Picture this scene:
It’s nighttime. Tanger’s penthouse office is lit up, but the lights of the city are still visible through the large plate-glass windows, laid out in a glittering expanse far below. A security guard settles himself behind the guard desk, flipping idly through a magazine, while a stocky but powerfully-built man swipes his badge against the lock leading out of the elevator lobby and into the waiting room.
The lock beeps and the door clicks open, and the man swings it wide, propping it open as if in expectation of more arrivals. He heads inside and takes a seat, fiddling nervously with his phone. The security guard turns another page in the magazine.
Perhaps ten minutes later, the elevator doors ding open and the security guard looks up from the magazine as two large men in suits emerge, followed immediately by a third, slightly smaller man. “I need to see your — oh, it’s you, Mr. Tanger.”
Tanger grunts unintelligibly, dismissing the man as he storms by into the office. “Daniels, Hernandez — what we discussed,” he snaps, and the two large men peel off to begin a casual, unhurried search of the waiting room. Tanger, meanwhile, continues to stride straight toward the stocky man who is rising rapidly from his seat, almost dropping his phone.
“Les!” barks Tanger, his strident tone matching his flushed cheeks.
“Mr. Tanger! I got here as fast as I could.”
“Les, we’ve got a problem. A big problem! This Everton –” he practically spits the word “– is a wrecker and a vandal. He’s been hiding under our noses and laughing at us. Earning money from us! And now look what he’s done to your site. How much damage did you say?”
“A few weeks’ worth to reset it, probably. Less if we put the men on overtime. The schedule –“
“Yes, the schedule,” interrupts Tanger. “We — I — made promises that it is important to my reputation as a businessman and mayoral candidate to uphold, and Everton is attempting to interfere with those. I will not let him wreck what I am building! Figuratively or literally.”
“Shouldn’t we get the police?”
“The police?” Tanger’s frenzied scowl suddenly smooths out, and he places a hand on the stocky man’s shoulder in a companionable way. “Les, tell me this. I’ll let you answer your own question in a minute, but tell me this. How do you feel about what Everton has done to what you’ve built?”
“I’m furious, obviously.”
“Yes, obviously. I feel the same, as you have doubtless noticed. Now, the penalty for vandalism is a fine. Do you think a fine is sufficient punishment in this case?” Tanger’s hand still clasps the other man’s shoulder, keeping him close as if imparting a confidence to him.
“No. No, I don’t,” he says slowly, as if the idea is just forming in his mind.
“Right. Neither do I,” says Tanger almost soothingly. “But that’s what the police would do. They would fine him, and let him go. And meanwhile, good men like us would suffer, having to break our backs to fix the damage he’s caused, and he would be free to do it again.
“And that’s a best-case scenario, even assuming that they actually manage to pin it on him. Far too often, I’m sorry to say, the police let criminals like this slip through their grasp for lack of evidence. It’s one of the things I aim to improve when I’m in charge: better tools for policing.
“But for now, we can agree that the police are not the right route to deal with Mr. Everton?” Tanger continues smoothly. His conversational companion nods.
“Very good. So if the police can’t help….” Tanger trails off, waiting expectantly.
The man glances around at Daniels and Hernandez, who have almost completed their sweep of the room. “Then we take care of him ourselves. However we have to.”
“Yes, exactly,” purrs Tanger. “I knew we’d see eye-to-eye on this. Do you have his information? His address?”
The stocky man holds out his phone to Tanger, who takes it and glances at the screen. “Perfect, thank you,” he says, before suddenly smashing his fist into the phone screen, smashing it. He punches it three times in rapid succession, blood flying from his knuckles on the recoil, before turning on his shocked companion and launching a wild swing into his jaw.
The man staggers backwards, holding his face, as Hernandez and Daniels close in from either side and take him by the arms. Tanger, meanwhile, has lost all semblance of calm and is screaming so hard that flecks of spit are foaming at the corners of his mouth.
“You thought this would fool me? This cheap disguise, this stupid trick, here in my office? In my sanctuary? You thought I couldn’t feel your filth crawling on my skin even in the elevator? You thought I wouldn’t know the voice of one of my foremen, his mannerisms? I’m a people person, you slime! This is what I do!”
Veins are popping out on Tanger’s crimson face, and the man cowers back against the firm holds of Hernandez and Daniels. “Mr. Tanger, I –“
“Don’t you ‘Mr. Tanger’ me! You’re already a dead man. I don’t want to hear my name polluted by your mouth! You damaged my product and tried to ruin my name. I will inflict pain on you like you can’t even imagine!” He punches the other man viciously in the stomach, leaving a bloody knuckleprint on his shirt.
“You’re a sore on this city! When I kill you, no one will even notice you’re gone, except to realize that things have improved! Your malignant presence would stain the sewers! I’ll cut your body up and hide it in a swamp just to avoid having any piece of you remain to taint my city!” Tanger punctuates each line with another wild punch to the stomach. The man sags limply, held up by Tanger’s guards.
