One of the tough parts of doing a story like this is that you can't go back and make changes as your ideas evolve. That happened this week, but I couldn't go back and retroactively rename last week's piece, even though in retrospect, the title for this chapter obviously needed to be "The New Centurion" rather than "The Ice Queen." I also feel like we've spent too much time in backstory here in the early-going, but what can you do? When I do go back and finally edit this thing, some of this stuff may well get the axe. In the meantime, though, you're stuck with the first cut. Hopefully it's at least the best first cut I can put out.
With all of that said, I'm inordinately pleased with this week's piece. That probably means that no one else is gonna like it at all, but I still think it came out well. But my opinion only matters so much; you'll have to let me know what you think.
Finally, this is it. This version of this particular project was only ever supposed to be a sketch, and as much as I think it's going well, I know that I badly need to stick it on the shelf for a while. I'm trying to put out a book next year, and "The Return of Dr. Necropolis" isn't going to be a part of that book, so with that in mind, I need to focus on other stuff. I'll talk about that a little more tomorrow, but for now, what you need to know is that the Doctor is going on hiatus, and he won't be back until late Spring at the very earliest. So get your fix now, because after this, it's gonna be all Sneakatara Boatman, all the time for the next few months.
The Return of Dr. Necropolis
Chapter 5 (Cont): The New Centurion
Despite his mother’s warning, Blaine found himself in Special Agent Tiffany Trujillo's car the next morning, cruising up the Taconic Parkway towards Sing Sing and Dr. Necropolis. Tiffany had worn a blue pants suit and a professionally-laundered shirt that morning, and for once, she looked more like an FBI agent than one of the world’s most famous former superheroes. She was quiet to the point of being uncommunicative, however, and after twenty minutes or so, it started making Blaine nervous.
Eventually, Blaine tried to break the silence. “I talked to my mother yesterday. It seemed like Dr. Necropolis scared her. You have any idea why? I’d never seen her like that before.”
Tiffany didn’t immediately reply . She seemed lost in thought. Blaine was about to try a different tactic when she at last said, “I don’t remember your folks ever tangling with the Doctor. But your mother struck me as a woman who was all about control. Of herself, her surroundings, her image… ‘Least, that’s the way I remember it. The Doc was like that, too. So who knows? Maybe she was just afraid he’d manage the situation better. When you’re dealing with Frank McGuinness, that’s always a distinct possibility.”
She lapsed back into silence. Blaine looked out the window, watched the great green trees of upstate New York blow past. The Taconic was nearly empty, at least in the northward direction, but the Parkway was a winding, hilly road, and Tiffany wasn’t in a hurry.
Staring out the window made Blaine antsy.
“I don’t know,” he said after a while. “I mean, you think my mother was scared that Necropolis would destroy her image? That… I find that a little hard to believe.”
“It’s complicated…” Tiffany began. “Look, Blaine, there was nobody like Dr. Necropolis. He just… did things… Things that nobody else could do. That nobody else would do. Let’s just leave it at that, alright?”
Blaine shook his head, wondered if this was going to be one of those cases where everyone talked around the issues. Like they were protecting him from some hard truth or something. “I’m involved in this, Agent Trujillo--for better or worse. I’d like to know what I’m getting myself into.”
“I’m not trying to keep anything from you, Blaine. There are case files. You can read them. They’re not classified or anything.”
“That won’t tell me what the man is like.”
“Frank McGuinness is in prison. How relevant can his personality possibly be?”
“You’re the one who’s driving us up to see him fully ten years after his last crime,” Blaine replied. “Clearly somebody thinks that he might know something. And my mother--the freakin’ Ice Queen--is scared silly about it.
“Look,” Blaine continued, “I’m not asking for state secrets here. I just want a little insight. You’re the expert on this, Ms. Trujillo.”
“We’re not talkin’ state secrets here, Blaine. This was my life.”
Another long moment passed, and Blaine was about to say something else when Tiffany finally started talking again. “I don’t know exactly what your mother’s deal was, Blaine. I didn’t know her all that well back in the day, and we haven’t exactly moved in the same social circles since.
