Crimson paced in front of the statue on Peregrine Island. Word
had reached him, as it had all through Paragon City, that Tropic was
dead. Crimson frowned as he walked. He knew he had sent the hero into
something dangerous and he knew he didn’t give him all the facts.
But he had felt that the fiery hero would have been able to handle
whatever was thrown his way.
And now Tropic was dead. The spy shook
his head and paced some more.
Then from above him he heard a familiar
voice. "You’re going to wear a rut in that stone!" Crimson spun around
and looked up to the sky.
"Tropic!", he exclaimed as the superhero
dropped down next to him. Crimson rushed to meet him. He grabbed him
by both shoulders. "You’re alive! They said you were dead!".
raised his eyebrows in surprise. "All right! Still here!", he said
disentangling himself from the man’s grasp.
Crimson looked him over.
Tropic’s usually spiky blonde hair lay flat and long, past his shoulders.
His costume was ripped and torn, the shirt almost completely gone.
Crimson shook his head. "You look terrible.".
Tropic looked at him
with a weary expression. "Well, I have been dead you know."
smiled crookedly. "Well. It took you long enough to get here. I’ve
got some information for you."
"Yes", Tropic nodded, "the ledger.
What did you find out?"
"Not here,", Crimson frowned. "Can you get
me to that warehouse?". He indicated the two story building across
from the ferry.
Tropic nodded, grasped the spy by the arm and flew
across the small channel to the building. They entered and walked
up the stairs to the second floor.
At a nondescript frosted office
door, Crimson inserted a key, first turning it all the way to the
right and then to the left. Beside them, on the wall of the hallway,
a panel, which Tropic had thought was a light switch, flipped up.
Beneath it was a number pad and a small black square. Crimson punched
in a code and pressed his thumb onto the square.
A metallic woman’s
voice came from the number pad. "Code and thumbprint verification
complete. Proceed with voice code identification."
Confirm.", Crimson said firmly.
"Thank you. Code and voice identification
confirmed." With that there was a hiss and a click. The office door
swung open and Crimson entered. Tropic stood outside for a moment
then he shook his head and went inside.
Tropic stopped inside the
doorway and looked around in amazement. What had appeared from the
outside as a small warehouse office in reality took up almost the
entire second floor. Straight ahead of him was a large solid wood
desk strewn with papers. On its corner was a computer screen of such
slim proportions it was almost translucent. In front of the desk were
two large thick leather chairs. To the right against the wall was
a bank of computers and electronic equipment that would make M.I.T.
green with envy. On the left a row of bookshelves and filing cabinets
filled a wall that led to another open doorway. Tropic could just
see enough inside that it appeared to be some living quarters.
exited that room and threw Tropic a white t-shirt. "Here, put this
on.", he said as he walked behind his desk.
"You live here, Crimson?"
Tropic asked as he put on the shirt.
"Sometimes." He waived Tropic
to one of the chairs and picked up the ledger in his left hand. "This
ledger, Tropic," he began, "it’s full of…it’s got a…", the spy took
a deep breath and started again. "As you know, Malta Group has it’s
fingers in everything. Office buildings, warehouses, laboratories.
It takes an enormous amount of capital to keep their holdings running,
from upkeep to equipment, staff, men, materiel, not to mention munitions,
ammunition, even the uniforms their operatives wear. All that costs
money, lots of it. Recently, due to the efforts of Paragon City’s
hero population, you in particular and some others, Malta has failed
in many of their most current operations. Consequently, their finances
have not met their requirements. So, basically, the Malta Group has
been operating in the red."
Crimson looked directly at Tropic. "In
"Malta is broke.", Tropic said quietly.
Tropic stroked his goatee. "Well, I can see why they needed an accountant.
But why kidnap the women?", he shook his head in thought.
leaned on his desk. "It’s all pieces of a puzzle, Tropic."
of a puzzle", Tropic repeated and began to think out loud. "Malta’s
broke, accountant, kidnapped super heroines…this accountant is morally
bankrupt so whatever Malta does is OK by him…Malta needs money…kidnap
the women…the accountant…".
