9/ Henchman and The Marked Cards

            Finding out where the Marked Cards were based turned out to be easier than I could have hoped.  A few phone calls to friends in the henchman business, who gave me numbers of other contacts.  Some money changing hands.  Some careful conversations in order that my investigations wouldn’t be inadvertently passed on to them.  Some promises of future favours.  Whatever it took.  I didn’t want them to know I was looking.

            Next, I called Jose, who I knew had some interesting connections.  I asked him if he could source a few things for me.  He was a little nervous when he heard what I was asking for, but he didn’t push it.  “Sure bro, I’ll hook you up.  No problem.”   I arranged the payment through his virtual account, untraceable.  Or as near as dammit.  He told me where I could pick up the goods.

            I had wondered if they’d be in an abandoned playing card factory or maybe in the attic of a casino.  But these guys didn’t have that kind of flair.  They were operating out of a storage unit in the roughs, a few miles outside the city.  I drove out and parked my car a mile away, approaching on foot through the dry dusty land that surrounded the run down industrial park. 

            From a distance I could see they were every bit the dime store outfit their reputation suggested.  They had no henchmen of their own.  Rookie error.  They probably thought they didn’t need people like me, or they were too greedy to let any of their ill-gotten gains leave their wallets.  So there was nobody on guard.  I moved closer, slowly and cautiously, looking for surveillance or traps.  There was nothing.  These assholes gave new meaning to the word complacent.

Close to the lock-unit I could hear them laughing.  They were in high spirits.  Clearly, beating my friend half to death was an enjoyable diversion for this cowardly fucking bastards.  I ground my teeth which, let me tell you, is not a habit you want to get into.  I stayed cool, though I could see red.  This was not the time to be crazy.  These guys were very dangerous.

            My brief research had revealed some commonly-known information about the Marked Cards.  There were six of them.  Ace-In-The-Hole was a standard tumbler and martial artist with some enhanced athleticism and strength.  Full House was a mid-level strongman with some invulnerability, the sort that is often known in the trade as a Brick.  The Pair were two sisters who both shot fire from their hands, known individually as Diamond and Heart.  Snap! was a gadgeteer who specialised in demolitions, which probably explained the building they collapsed on me.  I was struck by how careless this group was, that they had somebody with this ability and didn’t bother to trap the area around their base.

            The final member of their team was a really nasty piece of work known as The Dealer.  Reportedly he was also the leader of the Marked Cards.  This guy had previously gone solo under the moniker “Test Tube” and apparently was able to cause changes chemical changes within enemies at range.  He’d managed quite a spree of hostage jobs, where he threatened to cause people’s blood to turn to acid and the like.  His modus operandi was to demonstrate by killing a couple, demand a large sum of money from the authorities, then escape by methods unknown.  He’d tried this successfully in a number of settings before taking a class of schoolkids hostage and running foul of the hero known as Exo. The armour-clad power-house had put an end to his criminal career and he went into lockdown and was forgotten about.  Until now.

            I had no illusions that I could take these guys on.  I couldn’t even take one of them on.  But they had fucked Henry up real bad and I was not going to let that slide.  So upon arrival at their base I set about my preparations.  The whole time I was expecting one of them to come outside.  Maybe do a quick ‘round, check the area.  Instead, it just sounded like they were drinking and having some laughs.  As I worked, I grew more and more angry.  But it was a quiet, calculating, cold anger.  I had to get this just right.

            Now I know I should have played it safe.  But I didn’t just want to get some payback for Henry.  I wanted them to know it was for Henry.  I wanted these bastards to understand that their decision to beat the shit out of my friend, even when there was clearly nothing to be gained from doing so, was the cause of what was going to happen.  I wanted them to understand that their lack of professionalism and common decency was the problem here and that the choices they made had fucking consequences.

            This probably sounds overly moral for a criminal like myself, right?  I get that.  I know exactly how it sounds.  But there are things you can do and things you can’t do, even in my business.  You have got to draw the line somewhere, right?   These guys didn’t understand that.  They thought they could do anything, to anyone, and that nothing would ever happen to them.  They were wrong.

            I opened the door of the lockup and walked in.  It was little more than an open warehouse and it was mostly empty.  The group were all sitting around a table playing cards, with the exception of one of the twins, who was at a makeshift bar pouring herself a glass of something.  The place was smoky and stank of liquor and sweat. 

            “This place is disgusting.  How can you live like this?  What are you?  Animals?”
Ace-In-The-Hole and Full House rose to their feet, the latter knocking his chair backwards in a clatter.  The rest just stared at me, completely surprised.

“Who the fuck are you?” The Dealer asked, leaning back in his chair slightly so that the front legs lifted off the floor.  He did not look concerned.  He just looked bored.
“I am an associate of the gentleman you beat to within an inch of his life a couple of days ago.”
The other twin, Diamond I think, whispered something in her bosses ear.
The Dealer said:  “Oh, right.  Yeah, I remember.  You were one of the guys the Family hired from out-of-town?  Didn’t we bury you along with them?  Obviously not, because here you are.  That’s quite the daring death trap escape.  How did you do it?”
I looked at him coldly:  “I didn’t come here to exchange banter with you.  I came here to teach you all a lesson.”

“Yeah, okay,” Ace-In-The-Hole laughed.  “How you gonna do that, man?  There’s six of us, we all got super powers, ain’t you just some henchman or somethin’ ”
Full House laughed loudly, as though this were the funniest thing he had ever heard.
For his part, Snap! Had pulled a small device from his pocket.  It looked like some kind of futuristic grenade. 