“But your mother, I mean, who knows what goes on in her head? She was a super-villain before she married your father, and… I don’t wanna talk out of school here, but there were a lot of people who thought that the only reason she married your old man at all was to get out of going to jail. But who knows? Maybe that was just jealousy. I mean, your dad was a rich, good-looking guy, and suddenly, instead of going down for her part in the Radical Robot Rampage, your mother’s marrying one of the most eligible bachelors in New York? I can see why people found that fishy.
“Regardless, that’s not the kind of backstory you want to take into a fight with Dr. Necropolis. A story like that? That’s the kind of thing he’ll use. And then you’re screwed. Big time.”
“But how does he gain control?” Blaine asked.
“He was a geneticist,” Tiffany replied. “Started making designer drugs and testing them out on club kids down in the City. Got good at it.” She laughed, but it bitter. “He came up with this crap one time, the press called it ‘Sex’. He loosed into the ventilation system of a rave in Brooklyn. Triggered an orgy. Four hundred naked teenagers, all gettin’ it on right on the floor of some old, abandoned warehouse down in Bed-Stuy. And these were upscale kids. Preppies. Made the news like you wouldn’t believe. Like a feeding frenzy. There was nearly a riot down at one of the local private schools, although what all those crazy parents thought the school was gonna do is beyond me.”
“I remember that,” Blaine said, “but I didn’t know that it was Dr. Necropolis. It seemed hard to believe at the time.”
“Believe it,” Tiffany replied. “That shit he uses is real, and it will fuck you up. Me and Puck were chasing him one time, and he turns around and starts laughing. And Puck starts laughing, too, because, y’know, everything was a joke to Puck. And then Necropolis pulls out this gas grenade and throws it, and the next thing I know, it’s two weeks later, and me and Puck are married and living in a hut down on the beach in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.” She looked at Blaine. “We were married, Blaine. Me and Puck, the king of the commitment-o-phobes. That shit, whatever it was, it broke down all your inhibitions--completely--and made you go bat-shit insane. Forced you to go out and immediately live out your deepest desires. Drop everything, right then and there.” Tiffany shook her head. “Best two weeks of my life.”
“Wait. You and Puck were married?!”
“Not really. Once the drug wore off, we got it annulled.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
Outside the car, the trees kept rolling past. Tiffany was quiet, and Blaine decided to respect her privacy. At last, she said, “That shit, whatever it was, it really scared Puck. He was different after that. I don’t know if he was just freaked because Necropolis somehow managed to crack the code on his alien DNA, or if it was something more personal, but whatever it was, he was never really the same happy-go-lucky guy after that. He got serious. About Necropolis, about a lot of things. And it still took him over a year to bring Frank down.”
“At the Bank of New York?”
“Yeah. Look, Blaine, story time’s over, okay? You want the rest, go read the reports.”
When they finally got there, Sing Sing Correctional Facility turned out to be a squat collection of off-white brick buildings down by the Hudson River. The set up reminded Tiffany of a medieval castle, all turret towers and brick walls topped with barbed wire, built for defense-in-depth. It was an ugly place, and talking about Frank McGuinness had put Tiffany in an ugly mood.
But at least Blaine had stopped with the Twenty Questions routine.
Still, the whole trip seemed an exercise in futility. Necropolis had spent fully ten years in prison without giving up the real names or locations of his partners, the Siberian Tiger and Gun Girl Gracie, and Tiffany doubted that would change any time soon. The police knew that Frank and Gracie had been an item, and they had tape of the Tiger talking, so they knew that the Tiger was a Russian. Beyond that, there wasn’t much. Necropolis had been amazingly thorough back in the day, to the point that whenever the authorities had found DNA or other forensic evidence at any of his old crime scenes, the samples had always either been degraded to the point of uselessness or altered beyond recognition. And since Frank had gone down, the Tiger and Gracie had mostly stayed off the radar. The Diamond District job was the first anyone had seen of either of them in years.
In any event, Frank McGuinness had always been a man who cherished his secrets. Tiffany didn’t think for a minute that ten years in Sing SIng had changed that; Frank’s secrets were all he had left. With that in mind, if she and Blaine could get out of the interrogation room without inadvertently helping Frank escape or otherwise giving him a chance to showboat in front of his fellow inmates, Tiffany knew that she personally would consider that a win. And if they could somehow manage to avoid spending too much time strolling down Memory Lane, that’d be something of a miracle.
