Marcus and Noch hovered high in the late afternoon sky over Midtown’s Pit, a protected district not far from Downtown. The sun was a dimming orange ball behind peach clouds that drifted on a cool breeze that got colder as the sun’s light receded. There were well dressed men and women going about their business on the streets, but for the most part the city was getting ready to begin the night in earnest.
The street the two brothers hovered over was one of the less busy streets, lined by old looking banks and chic eateries with small tables and chairs on their fenced patios. A brown sedan idled outside a bank that had gray stone columns framing tall glass doors and windows. A man wearing a black ski mask sat in the driver’s seat, constantly looking down at his watch before looking at the bank and the surrounding area.
Noch was on his back drifting around Marcus in a wide circle, popping peanuts into his mouth with one hand, the other arm behind his head as though he didn’t have a care in the world. He kept missing his mouth and Marcus heard more than a few people below them cry out in surprise. Fortunately, the cloud cover kept anyone from seeing the two of them. Just before Marcus spoke, the bank’s glass doors flew open and three men burst out of the building carrying big black duffel bags. The three men jumped into the waiting car and the tires squealed as the car rocketed away from the sidewalk. The drivers was weaving between the light traffic, the tires screeching with every turn and Marcus grunted to get Noch’s attention. When Noch saw that something happened, he cried out, the peanuts tumbling to the ground forgotten as he flipped over.
Over the past few weeks since the meeting with the Eight, crime in Damokles had evaporated to a mere drop on the fringes of the Industrial Dockyards. After Noch’s display, the Eight agreed to all of Marcus’ demands and Noch had a few people monitoring the Syndicate. To occupy himself, he tagged along with Marcus to chase down fringe criminals. Criminals like these bank robbers from out-of-town.
Marcus flew into the driver’s sight to influence the man’s driving. Before long, the brown car was speeding down a street in the Industrial Dockyards. Once in this deserted area, Marcus began thinking about a way to stop the car without causing too much damage. However, Noch just sped right past Marcus’s ear. Wearing the same white tights as Marcus, but with black boots, gloves and cape, Noch flipped in the air to land on the roof of the car, metal bending under his feet.
Marcus groaned as he watched the car begin to skitter. He’d been hoping to keep the property damage from this excursion low. He had to find a way to get the Mayor to rescind the order for the Crusader’s imprisonment and property damage did nothing to help his cause. But as per usual Noch was making that task impossible. This insistence on destroying as much as he possibly could had been out of hand for far too long.
When Noch’s landed, the driver slammed on the brakes. Noch went soaring as the tires poured smoke from the concrete-burned tires in the driver’s attempt to stop. Noch caught himself in the air, flipping once to correct himself before flying back to where the car came to an eventual stop. Marcus descended from the sky to hover slightly above and behind Noch.
Inside the car, the four men argued intensely as though there was nothing else of greater importance. Marcus sighed. He looked back at Noch who just shrugged with a shake of his head. Marcus floated down and tapped on the windshield smiling. The four men snapped their eyes onto him. He motioned for the four men to get out of the car, but Marcus knew they weren’t about to listen to anything he said.
The two men in the back reached for something under their seats and Marcus could only groan. He wanted to keep this encounter free of violence and make a peaceful turnover to the police, but Papa seemed to love making a joke out of his plans. Marcus was really hoping to begin a reconciliation with the Mayor now that the underworld was under his control, but it looked like that reconciliation was going to begin with the next encounter.
Marcus lifted away just seconds before bullets began pouring from the car windows. The tires started squealing once more as the driver slammed on the gas pedal and the car started racing down the street once more. Noch dropped shields on the windows of the car, stopping the bullets and the brothers sped off after the sedan.
As the car tore down the street, Marcus and Noch followed closely behind. Marcus, still intent on causing as little damage as possible, kept trying to catch the car in ropes of shimmering air, but the driver kept swerving as soon as Marcus condensed enough particles around the vehicle. He could hear his brother scoff behind him. That was when Noch began throwing down fist size balls of explosive flames and rocking the car with each detonation. Marcus shouted incoherent cessation orders as he slowed to catch his brother’s arm which had another ball hovering over it. Noch stared at Marcus confused.
This was the second unsanctioned bank robbery this month and the perpetrators of the first were still at large. Unsanctioned robberies couldn’t happen because they spread the wrong idea. As the first challenges to their authority since the takeover of Damokles, Marcus and Noch needed to make an example out of these out-of-town criminals, but they needed to question these men first. Then have the Crusader turn them over to the police still alive. That was Marcus’s objective.
