Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sketch in My Notebook (Part 15): Safehouse (Part 2)

This week's episode of "The Return of Dr. Necropolis" is a little longer than I meant it to be.  You probably won't mind, but it took me a while to put it all together, so...  Well, there you have it.  It was tough finding a stopping place with enough action to make you want to come back next week.
If you want to start the story from the beginning, click on the Sketch in My Notebook tab.  You’ll find it there.
Let me know what you think.

The Return of Dr. Necropolis
Chapter 11: Safehouse (Part 2)

Frank spent the next several hours rewiring salvaged equipment.  The zero-point energy projector in particular was useful because it would deflect bullets, shrapnel, or even enraged ultrahuman mobsters if necessary, although the power it required would eat up Frank’s makeshift system’s battery in a Hell of a hurry.  Even with the efficiency he gained by splicing in Kid Zulu’s repurposed super-capacitor, Frank figured he had at best a half-dozen charges with either the projector or the electromagnet-belt before the system itself would need to be recharged.  That was substantially better than nothing, but it wasn’t like Frank could take on the whole of New York’s police force by himself or anything.  He could maybe rob a bank and make good his escape, but creating industrial-strength mayhem remained well beyond his capabilities.

Fortunately, Frank didn’t need industrial-strength mayhem.  Not yet, anyway.  He needed money and enough time and space to slip safely out of the City.  New York had too many cameras and too many people.  If he stayed, someone was bound to recognize him--probably the NYPD’s facial recognition software.  But if he could slip away undetected, he might have a chance.  He just needed a little working capital before he went.  
Frank rummaged through the safehouse until he found an old pair of jeans, a clean t-shirt, and an old pair of work boots.  He showered, changed clothes, and found a hat, which he pulled low over his eyes.  He then headed back up to street level, armed and dangerous if perhaps not one hundred percent himself just yet.  He still felt more like Frank MacGuinness, escaped prison-thug, than Dr. Necropolis, one-time scourge of New York.  
Frank emerged from the safehouse’s darkness into the ruins above, picking his way slowly through the twisted wreckage littering the building’s floor.  Voices came from further back in the building, loud but not angry, the words a patter of repeated nonsense phrases and need.  
Squatters, Frank thought.  He turned to avoid them.
He stepped out of the ruins and onto a short dirt apron.  A line of broken chainlink fence separated the apron from the cracked sidewalk beyond, but it was slit in so many places that Frank didn’t even have to duck to get out onto the sidewalk.  Mott Haven was a busy place at night.  The streets didn’t have the same kind of glowing neon promise that one saw in Manhattan, but they were still alive in a way that few other cities could match.  People were out, some going here or there, others sitting out on the curb under the street lights--the ones that worked, anyway--or in front of the row houses that lined the adjacent street.  Cars drove by slowly, windows down, music thumping.  A bodega on the corner offered New York Instant-Win lottery tickets from behind a scratched pane of barred glass.  They seemed to be doing a brisk business in liquor and cigarettes.  
Frank smiled.  The people on the streets ignored him.
The subway was five blocks up.  In the time it took Frank to walk it, he felt more alive than he had in the last ten years.  True, he had little in common with the people around him, but that didn’t matter.  Here was life.  Struggle, too, without doubt--the people of Mott Haven were by no means wealthy--but they were alive, and they were free, and the sounds of their freedom drifted across the streets and hit Frank like a tonic.  He could feel the energy, the hustle, and it made him glad to be free himself.  Being in prison is like being dead, Frank thought.  I’m never going back, he decided.
The subway wasn’t crowded.  Frank rode several stops north, getting off at Tremont Avenue.  He looked around.  In this part of the Bronx the “subway” was actually an elevated train, and from its height Frank could see everything.  The streets were wider and more open than they had been in Mott Haven, and the people more business-like, less apt to just hang out.  Stores lined the sidewalks, selling everything from groceries to shoes to comic books.  Most street lights were working, and there were cars on the road, along with stop lights to control the flow of traffic.  There would be NYPD cruisers and traffic cameras as well, Frank knew.  He would have to be careful.
Frank looked at his watch.  It was 8:15.  Plenty of neighborhood bank branches would still be open, and any one of them would have enough money on hand to fund a few weeks out on the road.  The problem was getting away with the money.  Frank could steal a car, but the police were bound to respond quickly to any robbery, so he’d need a head start before he tried to get away.  This part of Tremont was in the heart of the East Bronx, with roads that were a maze of traffic congestion, narrow side streets, and a largely pedestrian populace that was used to having its right-of-way recognized by drivers.  Frank would lose any high speed chase he got into, and then he’d wind up right back in prison.  He was not going back.  He therefore had to get away clean, but that was going to be a problem, he could already see it.  