Casey Walcott had, of course, called ahead, so it didn’t take long for Tiffany and Blaine to get through security. After flashing their identification cards at the front gate and again at the prison building itself--and making a little chit-chat with some of the prison guards--she and Blaine were ushered into a little interrogation room.
Like everything at the prison, the interrogation room was a plain, off-white brick, square and maybe fifteen feet on a side. The room was empty save for a couple of folding chairs and a single metal table that had been bolted to the floor.
“You ready for this?” Tiffany asked Blaine.
Blaine shrugged. “What could go wrong? It’s not like he’ll be bringing gas grenades with him this time. And even if he does, we’re in the middle of the prison. It can’t possibly go all that wrong.”
Tiffany was about to respond when the door buzzed open. A man walked in wearing an orange jumpsuit. Tiffany blinked.
The Frank McGuinness that Tiffany remembered had been a short, kind of pudgy, balding guy with a bad comb-over and a perpetually silly smirk on his face. Ten years in prison had changed that man completely. The guy in front of her now was definitely still Frank--she remembered his face well enough to be sure of it--but although he still stood only five-foot-eight, he was now all lean muscle and prison-yard bravado. Even shackled hand-and-foot, his shoulders stood out from his jumpsuit, defining an obvious weight-lifter’s build, and he carried himself with the casual confidence of the supremely fit. He’d shaved his head bald, and in the room’s harsh florescent lighting, his forehead caught gave off a nasty glare. Behind heavy wire-rim prison glasses, his eyes were alive with malice.
Frank’s old smirk was a distant memory. Prison had turned him into one angry bastard.
Despite herself, Tiffany’s breath caught in her throat. She had to force herself to calm down. To think. She looked again and saw--finally--that Frank had been beaten up. Recently. His left eye was puffy and yellow, and the left side of his cheek was still swollen from where somebody’s fist had left a definite mark.
It wasn’t much, but it was something.
Still, it was best to start off polite. “You look good, Frank,” she said. “I think prison agrees with you.”
Frank flopped down in his seat. His manacles rattled. “Who’s your friend, Tiff?”
“Lieutenant Blaine Winters, EFD,” Blaine replied. “I’m the new Centurion.”
“The new…?” Frank smiled, and Tiffany could see that he was missing a couple of teeth. “Shit. You’re Scott and Emma Winters’ kid, aren’t you? That’s hysterical. I didn’t know your old man, son, but back in the day, your mom was one hot piece of ass. Huh. And the goddamn Centurion just rides off with her on the back on his bike like she’s some kind of war prize or something. Dragged her by the hair like a caveman. It’s a shame that he’s gone.”
“Be nice, Frank,” Tiffany said. But it was obvious that Frank was enjoying himself.
“Fuck you, Tiff,” Frank replied. “Be nice, my ass. I’m in here for ten fucking years, and the first thing you say to me in all that time is, ‘Be nice’? Come on. I thought we were friends. You could’ve at least called.”
“We were never friends, Frank. You know that.”
“Are you serious? Don’t make me start with the Old Home Week crap, Tiff. You won’t like it, and the Boy here might learn some things.”
“Just tell us where the Siberian Tiger and Gun Girl Gracie are, Doctor,” Blaine said.
Tiffany ignored Blaine, and so did Frank.
“You’ve developed quite a mouth, Frank,” Tiffany said. “Is that why somebody busted your eye? Why you’re missing a couple of teeth? ‘Cause one of your fellow inmates got tired of your lip?”
“Would you believe that the Owl did that?” Frank replied. “Bastard was doing me a favor. He didn’t have to hit me quite so hard, though.” Frank rubbed the bruises around his eye and then looked at Blaine. “He sends his love, by the way. Asked me if I knew why he was in the joint while the fucking Ice Queen is still out there running free.” Frank shrugged. “I told him I didn’t know. What’d’you think, Blaine?”
“I think you need to shut your mouth, your scum-sucking bastard,” Blaine replied.