The ball of flames above Noch’s fist remained solid for a second too long, but then the second passed and the flames dissipated into steam. When nothing happened for another second, Noch made an annoyed face telling him to proceed.
Marcus began tracking the car’s movement once more when an undulating yellow streak streamed passed his ear. The streak struck the car and the rear passenger side wheel was blown away. The back of the car bounced into the air but the other back wheel landed on the pavement, the car remaining on all three wheels. However, the sudden change in momentum spooked the driver and his swerves increased until the car flipped onto the side with a loud metallic crunch. The brown car sent sparks flying as the it came to a slow grinding halt.
Anger sparking in his stomach, Marcus turned to shout at Noch, but his brother was already darting off for the overturned car. His black boots landed heavily on the metal, bending the aluminum once more. Noch ripped off the passenger side door that faced skyward, dodging a bullet as he reached inside. When he stood upright, he held one of the bank robbers in his fist. He tore the gun away from the still discombobulated man and cocked his arm back to punch the man. Marcus finally reached him and stopped him.
Within a few seconds the two brothers had the four unmasked men bound in ropes of shimmering air that held them aloft. Noch didn’t recognize any of them and said they had the look of men from eastern Minos. After he finished piling the duffel bags of stolen money, Marcus walked up to the four robbers.
“So then who was it?” Marcus asked. “Who gave you permission to work in Damokles? Or were you four dumb enough to work in the city without a pass?”
One of the four men spat towards Marcus, but the spittle spattered against a small shield Marcus erected without thinking. He stared at the saliva sliding down the shimmering air wondering how this man believed doing such a thing would help him. But before he could say or do anything else, the man’s skull detonated like he had a bomb in the middle of his cranium. Blood, gray matter, and white skull bits were scattered everywhere and the other three men cried out.
Marcus was so startled he dropped the headless body and the other three men, but Noch caught the three men and lifted them. The discomfort on their faces showcased the tightness of his grip. Marcus just finished clearing the last bits of brain matter from his eyes just in time to see his brother tighten the rope’s grip around one man’s neck. Noch continued squeezing until the pressure forced the purple faced man’s eyes from his sockets in a sickening pop, blood spurting from every hole in his head, gray matter oozing from his ears. Noch kept squeezing until the rope of air sliced into the man’s neck, decapitating him.
“NOCH!” Marcus shouted.
Noch whipped his head around to stare at his brother. A look of killing intent was in full force on his face, but Noch didn’t bother to cover it up.
“Not now, I’m working,” Noch said before turning back to the two remaining men.
Marcus stared at his brother. “We can’t kill them!” he shouted. “We need them for information!”
Noch chuckled as he stared at the two choking men. He stood there in silence for a second before shrugging. “We only need one of them to talk,” he said as he turned to Marcus with a smile on his lips. “Trust me. I’m known in Gamma for things like this.”
The two men looked at one another before scrambling frantically as they hung in the air, babbling and clamoring promises of information, money, loyalty, even sexual favors, everything one man could give to another. Just to not do that to them.
“Which of them do you want to talk to?” Noch asked with that mischievous smile on his lips.
Marcus could only stare at his brother, disgusted and yet astonished. Marcus had found himself questioning whether his brother’s strategies still made them good guys. The robbers’ capture was supposed to be the example, but those two bodies looked to be a different example, an underworld example. With nothing else he could do about them, Marcus stepped forward to stand in front of a man with dark brown hair and black beady eyes. The look of relief on his face made Marcus nauseous. He was still a hero...right?
The man’s companion opened his mouth, chest filling with air as if he meant to shout his protests, but before any sound left his mouth, the man’s head detonated. Much like the first unfortunate robber, this man’s head disintegrated in a near misting cloud of blood, brain matter and skull fragments. Marcus wanted to be angry, but he would be lying to himself if he said he wasn’t expecting that. So much for verification.
The remaining robber was covered in the blood and offal of his three companions and he quivered with a dead stare in his eyes. Marcus knew the man was close to breaking if he wasn’t already suffering shock. Noch lowered the man until he and Marcus were near eye to eye.
Marcus smiled softly as he spoke. “Who gave you and your crew-“
“Your late crew!” Noch interrupted sounding amused.
“Who gave you and your crew permission to work in Damokles?” Marcus asked as though he was uninterrupted.
The man struggled against his bonds as he dangled, but his eyes flicked up and grew wide. Then his eyes fell on Marcus once more and he began talking.
“We’re freelancers!” the man shouted in a petrified voice.