The Dealer spoke again:  “You don’t know me.  But I could kill you where you stand, without blinking an eye.  I could cause your bodily fluids to bubble in your body.  I can turn your blood to poison.”

“I do know you,” I replied.  “I know all of you.  I’ve read your profiles, I know your powers.”  I opened my left hand revealing a small switch device inside it.  “But you can’t kill me more quickly that I can press this button.  Snap! can’t hit me with his little bomb fast enough.  The Twins fire is too slow.  The big fella there and his kung fu sidekick are just too far away.  Before any of you can do anything, I can press this button.”

“What does the button do?” the Twin who had been pouring the drink asked.  She looked a little uncertain.  Actually, with the exception of The Dealer and Full House, they all looked a little uncertain.  Which was good.  That was exactly what I wanted. 

“The button,” I said, “is the electronic trigger for all the explosives that I have spent the last hour surrounding your warehouse with.  There’s a lot of bang for your buck.  If I press this, this entire building and everything in it, and everyone in it, will be little more than a black smudge on the sandy ground. 

“You’re bluffing,” The Dealer smiled.  “You would also die.”
“You will notice that I am near the door.  I have placed the explosives around the sides and rear of the building.  Yes, there is a chance that I will be killed too, but your deaths are quite certain.  It’s a chance I am willing to take, for the potential gain.”

“Gain?” Ace-In-The-Hole spat, “What are you talking about?”
“The damage you did to my friend is going to leave his family with a large medical bill if he survives.  If he does not survive his children need something to live on.  I am also looking for a healthy payout for myself.  From what I can tell, you have netted nearly a quarter million dollars in your recent jobs.”  Snap! began to protest but I cut him off: “Don’t give me your shit.  It’s a conservative estimate.  You may have got twice that.”

“This is a heist?” The Dealer asked.  The bored disinterest was gone, replaced by fury. “Well technically,” I said with a nasty smile, “It’s a ransom.”
“If you do this,” Ace-In-The-Hole growled, “You know we will hunt you down and kill you, right?”
“I am a professional Henchman.  I work for people far more frightening than you tools are ever going to be.  So good luck with that.”  He stared at me so hard that I was glad he didn’t have the power to kill me with his eyes.  Which isn’t as foolish as it sounds.  There’s a woman who can supposedly do that down in California.

“How much do you want?” The Dealer asked.
“There you go,” I smiled.  “All our cards on the table.  Cutting to the chase.  Let’s call it One Hundred Thousand Dollars and I walk.”
Most of them shouted some obscenity or other.  I smiled.  “You don’t like it?  We go boom.  It’s really quite straight-forward.  I would have thought small-time crooks like yourselves would see the elegance of it.”

“He’s bluffing,” Ace-In-The-Hole told his boss.  The Dealer and I locked eyes.  I stayed cool.  It was difficult because to be quite honest I was barely holding it together.  I just had to hope that I looked and sounded confident.  Everything depending on this not turning into a brawl.  I couldn’t win a brawl and I certainly wasn’t going to blow myself up.  I was angry, but I didn’t have a death wish.

“How do you want to handle it?” The Dealer asked me.
“You get me the money.  I know you have it here.  I can see from the way you run your operation that you aren’t the type to be careful with your loot.  Put it on the floor and then move to the back of the warehouse.  I’ll put down the trigger and pick up the money and leave.”
“That’s bullshit,” Ace-In-The-Hole demanded.  “You know we’d come straight after you.”
“None of you are super-fast.  I have a very quick motor vehicle close by.  By the time you get your act together I will be gone.  You’ll never find me, and Henry and I will be a lot richer.  Look at it this way – you will have paid a large sum of money for a valuable lesson.”
“And what is that?” Snap! asked.
“Get yourself some fucking henchmen,” I told them seriously.

Diamond retrieved the money from their stash, stored as I knew it would be in the back of the warehouse.  Amateurs.  She put the cash in a case and started forwards with it.
“No closer please,” I said.  “I know about your fire attack.  Let’s have Snap! bring the money, after he has undressed down to his underwear so I can be sure there are no devices on his person.”
“Do it!” The Dealer muttered.  His face was so red I began to wonder if he might be the one who had the flame attack.
Snap! walked across and carefully put the case on the floor.  “Back you go,” I gestured him away.  Watching them all closely I opened the case and checked all the money was real and present.  I didn’t want to find out later I’d been suckered by the old paper packs trick.
“Great.  Thank you.”  I carefully put the trigger on the floor.  “Be careful with this,” I said.  “You wouldn’t want to accidentally press it.”
“Fuck you,” Full House snarled at me. 

I turned and walked out of the door carrying the case.  I was fairly sure they would leap to their feet and give chase almost immediately.  It was the obvious thing to do as soon as I was too far from the trigger to reach it before they did. 

As soon I was outside I ran, pumping my legs as fast as I could do.  I could hear them behind me, shouting, swearing, leaping into action.  Any second now they would come bursting out of the door in hot pursuit.  Looking to pound me, burn me, frazzle me and turn my blood to strychnine or something.  As I ran I reached into my coat and pulled out the electronic trigger.  The real electronic trigger.  Gambling that I was far enough away I pressed it.  Behind me, the warehouse was obliterated in a cacophony of fire, smoke and rubble.  The sheer force knocked me flat and singed my back.  But it was worth it.  Nothing was coming out of that. Nothing.