Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sketch in My Notebook (Part 3): The Owl

Response to the "Sketch in My Notebook" series has been pretty good so far, and I want you guys to know that I really appreciate it.  Your kind words have meant a lot to me.  Bouyed me up.

If you missed the start of this story, you can find the other chapters here:

The Return of Dr. Necropolis

Chapter 3: The Owl

By the time Exercise Period rolled around, Frank knew what he had to do.  The only drawback was that it was going to require some help.  And a trip to the infirmary.  And maybe an addiction to a dangerous and powerful hallucinogenic battle drug.  And that was only if he could bring off the distillation in the first place without being caught.  But the alternative was letting Draygho have everything while Frank himself rotted in prison, and that Frank just couldn’t abide that.  The man who had once been known as the infamous Dr. Necropolis was more than willing to risk a little dangerous mad science, even in the rather grotesque Hell of Sing Sing Correctional Facility.
When his cell finally opened for Exercise Period, Frank headed straight down to the weight room.  He saw the Owl sitting there but decided to ignore him for the minute.  For all that that the Owl had been a violent vigilante with a decided mean streak, a tragic history of family violence, and a penchant for beating up people exactly like Dr. Necropolis, he--Chris O’Connell, the Owl--was still the closest thing to a friend that Frank had on prison.  Which didn’t exactly mean that O’Connell was going to agree to help Frank bust out--in fact, it probably meant quite the opposite--but O’Connell was at least someone that Frank could talk to.  And he might agree to help... if he could be made to understand the circumstances correctly.
But business came first.  Frank’s attempt at manipulating his only friend would have to wait.
So instead of sitting down next to the Owl, Frank sat down next to Sammy “Razor” Jefferson, doing three consecutive life sentences for a home invasion and triple homicide in a swank, upscale neighborhood in Bronxville.
Razor didn’t look up when Frank sat down.  “Doc.”
“Razor.”  A beat passed, and Frank let it stretch out.  
Eventually Razor said, “So.  This a social call?  Wha’chu need, man?”
“It’s not what I need, Razor.  It’s what I’m offering.”
Razor finally looked over, cocked an eyebrow.  “You cookin’, dog?  I thought you said you was out of that business.”
Frank shrugged, tried to keep his voice casual.  “Times change.  A man gets bored, wants to make a little extra cash from time to time.”
“Yeah.  And sometimes a dog’s bitch makes it in the papers.  So what?  What you offering, dude?”
“Crank.”  By which Frank meant crystal methamphetamine. It was easy enough to make, and anyway, Frank needed it as a base ingredient for his real project.  But Razor didn’t need to know that.
“Seriously?  Fucking Crank?  Come on, dog, ain’t nobody want that shit in here.  Dudes be wantin’ to mellow, maybe get loose.  Dream, you know what I’m sayin’?  Ain’t nobody want no damn Crank.”
“Uh huh,” Frank replied.  “So Hillbilly Jim and his boys, none of them ever did any Crank back in the day?  There’s no market for it?”
“You think I give a fuck what some bunch of skinhead-lookin’ hillbilly crackers want?  Fuck them assholes.  I ain’t doin’ no business with no Hillbilly Jim.  Try again, Doc.”
Frank sighed.  “Materials aren’t exactly easy to come         by in here, Razor.  That’s why we’re talking.  Crank is what I can cook.”
“Yeah?  How’s that my problem?”
“You’re making a mistake here, Razor.”
“Was that a threat?” Razor asked.  “‘Cause I know you’re friends with the Owl and all, Doc, and he is a big, scary dude.  But for real, I don’t think he’d start no war over your skinny ass, no way.  I bet if it came to it, he’dlet me stab you just to show he could and then maybe throw me a beat down, but that’d just be on general principles.  You know what I’m sayin’?  I don’t think he’d actually save your ass or anything.”
“Christ, Razor, don’t go gettin’ ideas.  All I meant was that you’re missing an opportunity to expand your sphere of influence.”
“Shit.  Why don’t you let me worry about my ‘sphere of influence’, Doc.  Unless you got something else to offer...?”
Frank shook his head.  He didn’t want to do this, but he knew it was either risk everything here or spend the rest of his life rotting in prison.  The time was now, like it or not, and Razor was his only potential supplier.  For all that Razor was a corn-rowed thug, a rapist, and a murderer, he was also a highly effective criminal kingpin.  Even after ten years in prison, he still ran a disciplined gangland empire, both inside Sing Sing and out.  That empire was Frank’s only chance, and unfortunately, they both knew it.