Tropic jerked upright in his chair. "Oh,
no…oh my God…".
"Tropic?", Crimson asked, looking questioningly at
"I…I think they’re going to sell the girls." Tropic looked
at Crimson with an expression almost begging the spy to tell him he
Instead Crimson walked to a file cabinet and said, "That
may explain this.". He pulled out a file folder and returned to his
place behind the desk. "In here," he held up the folder, "are some
of the individuals on the United States persona non grata listing.
Over the past 48 hours all have entered the country, all have evaded
Customs and, within the past 12 hours, all are in Paragon City."
pulled a photograph from the file and tossed it on the desk. Tropic
leaned in to look at it. It was of an Oriental man, thin, his long
black hair pulled back in a ponytail. He was dressed in a black suit,
white shirt, thin black tie and was smoking a cigarette. "That’s Akio
Fuanki. Yakuza.", the spy said.
"Japanese mob.", Tropic whispered.
Crimson nodded and pulled out the next photo. It showed a man and
woman. The man was bald; his neck was as thick as Tropic’s thigh and
he looked mean enough to eat a hand grenade. The woman was delicately
beautiful with jet black hair and her lifeless eyes were of such a
pale blue they looked almost clear. "This is Boris Badromanov - formerly
of the Russian special forces - spetsnaz and the woman is Irina Boganskya
formerly a top interrogator for the KGB. Both now work for an organization
that appreciates their talents."
The next picture
was an olive skinned man, his greasy hair combed straight back. He
was dressed all in white - white suit, white shirt, white tie. "Fabritzio
Maraldo. The Ice-Cream Man. Formerly of New York City, now lives abroad."
"The Five-Families.", Tropic murmured.
Crimson tossed down another
photo. It was obviously taken by a telephoto lens and showed a tanned
blonde man in a bathing suit at a beach. "Carlos Bergmann. Does a
lot of work in Central America but his last known address was in Argentina."
"South American Cartel."
The last picture Crimson showed him was of
an Asian man, dressed in traditional clothing. He was bald except
for a long top-knot of hair and there was scar running down the right
side of his face and through his marbled right eye. "Liu Sun Kang.
Has some ties to the Tsoo but operates mostly within the Golden Triangle."
"Triad.", Tropic said quietly.
There was silence in the room for several
moments until Tropic said what was on both their minds. "Well, I think
we know who the buyers are." Tropic sat back wearily in his chair
and rubbed his forehead.
"Um Hum," Crimson said as he returned the
photographs to the folder. "They are spread throughout the city staying
with their entourages in some of the finest hotels here." He put the
folder back in the file cabinet and returned to his desk. "Take them
out and the sale will be stopped. We’ll have more time and Malta will
have to find another way to generate some funds."
Tropic sat quietly
pulling on his goatee. Finally he shook his head. "No.", he said simply.
Crimson raised his eyebrows in confusion. "No?…If we can stop the…"
"No,", Tropic cut him off. "I need to find the accountant.", he said
softly. "If I go in and take out the buyers it’s going to tell Malta
two things. One, I’m alive and two, I know at least something about
their plans. If that happens the girls will disappear and I can’t
risk that." He looked up at Crimson. "No, I have to find the accountant.
He may not know all their plans but he is the money man. He’s in some of
the loop and if he can’t tell me exactly where the girls are he’ll
be able to tell me where the…’auction’…will be held." He paused for
a moment. "No, my best bet is the accountant."
Crimson stood behind
his desk staring at the hero as though he were arguing with himself.
At last he spoke. "All right. But there’s something you should know."
Tropic looked at the spy through narrowed eyes.
"Around a year ago,",
Crimson began, " a Malta operative was tried and convicted of attempted
murder, assault, conspiracy, theft…hell, I think they even got him
for jaywalking. Let’s just say he was convicted of everything. He
was sentenced to life with no possibility of parole. Two months later
he escaped from a maximum security prison and the Malta Group got
him out of the country. They set him up to oversee some of their European
and Far East operations. Four days ago they brought him back to the
city. We’ve tracked him since he returned and he’s been in an office
building in Steel Canyon this whole time."