He would have to do something clever, he realized.  He just wasn’t sure what that something was.
Steel steps led Frank down to a wide concrete sidewalk.  The space beneath the tracks was ostensibly a public park, but there wasn’t much more than a bit of cement-lined open area, overhung by the massive structure that was the subway station.  People passed Frank on either side when he stopped to look around, and some glared at him for impeding the flow of foot traffic.  Ah, New York, Frank thought.  The city that’s too busy for courtesy.  There was a Bank of America branch on Tremont itself, up maybe a block from where Frank was standing.  A People’s Bank sat on Queensbridge, adjacent to Tremont but coming in at an odd angle that resulted in a chaotic three-way intersection.  A People’s Bank sat on a corner further back, angled into a side street behind Frank and away from the press of the crowds.  Frank turned to go there--just to have a look around.
The branch itself was small--maybe twenty feet on a side with a center island in the middle of the floor for filling out deposit slips.  A pair of tellers stood behind a plastic counter done up in cheap faux-wood linoleum.  The teller on the left was dark-skinned and slightly heavyset, talking softly to a customer at the counter while another waited on line with his arms crossede, impatiently tapping his foot.  The other teller was blonde and petite, talking urgently on a cellphone while ignoring the guy waiting for her attention.  
After ten years in prison, Frank gave himself a moment to look the blonde over.  She was an incongruous sight at night in the East Bronx.  Her blue silk blouse was buttoned over a small, athletic frame, and its silver buttons matched the bangles she wore like great jangling hoops at each wrist.  These in turn matched her earrings, which were also silver hoops that danced whenever she spoke.  Her hair was cut short, and it framed her face with just the right amount of curl.  That’s an expensive cut, Frank thought.  It had certainly cost more than the girl could afford from working as a bank teller.  In fact, everything about her screamed affluence except that she was working the night shift behind an ugly plastic countertop in an East Bronx bank branch.
But then, she wasn’t really working.
Entitled, Frank figured.  She’s probably a year out of college and thinks this job’s not good enough for her.  The thought made him smile.  
He was going to rob her, and he was going to enjoy doing it.
On impulse, Frank turned back to the counter on the center island, found a blank sheet of paper, and quickly scrawled out a robbery note.  Then he felt in his pocket for his pistol, though he hoped fervently that he would not have to use it.  Finally he turned back and looked at the girl, who smiled and held up one finger.
That’s okay, Frank thought.  I don’t mind watching you.  He stepped forward so that he could hear her conversation.
“... no Cole, I’ve had it!  You wanna hang out with that slut, you go right ahead.  But don’t expect me to wait around.  Not any more.  First you won’t ask, and now this!  You can’t treat me like this, Cole.  I’m not gonna take it, I’m--  
“Cole?  Cole?!  Did you just hang up on me, you asshole?  
“God!”  The girl looked up, angry and annoyed.  Her eyes flashed, and Frank felt a thrill shoot through him.  At length, the girl seemed to notice that he was standing there, and she colored.  She looked down for a moment as if embarassed, but it was fleeting.  When she looked back, it was clear that she assumed Frank would care about her problems.  
“Can you believe that asshole?  He hung up on me.”
“He’s clearly a madman,” Frank said.  “You’re too good for him.”
“We’ve been together for two years.  Two years!”  The girl shook her head.  “I’m an idiot.  Guess I’ve got a thing for bad boys.  It’s stupid; I know.”
“Forget bad boys,” Frank said.  He couldn’t help smiling again.  “You should give bad men a try.”
“Wow.”  The girl stared at Frank for a long moment.  “Hey, do I know you or something?  Why do you look sort of familiar?”
Frank shrugged.  “I used to be on TV occasionally.”
“That is so cool!  I love TV.  I always wanted to be on the Amazing--”
“Nobody move!  This is a stick up!”
Frank whipped around, hand falling instantly to the butt of his pistol.  Three men in ski masks and sunglasses burst into the bank, two toting handguns, a third with a rusty AK-47.  Frank could tell at a glance that the three were teenagers, that they were nervous, and that the one with the AK, at least, was already high.  He couldn’t hold still, and the barrel of his weapon swerved like a drunk on the highway.  AK let off a burst at the roof and everyone in branch but Frank screamed.  The shots echoed in the tiny confines of the bank, and for a moment Frank’s ears rang.  He slowly let go of his pistol and put his hands out wide by his sides.
“Give us the money right now, and nobody gets hurt!  You try anything, and my buddy there splatters your brains all over the walls.  You got me?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Frank muttered.  
He had minutes before the cops showed up, and he wound up right back in prison again.