Frank pulled a slip of paper out of his breast pocket.  A long, technical name was written there, the name of a reagent Frank needed to drive the reaction he was planning.
“You know, Razor, we stole ten million dollars from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.”
“Oh lordy,” Razor groaned.  “Here come the ancient history.”  He looked at Frank.  “Come on, Doc.  I know you got caught.  And this conversation is startin’ to bore.”
“No,” Frank said.  “We hit the bank twice.  Got away clean the first time.  The heist didn’t even make the papers.  It was the second time we got caught, and that one wasn’t my fault.  My idiot partner wanted to go back, and that’s when they were waiting for us.  But my point is, Razor, that we got away clean once.  And I still have all that money.”
“Uh huh,” Razor said, skeptical.  “So where is it?  Why ain’t you livin’ like a king in here, Doc?”
“It was gold bricks, Razor.  Where would I put it?”
“Come on, man.  This is a fairy tale.”
“Is it?  And I suppose that it was a coincidence that the Feds had two full Tac Teams standing by ahead of time for that second bank job?  And Puck?  He just happened to be in the area?”
Razor said, “I can’t believe I’m listening to this.”  
And that’s when Frank knew he had him.  Frank slid the name of the reagent over.  “I am Dr. Necropolis, Razor.  Seriously.  I’d be a good friend for you to have.”
“What the fuck is this?”
“That’s what I need.  Just a couple of drops will do.”
“And for this you’ll give me ten mil.”
“Well.  I’ll treat you fairly.”
“And how you know it’s still there?”
Frank laughed.  “If they’d found it, the explosion would’ve made the papers.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Yes, I do.”
Razor looked over, and his eyes got hard.  “Doc, you don’t tell me where that ten mil is right now, I’m goin’ slit your throat.”  
“Uh huh.”
“I’m serious, Doc.”
Frank got up.  “Be smart, Razor.  That stuff’s not even expensive.  Just get me what I ask for... and a couple of stamps of PCP.”
“Like, acid?  Old school , seventies shit?”
“Yeah.  Can you do that?”
“You fuck with me, Doc, and you’ll regret it.  That I promise you.”
“Uh huh.  I could say the same.  But let’s not, okay?  I’d rather be friends.”
Frank walked away before Razor could threaten him again.  He’d have to watch his back for awhile, but he thought Razor would come through.  The man was a thug, but he wasn’t stupid.
Frank crossed to the other side of the gym.
“What was that shit with Razor just now?” O’Connell asked.  He sat up from where he’d been working on a flat bench, an easy two-twenty-five sitting on the bar.
There was no point in lying; the Owl could read lips.  So instead Frank said, “A little commerce.”
“Yeah?  So what’re you ‘cooking’?”
“What’d’you care?” Frank snapped back.
He pulled a forty-five pound plate off of one side of the bar, and across from him, O’Connell pulled off another.  That left one-thirty-five—a strictly mortal bench press by Sing Sing’s standards, but it was only a warm up.  It was also a Hell of a lot more weight than Frank had been able to lift before he’d been sent to prison and become friends with the Owl.
Frank got down on the bench, hefted the weight, and let it settle.  Then he started banging out repetitions, working but not too hard, letting his muscles warm.  In the back of his mind, he could still feel his anger at Draygho, at the system, at everything.  Against that, the simple physical exertion of lifting weights was a tonic. Rage simmered right below the surface for every man in prison, but the Owl had taught Frank to channel that rage, to use it to make him stronger—physically—in the moment.  To get something out of the injustice of the system, of the world, besides maniacal super-villain laughter and a life sentence in a concrete and steel box.  As he started lifting, Frank thought about Draygho, thought about ripping that fucking bastard’s face right off his skull, and the thought of it made him growl.  He let his rage flare and pushed it out through his arms and chest, giving it back to a universe that had shit on him.
He hoped it hurt.
“Don’t treat me like I’m one of these cretins,” the Owl replied.  “You’re not the only one in here who reads the papers, you know.  Hell, even Razor saw it.  And now it just so happens that you’re planning on ‘cooking’ something up?  Shit, Frank, I bet every con in this place knows you’re up to something right now.”
Frank racked the bar and sat up, looked O’Connell right in the eyes.  “So what?  You think I’m just gonna sit here and take it?  Fuck that!  I’m Doctor fucking Necropolis.  And if you don’t like it, you can kiss my ass.”
The Owl pointedly put another forty-five pounds back onto the bar and then starred at Frank until Frank did the same on the other side.  Ninety more pounds, and the bastard just settled into place like it was no big deal.  Which, of course, it wasn’t, Frank knew.