Crimson paused and took
a deep breath. He looked Tropic directly in the eyes and continued.
"His Malta designation is Dreadnaught Zero-One-Three. But you know
"Gunslinger Sam.", Tropic’s voice was barely a whisper as
he spit out the name. He had fought him before and he was the worst
of the worst.
Gunslinger Sam was a psychopath, sociopath and Tropic
was certain the man was a few more -opaths that hadn’t been invented
yet. Sam was part of a Malta operation that had gone bad and Tropic
was in the middle of it.
At that time, the Malta Group was trying
to develop a laser weapon that drew its power from industrial diamonds.
They sent Sam and his people to the Lohman Brothers Mercantile Group
to acquire the stones. It went wrong from the start. An alert secretary
hit the alarms and soon the place was surrounded by the police. Hostages
were taken and a call went out asking for assistance. Tropic answered
and worked his way through the Lohman offices that stretched from
the 39th through 42nd floors of the building.
Soon all the hostages
but one were freed. Gunslinger Sam was holding a terrified woman with
his gun pressed to her temple. Tropic tried to end it peacefully,
telling the Malta criminal to let her go, it wasn’t worth it, and
that there was no where to run. The Gunslinger looked at the hero
and later Tropic could almost swear he could feel the thug smile beneath
The Gunslinger giggled and said, "No where to go but down!",
pushed away from the woman, shot her in the stomach and pushed her
out the 42nd floor window. Stunned, Tropic leapt out the window after
her and caught her finally at the tenth floor. She was in shock but
she lived. When he returned for Sam, the villain was long gone.
weeks later, Tropic received word that the Malta operative was hiding
in the caverns that stretched out beneath the city and along with
two other heroes, Vetman and Special-Ops, he went to hunt him down.
It was a lucky thing that he had brought the two with him because
they had to pull him off of the would-be murderer. That was a year
and a half ago.
And now he was back.
Tropic sighed and tugged on his
beard once more. "They wouldn’t have brought him back unless it was
for something important. My guess is he’s either guarding the girls
or the accountant."
Crimson nodded. "Yes.", he said simply.
stood and looked out the window past Crimson at the nighttime sky.
It was around eight pm and he felt the heroine’s time running out.
He turned and walked to the door. "OK, I’m going to head over to Steel
Can…yon…" Tropic’s voice trailed off in mid-sentence.
said had begun to sink in. He looked questioningly at the spy still
behind his desk. "You said you’ve been tracking Gunslinger Sam for
Crimson met Tropic’s eyes. "Yes?"
Tropic looked at the
floor, his mind spinning, then at Crimson. "And you agree with me
that he’s either guarding the girls or the accountant."
nothing and stared at his desk, one arm folded across his chest, the
other stroking his chin.
Tropic continued on, his eyes flaring brighter,
as he started to realize the truth. "If you’ve been tracking him…you
know where he’s at and…he’s guarding some of…you’ve known…"
expression changed from confusion to controlled anger.
"Who is he
Crimson turned and looked out the window, staring unseeingly
at the docks beyond. "The accountant.", he said quietly over his shoulder.
"You son of a bitch.", Tropic whispered. "You’ve known all this time
where the accountant was and did nothing." Another terrible thought
hit him. "You didn’t want the accountant at all! You used him to get
me involved, to find…what? Not the accountant…not the girls?…the ledger?…",
Tropic stopped abruptly. "The ledger! All you wanted was the ledger.
You never cared about the missing women at all!".
"That’s not true.",
Crimson interrupted, still staring out the window. "My superiors deemed
the super heroines ’expendable’. I needed to find a way to get the
ledger and somehow get someone interested in finding them. Remember
at the start of this? I told you I needed someone who would sink their
teeth into it and lock their jaws. That’s why I picked you. That’s
why I planted the accountant’s name at the warehouse."
