rains around here now. I think the weather was thrown out by the invasion, but I can't prove my suspicions.

He walks in, and sits down. "Chris," he says, "It's not looking good." I just nod. Well, duh?

"Lemme guess. Horrible, horrible, weird circumstances. Because circumstances are always weird. It's a rule, or something." I go to light a cigarette, but his piercing glare stops me. I nod for him to continue.

"It looked like a high velocity hypodermic needle wound, like one fired from a rifle," he reads from the file in front of him. "The chemical compound was new, something we've not seen before. But it essentially ripped his internal organs to shreds." My eyes involuntarily widen at this.

"Yowza." Yes, yowza. Don't judge me. "Get a match from the needle's DNA?" He shakes his head.

"I was hoping you could tell us if you knew of anything from past experience. Because whoever did this was good enough not to leave a trace." That was when I decided to tell him about my mysterious assailant, who also left no real trace I could find...

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