The Owl got down, lifted the bar off the rack, and held it there.  “Don’t make me do something we’ll both regret,” he said.  And then he started banging out reps like he could do it all day.
Frank shook his head.  This wasn’t the conversation he wanted to have.
“Look,” Frank said when O’Connell finished his set, “that bastard has a Neural Disrupter.  I don’t know how he got it, but he did.  It must be one of my early prototypes, I don’t know.  But you know how dangerous those things are.  Especially the early ones, before I built in the safeguards.”
“Who’s fault is that?” the Owl asked.
“Fuck you.”
“No, fuck you Frank,” the Owl said.  He sat up, and now it was his turn to stare Frank in the face.  “You really want to help people?  Prove to me that you’ve changed?  Then help the FBI.  When they come here to ask you about it—and they will—draw up a copy of the plans and give it to whichever agent comes around to interview you.  Otherwise, don’t sit here and pretend that you care about the little people.  I told you, I’m not one of these cretins, Frank.  Stop treating me like I’m one.”
“You’re insane, do you know that?”
“I used to dress up like an owl and scare the shit out of street criminals in Lower Manhattan.” O’Connell said.  “My emotional problems are well documented.”
They switched out the weights again, and Frank added a ten pound plate to each side.  He banged out a set at one fifty-five, and for awhile they just worked out like that.  The Owl placid but menacing, Frank furious but determined not to lose his cool.  But he couldn’t stop thinking about it, and the Owl never quit eyeing him sideways.
Finally, Frank couldn’t take it anymore.  “Doesn’t it ever piss you off, Chris?  I mean, you were the fucking Owl, man.  You were a badass.”
“I’m still the Owl, Frank.  Don’t make me prove it to you.”
“But that’s just what I’m talking about!  All those times you saved the City, all that shit with the Diogenes Society, and what do you get out of it?  You’re locked in a box with Doctor fucking Necropolis, man.  You call that justice?”
“I knew what I was doing was illegal.”
“Oh bullshit!  If that’s the problem, then where’s the rest of the Society?  Why aren’t they in here with us?”
O’Connell looked, but he didn’t say anything.  He clearly didn’t want to give Frank the satisfaction of seeing that he knew that Frank was right.
“That’s what I thought,” Frank said.  “You didn’t want to lick the boot heel, and that’s what scares them.  Shit, Chris, you’re not even an ultra-human.  You think I don’t get it?  I’m the only man in here who gets it, and you know it as well as I do.”
“You were trying to sell secrets to the Chinese!”
“I was trying to sell an invention of my own design to a willing buyer.  Those assholes talk about the power of the free market, but you try to do something that they don’t like, and fucking forget about it.  That just proves my point.”
“So what?” O’Connell snapped.  “Life gave you a raw deal.  So?  That doesn’t excuse the rest of it.
The fucking Federal Reserve Bank or anything else.  None of it.  Truth is, I don’t really care about the banks so much, but you killed two people, Frank.  You deserve to be in here.”
“That’s bullshit, and you know it!”
“They died as a direct result of your actions!”
Frank blew out a breath, forced himself to sit down.  He ran his fingers over his scalp and tried to get himself back under control.
“You think I don’t know that?  It doesn’t change the facts.  Puck hit that place like a burning freight train, and the FBI weren’t much better.  They were both more interested in saving face than in saving lives that night ‘cause for once we got caught on TV.  So yeah, maybe I was the reason that they were there, but I wasn’t the one who called out the dogs, and I certainly wasn’t the one who set them Weapons Free.  And these are the people you want me to trust with the plans for the Neural Disrupter?  Fuck that.  Come on, Chris, you didn’t get here because you’re some fucking stooge.  Those assholes will weaponize the Neural Disrupter on a scale I’d never even consider.  You know I’m right.”
The Owl shook his head.  He looked tired, like prison had finally gotten to him.  “What do you want, Frank?  I’m not gonna help you turn this place into a house full of drug-addicted zombies.  Frankly, I can’t even see what you’d get out of that.”
Frank laughed.  “That’s not what I’m asking.  Not at all.  I just need you to send me to the infirmary.”
“You know, I need some stitches.  Eight, maybe ten.  Something to get me there and a reason to stay for a couple of hours.”
The Owl smiled, and it was pure, vicious malevolence.  He fell instantly into a ready stance, and Frank was suddenly a lot less sure of this plan.
“Shit Frank, you should’ve just opened with that.  I’ve been wantin’ to beat you down for a good, long time.”

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