"You? You planted
Asam’s name? And Indigo. Was Indigo in on this too?"
shook his head, "I kept her out of the loop. She played it straight
Tropic sighed heavily. "You’ve known where he was for fourdays.
We could have saved them all that time ago. What they’ve gone through…if
they’ve been hurt…"
"No, they’re too valuable to the Malta. They won’t
Tropic closed his eyes and shook his head. "That’s not
the point and you can’t even see that its not."
He crossed to the
door and put his hand on the knob. Turning back to Crimson, his voice
barely above a whisper, he said, "I’m going to that office building
in Steel Canyon. I’ll deal with Sam. I’ll find that accountant and
make him tell me everything he knows. Then I’m coming back here and
whatever the accountant tells me I need to get those women back, you’re
going to provide. And then, when this is all over and done, don’t
you ever contact me again."
Tropic opened the door and left, closing
it silently behind him.
Crimson didn’t move. He just kept staring
out the window into the dark.
They were moving the girls again. Gogo followed the other women as
they were hoisted up into the back of a large truck. "No canisters
this time," she thought to herself as she took her place in the rear,
last in line.
The truck was like one of those military vehicles in
the old movies. It had benches running along both sides and another
shorter one along the cab. But it wasn’t covered with canvas. It was
completely closed in and the rear was a locked double door with two
small windows. The Malta operatives stood in the middle holding their
weapons with one hand and a strap attached to the roof with the other.
Gogo saw that she was still handcuffed but the women were not chained
together. Even in her dazed state she knew that was a mistake. She
shook her head from side to side, her two ponytails slapping her face.
All she had wanted to do since her capture was fight but her body
was so slow to respond to her commands and her mind seemed like it
was wrapped in wet paper. But still she tried.
The truck rumbled and
bounced through the streets of Paragon City. It had stopped a few
times for maybe a minute or so and Gogo began to plan. She tried to
gather her strength and waited for the truck to stop again.
the truck slowing and come to a stop once more. Gogo gathered herself,
trying to clear the cobwebs from her mind, willing herself to get
ready. The truck rumbled and began to move forward again. Suddenly,
while the guards were off-balance due to the movement, she swung her
handcuffed arms and caught the guard closest to her right in the stomach.
The air fled from the guard’s lungs and he doubled over. Behind him
the next Malta guard shouted out and moved to the struggling heroine.
Before he could get there Anita Black, another captured superwoman,
pushed herself forward into the oncoming man and knocked him into
the women on the other side of the truck. He fell into Giddy Yup,
who tried her best, in her befuddled state, to tangle up the Malta
Gogo kicked the guard she had struck and he fell backwards,
his feet tripping over the guard now fighting to free himself, still
struggling with Giddy. Gogo threw herself at the double doors of the
truck and they sprung open.
She saw the night sky and the cool evening
air began to revive her somewhat. In the distance she saw the headlights
of another car. She heard the yells of the Malta guards. Gogo prepared
to leap from the truck but before she could it screeched to a halt.
The centrifugal force hurled her back into the rear of the truck and
into the arms of a Malta operative. The thug stretched his arm out
and Gogo was encased in arcs of electricity as the criminals stun
gun shocked her into submission.
Gogo stood there for a moment twitching
uncontrollably and then, when the electric assault was finished, she
simply crumpled to the floor.
The truck’s driver appeared at the open
rear doors of the vehicle. "What the…What’s going on back here?",
he exclaimed after seeing the disarray of the cargo. The two guards
that had been attacked were on their feet and in control again. Gogo
was picked up and unceremoniously dumped back in her seat, her head
lolling to the side.
"No problem. Just had a little excitement back
here.", one of the guards said.
"Yeah…well,", the driver grinned,
"their last big adventure before tomorrow night then they’ll be out
of our hair and somebody else’s problem." He slammed shut the doors
and made sure they were locked. Then the truck started and slowly
made its way through Paragon City.
In the back, Gogo sat quietly recovering
from the effects of the stun gun. She just kept repeating to herself
the same word, over and over.
"Almost. Almost. Almost."