“Take this stupid mask off, Everton,” Tanger pants, his eyes wild. “I want to see the look on your face when I kill you.” The man makes no response, so Tanger reaches around to the back of his head, slips his fingers under the edge of the man’s mask, and pulls it free.
“There! Now we ca — what? Who are you?”
The man smiles weakly up at Tanger. “I’m Brian King. Dan, you owe me big time.”
“Where is Everton?” demands Tanger, crouching to snarl directly in Brian’s face.
“I’m right here,” I say, and all four men turn around to see the security guard standing in the open glass doorway, a phone camera trained on the scene.
“You?” Tanger says disbelievingly.
“Look, I’d love to do the dramatic reveal,” I say, “but this mask doesn’t come off without scissors and a bit of effort. So you’ll have to trust me. I’m Dan Everton. Some people-person you are, Tanger! Never even acknowledged the guard on your way in. He’s just part of the furnishings to you. Even your guards missed me out here filming that whole thing,” I say, waving the phone in my hand. “Admittedly, I had the camera hidden for most of it, but still. They never even looked at me.”
Tanger takes a step toward me, hissing incoherently.
“Ah, ah, ah!” I say, waving the phone. “Do you really want to make things look worse than they already do on this tape?”
Tanger smiles like a viper. “You and your tape will never get out of here alive. Daniels, Hernandez?”
The two bodyguards drop Brian, who crumples to the floor, and start to advance on me. I turn the phone screen around so that Tanger can see it.
“You’ve got great cell reception in this building, Tanger. Maybe it’s the height? Thing is, even if I don’t get out of here, that video already did. See where it says “sent” on that email? So Daniels? Hernandez? You’re not doing anything too bad on the video, but if Brian and I go missing, you’re going to be right in the thick of it.
“And the really interesting part,” I continue as the bodyguards halt, looking at each other uncertainly, “is who it got sent to. See, I had your old phone for a while, which I think you know. And you changed the password on your email so that I couldn’t get back into it — but I still had your contacts list.
“So you know how you said no one would notice I was missing? I think someone might. ‘Cause I emailed that video to every single person on your contacts list.”
Tanger’s fists are clenched so hard that his hands have gone completely white from the wrist down, while his face has gone an alarming shade of purple. “You did WHAT?” he whispers through bared teeth. I can see his visions of his future all burning away before him.
“Oh, yeah. Everyone you’ve done business with? Anyone you talked politics to? Your family? Your friends? Every single one of them just got a copy of that video. A lot of luminaries on that list! I recognized the current mayor’s name, and the chief of police. Buncha names I’ve seen up on building projects, obviously, and some of the old established families around here. And of course, that’s just the local people. Some email addresses for big multinationals in there, too! I’m guessing you weren’t talking with low-level folks at those companies?”
Tanger is hissing like a tea kettle, and I have only a second to flip the phone back to record before he charges at me, knocking the phone from my hands. He slams me back into the wall and pummels me with both fists while shrieking, “Die, die, die, die!”
It doesn’t feel great, but I’ve been hit by construction workers, baseball bats and cars, and Tanger can’t hold a candle to those. Plus the callus-suit provides a nice layer of absorption that I don’t usually have. So it’s not his attack that staggers me so much as the almost simultaneous full-body shudder of my powers leaving me.
That cringe lasts less than a second, though, and then I haul my fist back and slam it into the side of Tanger’s head. It’s an awkward hit, since he’s almost against my chest, but it sends him stumbling off to the side to crash into the guard’s desk. He wheezes there for a moment, catching his breath, and I look his bodyguards in the eyes.
“If you give my friend a clear path out, we leave right now, and this ends,” I say, hand hovering by the butt of my holstered pistol. They exchange glances again.
“Kill him! You want to kill him!” shouts Tanger weakly, but I shake my head.
“I suspect that’s not going to work anymore,” I tell him. “You probably should have asked Dr. A about a money-back guarantee.”
Sure enough, Daniels and Hernandez have stepped to the side, and Brian is hurrying out of the office, bent over slightly with one arm wrapped around his stomach. I hit the call button on the elevator and retrieve my phone from the floor, all the while keeping my hand near my gun and my eyes on Tanger and the guards.
The elevator doors close on me and Brian, and we start to descend. Brian says, “Dude. You just let him hit me.”
“That part happened really fast!” I object. “As soon as that started, I was up and coming over there. I stopped it as soon as I could.”
“Yeah, tell my stomach that. I’m gonna have bruises.”
“I’m seriously sorry, man. If it helps, it made for great cinema?”
“Yeah, great. Find yourself a new leading man next time.”
“You got it, dude. Seriously, I’m sorry.”
We ride in silence for a couple of floors, and then Brian says, “Did you threaten them with your gun at the end there? Isn’t that just part of the suit you grew?”
“Yeah,” I say, “but they didn’t know that.”
Brian starts to laugh, then winces and grabs his stomach. “Ow, it hurts to laugh!” He laughs more, doubling over, and I join in. The elevator doors open at the bottom floor to both of us laughing like lunatics, and we stagger out of the lobby, past the confused guard in the main area, and out into the cool night air.