Marcus didn’t like that this man saw Noch as the more immediate threat. He needed this man to understand that though Noch maybe the Kingpin of the underworld, Damokles belonged to the Crusader. So he began singeing the tips of the man’s messy short cut hair. Nothing that would cause damage, but something that told the man he wasn’t safe. Heroes did things like that right?
“Who gave you permission?” Marcus asked again.
The man looked as though he was going to repeat his answer, but he caught a whiff of the smell on the wind. The heat must have finally registered because panic replaced the fear in his eyes and he launched a frantic escape attempt.
“It was the AD!” he shouted as he fought against the bonds. “The AD gave us permission!”
“Why would the AD think they had the authority to give work permits for territory outside of Old Town?” Marcus asked. “Why would they think they had permission to give unapproved permits at all?”
“They said the Spider had given us permission to work in Midtown this month for a twenty-five percent cut of the final take!” the man shouted. “Please just stop the burning! PLEASE!”
“The Spider?” Marcus asked as he stopped the burn. “Which Spider?”
The man stared for a second before he answered. “THE Spider!” he said sounding relieved. “The Spider! Old Man of the Silver Lion district!”
“Former Old Man,” Noch chimed.
Marcus waved away his brother, never taking his eyes from the robber. “Who is he?” he asked
The man blinked, the panic replaced by confusion. “The Leader of the Bloody Orangutans?” he asked. “The Mastermind of the Silverbacks? Boss Chucky’s number two man? Are you telling me you really don’t know who Spider Gidon is?”
Marcus jerked. He had no idea who Spider Gidon was, but Gidon was most definitely Ali’s last name. He wanted to ignore that coincidence, but his hips still felt weak. When Marcus remained silent for too long, the man Noch snatched from Marcus’s grasp in a whirlwind. The suddenness caught Marcus’ attention and he turned around to face his brother.
“Done with him?” Noch asked. “Good!”
Before Marcus could say or do anything, he felt a warm spray. He just smacked his lips and sighed as he turned back to the scene.
Superheroes didn’t leave behind dead bodies and yet there were four dead men in front of him. The Mayor was going to have a fit when he found out the Crusader was involved, but thinking of the Commissioner’s reaction made Marcus want to shudder. The Mayor may have more legal power than the Police Commissioner, but Commissioner Knight could be scary at times, even with the ring on.
“Are you kidding me, Noch?” Marcus asked as Noch landed on the pavement next to him.
“What?” Noch asked innocently.
“You know the Crusader can’t be involved with something like this!” Marcus said just short of a shout. He took a deep breath to rein in his anger, but he was struggling.
“Nobody has to know,” Noch said with a shrug.
Marcus groaned, rubbing the bridge of his nose under the mask. “The whole south side of Midtown and the north side of Southton saw the Crusader chasing down this car,” he said in a voice much calmer than he felt.
Noch laughed. “Yeah but look at where we are,” he said. “I can have this whole thing put on me in no time. I can say I was impersonating you or something stupid like that. I… we needed to make an example of these guys anyways. You know that.”
Marcus wanted to argue, but the fight drained from his bones when he saw that Noch really thought the logic of his plan was foolproof. The plan would work, but the rumors? Convincing Noch to call for a cleanup before the police got there was daunting at the moment. Instead, Marcus just began lifting himself into the air.
“This means the recovered money will be…a bit light,” Noch said before Marcus was fully turned.
Marcus paused and turned himself around, frowning down at his brother. “You can’t be serious,” he said.
When Noch shrugged with a nod, Marcus began laughing. He drifted in the air holding his knees as he laughed and Noch just watched with growing confusion. The confusion on his brother's face made Marcus laugh even harder.
“What?” Noch asked when Marcus’s laughter was more reasonable.
“Dye packs!” Marcus said still chuckling. “The fex will be covered in dye as soon as you try to unwrap the plastic brick those idiots grabbed! The money in those duffel bags is useless without the code!”
Noch’s face dropped and Marcus’ laughter strengthened for a few seconds.
“Maybe I’ll ask Ali’s dad to clean the fex for me,” Noch mused.
That cut Marcus short and he gave Noch a flat stare before turning away. Sometimes Noch’s jokes were poor in taste and had as bad a timing as Uncle Cato.
“I’m serious.,” Noch called up. “Do you think the Spider would help me off the books? If I involve Boss Chucky then there will be percenta-“
“What're you talking about?” Marcus asked as he turned around.
Noch frowned up at Marcus as he pulled out his phone. “Stop playing, Marcus,” he said. Noch saw the look on Marcus’ face and shock filled his eyes. “You… you mean you didn’t know? Oh damn Marcus… I thought you were… oh Marcus…”