“Ooo,” Frank said. “I like him, Tiff. You banged him yet? He know what kind’a girl you are?” He looked at Blaine again and whispered conspiratorially, “She likes ‘em big, my man. You’re just her type.”
Blaine started to get up, but Tiffany grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back down. “He’s baiting you, Blaine. Oldest play in the book.”
Frank held up his hands, showed off his manacles. “Come on, big guy. I’m no threat. I can’t even move.” He looked back at Tiffany. “So what? You’ve just come for a visit, or is there some reason you came to see me? And can we lose these cuffs? Seriously, it’s not like I’m going anywhere. I know they gave you the key.”
Tiffany said, “Tell me about the Neural Disruptor, Frank. How’d the Tiger get it, and how can we stop him from using it?”
Frank held up the cuffs. “I can’t think with these things on my hands, Agent Trujillo. But maybe if you loosen ‘em, something’ll come to mind.”
“I’m not gonna take off your cuffs, Frank. Be serious!”
“Ah, come on, Tiff! What am I gonna do? These things’re driving me crazy. You can even leave ‘em on my feet if you want. I can’t sketch out the plans for the Disrupter with my hands shackled together.”
Tiffany started to respond, but Blaine cut her off. “It’s okay, Agent Trujillo. It’s like he says, he’s not going anywhere. And besides, maybe if he attacks, it’ll give me an excuse to pop him in his other eye.”
Tiffany sighed. “Fine. What could it hurt?”
She pulled the key from her pocket and leaned forward, and Frank held out his hands. He smiled as the cuffs came off.
“You happy now?” Tiffany asked.
“Very,” he said. He pulled his glasses off and rubbed the bridge of his nose with the fingers of his right hand. Then he leaned back, both hands under the table, glasses still in his lap. When he spoke, his voice was low. Subdued. “Now, you said you had some questions?”
“Yeah,” Tiffany replied. “About the Neural Disruptor. Your old partner used it to kill ten people the other night. You never used it to kill anyone. What’s he doing different?”
“He’s a hack,” Frank said. Tiffany had to lean forward to hear him, but against all odds, she suddenly felt hopeful. Maybe Frank had just needed a little time to show off and then a show of goodwill to open up. “There’s a reason I used to use all those gas grenades, you know. The drugs, they open up the mind. Make a person more receptive to the Disruptor’s effects. If you just go in cold, you have to overwhelm the person. Brutalize them. That’s dangerous. But if you prep the mindspace properly--”
Tiffany didn’t realize how far forward she and Blaine were leaning until Frank struck. At first she thought he’d just slammed his fist on the table, but then Blaine cried out and grabbed his right hand. Frank fell back, moved to cover up, but it was already too late. Blaine threw a roundhouse right and caught Frank right at the jawline. Frank flew from his chair like he’d been hit by truck and bounced off the bricks behind him. And then Tiffany was moving at super-speed, trying to grab Blaine and keep him from killing Frank while Frank himself cowered with his hands over his head and face.
“What the Hell are you doing?!” Tiffany screamed.
“He attacked me!” Blaine yelled back.
“Not you, you idiot! Him!” She looked at Frank, who was now bleeding on the ground. “What the fuck is wrong with you, Frank?”
“Fuck you, Tiff!” Frank yelled back. His voice sounded rough, but Tiffany didn’t think his jaw was broken. “You come in here after ten years, and think I’m just gonna tell you everything?! Fuck! You! I’d sooner eat shit and die!”
“That can be arranged,” Blaine fired back.
A moment later, the guards were in the room separating them. One kicked Frank in the gut--hard--and he doubled over, clearly hurt. Then Tiffany and Blaine were forced out the door, and only once they were in the hall was Tiffany able to start thinking again.
“What the Hell was that about?” Blaine asked.
Tiffany shook her head. “I don’t know. He’s changed--a lot. He was never angry like that before.” She shrugged. “Maybe he just wanted a piece of you? I don’t know. He was never the sanest guy I knew, but that was downright crazy.”
“Well, did we at least learn anything?” Blaine asked.
“Yeah,” Tiffany replied. “We learned that Dr. Necropolis thinks I’m a slut.” She started walking towards her car. “C’mon, Blaine, let’s get out of here. I told that asshole Walcott that this was a waste of time.”